In the food and beverage business, getting your hands dirty and really putting in the work will get you places, not to mention get the job done. The inspiring career journeys of a chef, a kitchen manager trainee, and a quality control manager are proof of this. Their weathered hands and weary bodies are but a foil to the more important virtues of their craft—resilience, professional work ethic, and the belief that nothing replaces an honest hustle.

Cream of the crop

“I got pregnant early, at 17 years old. I had to drop out of college. Those days I really had to work,” says Joy Balatan. At that time, she had just lost her job at Coffee California and went to Greenbelt with her friends the next day looking for a job. By chance, she ended up at Cibo and was immediately given a job as a food dispatcher. “Sabi ko dahil kailangan ko ng trabaho, kahit anong posisyon gagawin ko. Willing to learn naman po ako. So yun, tinanggap naman ako.”

Aside from taking a commanding role from the offset, the challenges kept on coming. Throughout the years, Balatan had to move to different branches. After being moved to Cibo in Alabang at one point, she would go through two hours of traffic every morning on the way to work. She once braved through full shifts for one whole month without any breaks. In the middle of all these obstacles, she meticulously studied different facets of the business in the hopes of committing no mistakes at all. She asked co-workers to help her learn how to work the cash register and spent time after her shifts to know more about the menu.

From being a dispatcher to a store manager and now a quality control manager, Balatan attributes her 17 years of dedication to a strong sense of family in Cibo. She particularly looks up to its founder Margarita Forés, who has always made her feel like a valued member of a team. “Sometimes there are competitions where she invites us to watch. And she always introduces me to people. Feel na feel ko proud siya sa akin.” 

But she’s also quick to point out that you really need to put in some effort and elbow grease if you want to progress in your career. “If you plan to stay with the company for this long, at least have the initiative to learn.”  So what’s she currently learning? As her team plans to expand, she has her eye on how she and the rest of Cibo can keep up in a digital world.

More than worth this salt

Chef Bai of Chef Jessie in Rockwell

“Noong pumunta ako ng Maynila noong 1987, sa garments ako nagtrabaho, sa isang patahian sa Caloocan,” Ricardo Sanoria, known in the Chef Jessie restaurant kitchen as chef Bai, recounts. “Pagkatapos ko magtrabaho sa garments, nag-security guard ako at napangasawa ko ang messenger ni Mister Harvey na isa sa mga stockholders ng Le Soufflé. Ni-refer niya ako kay Maam Jessie [Sincioco]. Pabukas palang ang Le Soufflé noon.”

With no formal culinary background, chef Bai’s career took a steady ride without pulling at any stops. “Minsan pag naghuhugas, pag busy ‘yung mga kusinero, ako yung nagbabaliktad ng steaks.” Beginning as a steward (which lasted 15 days), he has been the sous chef at Chef Jessie Rockwell for several years now—26, to be exact—a fantastic flight from his humble roots.

The rise was not that meteoric, however. Chef Bai admits he would not have made it this far had it not been for the help and guidance of the people he works with. At 49 years old, he has been working closely together with chef Jessie for more than half his life. Thanks to those years, chef Bai has not only developed a keen sense of taste and knowledge demanded of someone working in a restaurant kitchen, but also a strong sense of conviction needed in a chef. “Biruin mo, hindi ako nag-aral [sa culinary school]. Dito lang ako natuto. Fulfillment ko na nandito ako ngayon.”

Strike while the frying pan is hot

Eric Ganeb

Eric Ganeb didn’t start working as early as many of his peers. After finishing an associate’s degree in hotel and restaurant management at 26, he was offered the position of dishwasher from the place where he did his on-the-job training. The rigor got the best of him soon after. “Pinaka-nahirapan ako na dishwasher sa eat-all-you-can restaurant. Mano-mano lang din. Puro hot water lang.”

In March 2012, he joined The Moment Group as a dishwasher yet again at Cue Modern BBQ. It was a stroke of luck when the opportunity arose for him to finally have a change of scenery. “Ako ‘yung kinuha na replacement na line cook kasi alam ko naman ‘yung procedure.” But it was still no easy ride as there were a lot of skills he had to learn on the job quickly. “Hindi naging smooth ‘yung pagiging line cook ko. Kasi basic lang alam ko sa culinary noon. Sinablay ako ng isang beses, buong araw ako pinagalitan ng executive chef. Hindi na dapat to maulit, sabi ko sa akin. Kailangan galingan ko pa.”

Din Tai Fung’s Dry Noodles with Spicy Shrimp and Pork Wontons

With discipline in mind, Ganeb steadily rose up in a span of four years. “Araw-araw, dino-double check ko items ko na ginagamit ko pangluto. Di ko namalayan, ‘yun na ginagawa ko araw-araw. Naging OC na ako.” Before parting with Cue, Ganeb was already a senior line cook.

His next job was his next big break: an opportunity to train for a month in Taiwan and work at Din Tai Fung, where he is now the kitchen manager. Looking back, Ganeb is nothing but grateful. “Masaya naman ako ngayon kasi pag nawalan ka na ng gana sa trabaho, ibig sabihin hanggang doon ka nalang, hindi ka na mag-grow. Now, Ganeb is just being in the moment, going to the back of the counter, working at a world-class restaurant.

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