My 3rd job was in an Island Resort to the East, facing the Pacific. It was to be my first time living and working outside Metro Manila, which I was very excited for. For too long had I been under the careful scrutiny of my family. I didn’t get the privacy I craved for while living in Manila.
Before anything else, I should probably backtrack and explain how and why I got into the culinary world in the first place.
When I was on my 3rd year in university, I had no idea what I wanted to do after graduating. I only knew I didn’t want to sit in an office and stare at a computer screen the whole day. So I was keen to find an alternative – an escape. A friend of mine who was a chef convinced me to take a short course to see if I liked it – and I did. I didn’t know how to use a knife, cook rice (a disgrace to all Filipinos, I know) or even boil pasta back then. My culinary skills were as impressive as most of the recent Ms. Universe’s contestants’ abilities to answer their final questions.
So after I finished university, I enrolled to be a culinary arts student, full-time, for the next 14 months. And my skill set and knowledge slowly grew – but as we all know, school experience is always different from work experience.
It’s important for my readers to understand my motives in joining the food service industry. Being a “chef” has a hint of glamour to it. It was artistic – everyone knew it was a tough job with long hours and low pay.
Some did it for the love of food: some for passion, others for fame and money. I did it for lack of a better choice.
Every time I mentioned I was a “chef,” girl’s eyes would sparkle as their body language betrayed all their inhibitions, while old friends would express their admiration, out of sincerity or perhaps out of a desire to be invited to a home-cooked dinner. In short, there was an immense amount of positive-reinforcement which fueled me to succeed, but this was also part of the cause of my subsequent internal struggles.
So I took a job at the Spiny Lumpsucker Island Resort – it was a private members-only establishment. I was assigned to the French outlet at one end of the island. Easy. I was trained in classical French Cuisine at culinary school. No, they did not hire me for my good looks or charming personality. Or did they? The bastards.
The mise-en-place of the French restaurant was very easy. Our menu was very small and the owner of the island wanted it kept that way – for one reason or another. We would serve sweet and savory crepes throughout the day, soup de poissone (a traditional poor man’s fish soup from southern France flavored with saffron), Croque Madams (a toasted ham and cheese sandwich topped with a runny fried egg and bechamel), Pissaladiere (a thin crust pizza with caramelized onions, anchovies and olives) and Duck Confit among other things. The recipes were simple and straightforward.
The resort, unfortunately, was poorly planned and poorly run. From management to operations to human resources, etc. Bad decisions seemed to run through the veins of the resort. It was obvious to the guests and some of the staff that the resort made the massive mistake of building and opening several different resort outlets on the island too soon – all before amassing a healthy number of members.
The result: many days of the island being fully operational with very little guests. A waste of overhead expenses. A waste of time and money for everyone. It had so much potential to be my favourite job; it had the nature, plenty of silence, no pollution, no traffic, good people, and surf. But alas, it was the most boring fucking job I’ve ever had.
My shift was 10:00am until 10:00pm. It sounds like a long day but we weren’t doing squat. Excitement would be when a group of 4 would come for lunch or dinner – every other day.
What kept me happy though, was the surf. Facing the Pacific, The Spiny Lumpsucker had prime waves – seasonal, of course, but quality. So whenever the conditions were good, sometimes 5 times a week, I would be out in the water for 2 to 3 hours before my shift even started.
The island’s head chef, who was from Australia, wins the award for worst attitude of a human being. Low EQ, irrationally angry all the time, poor leadership style – which revolved around screaming at everyone and blaming his staff for little nothings.
A lot of pressure can do that to a person. Maybe he was abused as a child – bullied or molested – and sought out leadership roles to power-trip and get one-up over everyone else. But, I shouldn’t assume, nor should I take it personally.
Paired with one of the most difficult chefs I’ve ever had to work with, it was the best of times and the worst of times. The take away? Despite the fun I had outside of work, since the work itself wasn’t challenging, fulfilling nor pleasant, I didn’t stick around. So I left after 6 months.
My time at The Spiny Lumpsucker was what I needed at exactly the right time. I left with a much better understanding of myself – not because of the idle days in the kitchen or the outstanding example of leadership portrayed by our head chef, but because of the things I learned from the island friends I met, my proximity to nature and surfing.