With culinary schools in Manila churning out chefs at record pace, their reputation as an international source of kitchen talent is accelerating

Four things remain certain in today’s uncertain world: death, taxes, change, and the desire to go out and have a hearty, lip-smacking meal.

The fact of the matter is that people love to eat. Despite all the economic ups and downs, the demographic changes, trending lifestyles and periodic cultural shifts, people will always love delicious and appealing food.

This phenomenon is even more pronounced today with the advent of famous lifestyle shows exposing viewers to interesting dining experiences and glorifying international chefs like Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver and Anthony Bourdain into culinary superstardom. Even the writer Elizabeth Gilbert devoted a third of her best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” to the gustatory pleasures she indulged in in Italy. Clearly, the demand for high-quality, creatively prepared cuisine is on the rise. Consequently, professionally trained chefs are fast Collegesbecoming a felt need and a hot item in international kitchens.

A Rising Global Demand for Chefs

According to the recently established Institute for Culinary Arts and Food Service (ICF), the demand for chefs worldwide is increasing. “England has recently indicated the need for close to 300 chefs, while Australia has signified intentions of hiring more chefs and cooks,” shares Paz Sales, ICF’s school director. “The Middle East, despite the recent economic setback, continues to have a huge demand for skilled kitchen staff, and cruise lines are also on the lookout for new recruits.”

The local culinary scene is no exception. In recent years, the Philippines has sent almost 8,400 qualified people to kitchens the world over, two-thirds of whom were chefs and cooks. The country also expects a huge demand for highly skilled kitchen personnel due to the influx of medical tourists in the country, most of whom will need specially prepared food.

But while the demand for chefs continues to rise, there is an apparent lack of qualified people to fill in the positions. Chef See Cheong Yan, the Corporate Culinary Head of Enderun Colleges, expressed that in his recent travels to the United States and Europe, he noticed a lack of interest among Americans and Europeans to be involved in the culinary industry. “They would rather do other things because they either find it difficult or they find the hours bad,” See says. “But people still need to eat so the opportunities for aspiring Filipino chefs looking to work abroad are increasing.”

“The interest we see in culinary arts education in the Philippines has been an explosion of both cooking schools and culinary arts education,” adds Enderun Colleges’ Provost, Dr. Lance Masters, Ph.D. “Because of the growth of business and wealth, and the middle and upper class, there is now an increase at the business traveler level throughout the world. This has brought about an increase in the quality of accommodation, which is simultaneous with the increase in quality and quantity of ‘cuisine’, not just food.”

Culinary Arts Education in the Philippines

For the ambitious culinary artist, being a good cook is not enough. A bachelor’s degree is becoming an increasingly important ingredient for success. In the Philippines, CCA Manila pioneered culinary arts education in 1997 when they started offering the public their flagship one- and two-year programs in Culinary Arts and Technology Management, both providing a solid foundation to become a culinary chef.

“There’s a trend worldwide that’s hyping about the importance of food, not only in daily living but as a business enterprise,” says Dr. Veritas Luna, Ph.D., managing director of CCA Manila. “This was realized by Susan Guerrero, CCA’s president. She was already in the restaurant business and she saw that Filipinos had the potential to be locally and internationally competitive. So she decided to open a training school to develop these professionals, and with the help of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, she developed a curriculum and opened the doors of CCA to some 55 students at the time.”

A number of culinary arts schools have since followed suit. Recent years have seen a tremendous growth in the number of culinary schools around the country offering various certificates, courses and degrees. Some, like Enderun Colleges, even go beyond culinary arts education by offering a four-year hospitality degree where students simultaneously learn culinary arts and hospitality management.
“An Enderun graduate is going to be a successful business person who will most probably work in the hospitality industry,” says Dr. Masters. “To achieve that, he/she needs to have a liberal arts foundation, a business education, and the knowledge and skill in culinary arts. That’s much more than being able to mechanically assemble recipes and produce food.”

For-profit Educators —Who Eats the Cake?

While it is undeniable that culinary arts schools in the Philippines are learning institutions, one thing that sets them apart from schools and universities offering more traditional academic programs is that they are run as businesses.

With her background in the Nutrition and Dietetics education industry, CCA’s Dr. Luna can attest to the stark difference. “The education industry in Nutrition is very closely knit—schools partner with other schools offering the same program,” she says. “I’ve not seen this in the culinary arts education industry because it appears that it is run as a business and not as an academic institution, so you see others as competitors.”

As culinary schools in the country increase in number, existing institutions see it as imperative to always be a notch above competition. When it comes to comparative advantage, leading schools pack a mean punch by benchmarking against international standards. CCA Manila, in particular, is the only culinary school in Asia accredited by the American Culinary Federation. Enderun Colleges is partnered with the Alain Ducasse Formation, offering students the opportunity to undergo rigorous culinary training under the supervision of three-star Michelin Chef Alain Ducasse’s culinary team.

Competition aside, Dr. Luna says that what would probably elevate culinary arts education in the Philippines is a united body. “I do believe that for our country to have a foothold on the culinary arts industry in the country and in Asia, we have to be united,” Luna says. “It doesn’t have to be all about competition, although I know that from a business point of view it may be so. But from the academic point of view, I believe the institutions would have to mature further to see each other as allies rather than competition.”

It is a sentiment Chef See Cheong Yan shares, saying: “It is usually controlling agencies like TESDA doing this, but for culinary schools to join in…it may take a little lobbying. They may not understand yet why we need this, but if we are going to continue this economy by exporting people, we have to visit this possibility. It’s going to take some time because the industry, while not really in its beginnings, is young. It’s been some time but we need regulations, streamlining, and a body of representatives from different culinary institutions to straighten everything out.”

Published in Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section. July 5, 2010