13 going on 2013

So it's the new year. And instead of resolutions, these are what you should be doing the moment the clock strikes midnight:
1. Be thankful for another year of adventures
2. Skip the usual resolutions. Just make this year better
3. Connect more in real life, than online
4. Try something new for 30 days
5. It takes 6 months to learn anything. Try French
6. It's not what you do that defines you. It's the choices you make along the way
7. Take pictures of what you made, not of what you are about to eat
8. Shop for Christmas throughout the year
9. Manage your money with YNAB (Google it)
10. Get yourself lost the moment you step foot into a new city
11. Believe in serendipity, soul mates and Santa Claus
12. Look at the world through the eyes of an 8 year old
13. Place this number on your next lottery ticket

Happy new year! Leave here how you can make 2013...


Missing home

It's been a week since I set foot on Singaporean soil. Since then I have been amazed at the sensations that surround me daily. Ask me two weeks ago if I would see upon my own eyes the famous raffles hotel and I would have looked back with utter despair.
For a week I have worked in the kitchen of Brotzeit at raffles city. Training has been most straightforward and professional. I have tried a few hawker food stalls. Had seen some of the sights. But I have not much leisure time as one would hope. I am happy at the restaurant. I've learned new things. I have risen from mediocre cooking once more. And I miss my family more everyday.
I look forward to coming home in two weeks. Hopefully a better person...


the last straw



I have made a decision. It was borne out of pride more than necessity. The last straw was drawn and now I find myself looking forward to moving on.

Two weeks ago I sent out my CV to a restaurant group that would open a restaurant in March of next year. Posted on an on-line job listing, it had its usual prerequisites. But what stood out is that they needed somebody who knew how to cook and could speak German. Hey, I could do that.

A week went by and I didn’t hear a thing. Until last week. One of the owners called me up for an interview one afternoon. After another interview through Skype from Singapore, next thing I knew I was offered the job. Culinary Director. Nice ring to it, no?

Then they told me I had to go to Singapore in the next week or so to train. And like Murphy, I found that my passport needed renewal. Oh no. Pulling a few favors and going through the motions of passport renewal, I will be ready to leave on time.

As for the restaurant I am working in at the moment, the more I think about moving on, the more it looks like that this place is going to the dogs. More mistakes are cropping up. More mediocrity is emphasized. More obvious that there will be nothing here in the future.

So I took the job. I will. I need it. Being away from my family for a couple of weeks will be hard. But in the long run it will be good. It will be very good. Click on the image above and see where I am going. Tell me. I will be in Singapore soon. Anything interesting to see or do during the few hours I am free?


2nd to the last straw

It was a bad day yesterday. The monstrous Metro Manila Traffic got me in trouble at work for being late. What usually is a half an hour commute took three times that. I guess it’s a sign that the Holidays are upon us.

Getting to work to find that the manager has sent out the guests because there was no one in the kitchen. What? There are two inane questions here that need to be addressed:

Why are there no kitchen staff at the restaurant when it opened? And more importantly…

Why did the manager send out the guests instead of having them wait in the comfort of air conditioning and good music?

I work with complacent cooks. These are cooks who do mise en place a la minute. They were already bad apples when I was recently added to the roster. And yesterday nobody was in the kitchen due to either that they were on day off or they were late too. One was late. But he was always late. Always. And yesterday I found out why he was never chewed out before I took over his job. But I will get back to that later.

The motley crew consisted of three cooks when I took over. Al I knew from years before at an Italian restaurant. He was surprised that I took over his job, owing to the fact that he drove the kitchen down so low that it was covered in stain, dirt and rat droppings. Much can be said about the many levels of mediocre his food was found to be. Alvin was a steakhouse guy before. Most reliable. Fast worker. Can be taught. And shoots before asking questions. Stocky and healthy as an ox, moves quickly. A few polishing around the edges and he could well outpace half of Manila’s cooks. And then there is JC. Dishwasher and so-called cook. The dirtiest kind. The kind you would see toiling in a backwater canteen.

The Manager seems to have this cook as a favorite. And since the cook makes the manager’s meals, I supposed it applies to that adage ‘do not bite the hand that feeds you’. I guess that is the reason. He can probably get away with murder.

My days are numbered at that place. I look forward to the day when I leave that place for good.


This is my kind of morning

I like mornings like this.


I drive my daughter to school every morning for the past countless mornings. We drive with the windows down, to take in the fresh, crisp air and revel in the relative quiet of going through the near empty streets. And this time of year we are treated to some cool weather, with a light morning fog blanketing the low skyline of the nearby villages.

The yellow glow from the sunrise makes everything more colorful during the nine kilometer travel from home to Montessori. Me and Maxine see more things in detail, notice unusual places and appreciate what was not noticed before. Roosters calling in for duty. The streets are actually a lighter shade of gray. Drivers are friendlier. There are less psychotic jeepney drivers. A hole-in-the-wall bakery actually just popped out on us as we followed the scent of freshly baked bread.

On the way home I deliberately kept the radio off. I just stared out through the windshield, pensive, mindful that in a few minutes all so-called drivers will be let loose. I was not in a hurry to end morning drives like this. And I was on schedule.

It is mornings like this that make me look forward to the day. I am my own commander. I control fate. I am the creator of what will happen.

Cue “Roam” by the B-52s…


Lunch as it should be

When was the last time you had lunch? When you had a four-hour-long lunch? With friends?

Little is known about a long leisurely meal spiced with banter and gossip. Especially when it is prepared by an accomplished cook by the name of Nicole. This diminutive woman slaved over a hot fire to make this happen.

It just so happens that Nicole is a very good friend of my life partner, Rossana, so an invitation was extended to me, Alie and Maxine to tag along and partake in an afternoon of real cooking, fiery gossip and Just dance with the XBox.

As soon as we arrived, which was not hard to find since Nicole had the only pink facade in the neighborhood, the smell of roasting pervaded through the front door and onto the driveway.We sat down in the veranda at a small picnic table simply decorated with a table cloth and some silverware, much like what you would find at the picnic grove.


We started out with some cherry tomatoes al forno with some warm toasted baguette. With a sip of sparkling wine, this was a pleasant beginning. The soft juicy tomatoes still had its freshness, the crisp baguette and we began talking about how things were not right in Manila. Small talk, mostly. But then again, we were just getting started.



After about half an hour of just sopping up the juices with the soft insides of the crusty bread, Nicole sent out another tomato recipe, of which its simplicity totally emphasizes that gourmet will not work in the early hours of this particular afternoon. No, she had to blow our taste buds. A jar of home made tomato and garlic jam thudded softly on the table, with a plate of baked brie.

Our table knives just sunk into the warm cheese, steam escaping softly as we slathered the baguette with the tomato jam. The sweet concoction spiced up with some garlic was welcome contrast to the warm, comforting cheese as we started to relax and decompress. This was good.


We soon started talking about her husband, who was away at the time. And her son’s fascination with Airsoft Play. The conversation was so light we hadn’t noticed really that she had disappeared into the kitchen. And out came the the next courses, if you can call them that. Prawns and scallop on lemon risotto made our hearts skip a beat. Having not recovered fully as to the extent of her preparations, she laid on the table a platter of pot roast beef, and grilled pork barbecue. She apologetically had to confess that she had to make do with the absence of Arborio, to which we clamored it did not matter. And it really didn’t.


For the texture was divine, al dente, flavorful, the scallops so juicy and nicely paired with the prawns.


The pot roast my mother could not have made it any better. Soft, fork tender beef with crisp garlic flakes and mushrooms


Grilled pork always had a way into my heart. Though not perfect, they were good accompaniment for the rest of the meal.

How does one think of these things on a day when you just want to lie back and veg out. Sunday. We can only momentarily decipher the motives, but the food was too good to be even thinking about anything or anyone but ourselves and the world that extends outside of us, social networks of course not included. This is a real connection among friends. I don’t have to click on a button to say that we liked it. Love it? Nicole only had to bring out the decadent dessert…


Chocolate and Oreo Mousse cake. With some coffee. And the late afternoon sun. You really can not ask for more. Not with this in our belly.


As the sun slowly sank behind the veranda wall, and the air started getting cooler, conversation was noticeably slower, more carefree. A few rounds with ‘Just Dance’ on the XBox was a welcome distraction because we were so stuffed, so satisfied, so intensely saturated with good food, that dancing had to distract the love handles from getting any bigger. For we were at risk to just lay back, unbutton our trousers and sigh with gratitude. And that was what we could call a proper lunch.

P1020715Before sending us off, Nicole generously handed us a few jars of limoncello jam, citrus marmalade and more of the tomato and garlic jam. It will start the week out right. How did you spend your Sunday?


Six Legs and some exercise

I was surrounded by bitches one brisk Sunday morning. It just so happens that their cackles and noises woke me up. Good thing there was a box of donuts and a copious amount of coffee to get me through the morning.


I was attending the Sassa Six-Legged walkathon at the Mall of Asia grounds. In cooperation with the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), it was meant to have humans and dogs bond and have a good time. PAWS even had some dogs run that were up for adoption. Cool isn’t it.

So I took shots of man’s best friend in action. And it was inspiring to see the love these owners have for their dogs.

Have a look. Ah. The things I get myself into. Which dog did you like?


And life continues…so will this blog

My neck hurts. My eyes are strained. And I don’t feel like climbing Mount Everest today. Sorry. I know I have not been able to write sooner. A lot of things have happened since the last post. Most of it were good. Busy productive days, really. Made a few bucks on the side. Have been more than liquid. And the budget software YNAB has been a great help. My ends are not only meeting, but there are going to bed often and having glorious financial sex.

Some of them were bad. A few days I went through the grinder and was about to lose my job due to a steep learning curve and a less than stellar superior. Been in arguments that are both unreasonable and insane. I told an egotistical cook to suck my dick because the title of ‘chef’ does not belong to him since he could not even make pasta al dente.

I wake up before dawn to get my kid  ready for school, even after a heavy night at the restaurant. And since the house help has raised her ugly head as another thief, our lives have been a little harder to cope with. But me and my family manage.

I am thankful for everything lately. It’s hard not to be. Contentment really is a sign of happiness.

A few months ago I was about to fall into a deep hole again due to unforeseen circumstances. But I recovered. And I can see my family will have a good Christmas.

I am growing my hair out again. I just felt luckier with long hair. You? How have you been the past few months? As my Maxine asks me every night, ‘Tell me a story…’


Eat Eastern Ho

It really is a sorry state of affairs if a hotel can't keep up appearances. Some hotels hide it so well you wouldn't know that they are close to filing Chapter 11. Other less fortunate operators have to go through the fiscal year with properties so dilapidated that customers have to think thrice before booking.

And then there are the ones who don't care. I have observed one such hotel in the last two months because my projects have brought me within striking vicinity. The Great Eastern Hotel along Makati Avenue used to be a very good mid-scale hotel. One of my favorite places to eat steak when I was a lot younger.

But it has run down lately, and it shone a shining beacon to show its mediocrity recently...

Now it was curious they let this happen. So, feeling like a good Samaritan at the time, I went to the hotel to let them know that their sign is sending the wrong message. It's been years since I entered the lobby, and I was surprised at how sleazy the place has turned out. Waiters playing cards in a vacant restaurant; dark corners made creepier by dirty marble floors. A lone receptionist told me coldly there are no supervisors or manage on duty. I showed her the picture. She just shrugged and said she will note it down.I left, thinking it's no loss to me.

Two weeks pass and that signage still held up, until it got repaired to show the full sign. Perhaps somebody else noticed. The absentee manager? Yet, two nights later it broadcast-ed a different message...

Now do they have a new product? A new incentive to patronize this hotel? I never bothered to go back. The receptionist was blase about the faux pas anyway. That sign stayed up for two and half weeks before it got fixed.

But a few days after that was hilarious...

The Manager obviously does not care. A month goes by and it still is blazing its red letters that way. I wonder how many got duped into thinking that there is that to eat?

Mediocrity. Along Makati Avenue. Eat. Eastern. Ho.

Have you seen equally disturbing hotel signage elsewhere?


Split bread in the hot springs

photo by Koyaya via TripWow
It was a light rain I woke up to this morning. Sky was dark and grey. The streets were still shaking off the night's downpour. Yes. Manila was on it's fourth day of swimming through the Monsoon. The news on the TV were not the kind of motivational cadre that one would set his to-do list to. And I was not going to let myself down that rabbit hole, because there mas much to accomplish this morning.
At half past eight this morning I got into the car with fellow Chef Tom by the Expressway turnoff. Settling into the climate controlled cockpit, we planned our agenda for that morning. After a quick stop at a local coffee shop along the expressway, I could see that Chef Tom was excited about the project. We were tasked to work on a local bakery that sold pan de sal, and the owners wanted to take it to the next level.
The rains were still pouring, but we managed to find the place after a few wrong turns and a bathroom detour, about an hour later. Into the mountains of Los Banos Laguna we went, parking just before the State University gate. The air was much cleaner here, and a light fog just settling over the hills.This is where people come to relax. This is the place were numerous hot springs dot the mountains. This is maybe where I would like to die someday.
The restaurant space was tiny, but it was specific for its purpose. Selling out-of-this-world bread.And the location was a great magnet for students from the University and residents from the surrounding area. And judging by the competition, Chef Tom found that they could have a niche. So much of a niche that they could milk it even more by yogurt ice cream. The owners were a young delightful couple, Carlo and Chel Vega. Having very little restaurant experience, we were there to help them out.
After hashing out a menu and measuring space and equipment dimensions, we said we would meet back in Manila to discuss blueprints and marketing. The meeting was a positive, and were more excited.
After parting ways, the rains came down heavily as we made our way back to the Metro. Floods were creeping up again.
Chef Tom dropped me off near my home, and by the time I opened the front door, the rain coat I was wearing was reduced to a wet rag. After a hot shower and a hot cop of instant coffee, I reviewed the days events and contemplated the pleasant consequences. As the the afternoon drew its veil, I took settled into the warm bed and fell blissfully into sleep. No use going to work. It was flooded everywhere in Manila. So being stuck was really not a bad idea. I will resume my professional life tomorrow. Bear with me.



On the third day of continuous pouring rain. And I am loving it. The cool breeze. The clean air. It really is invigorating when you take that first sip on that hot coffee and watch the droplets washing every grain of worry away.
Its the third day. And I actually enjoyed being stranded at home. Just not doing anything but be hypnotized by the sensory pitter patter of rain on the roof and the cool grey sky. Though the sun is blocked out by the ominous clouds, the water enhances the color of most everything.
It is terrible news to hear of people suffering because of the rain. Best we can do is pray for them. Considering we can't venture out into the floods ourselves. So I appreciate more the comforts that we afford ourselves when caught in the downpour. A roof over our heads, warm clothing, and a bowl of soup.

caramelized pumpkin soup

800g pumpkin, peeled and deseeded
30 ML olive oil
20g chopped garlic
60g chopped red onion
1tsp dried oregano
1L chicken stock
80ml cream
Salt and pepper

Season pumpkin and coat lightly with some of the oil
Roast in 350F oven on a tray until golden, about 30 minutes. Let cool.
Saute garlic and onion until tender in olive oil
Add pumpkin and toss until toasted, about 10 minutes
Pour in stock. Bring to boil, then lower heat to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Let cool.
Pass through a processor until smooth
Return to pot and reheat. Add the cream and season to taste

Best to enjoy a steaming bowl with some crusty bread. How do you enjoy the rains?


Watering the 'chef'

In this country, most schools are like mills. They crank out diplomas like hay stacks. It comes to a point where the educational system is so watered down that the only prestige you get to show off is how much you are paying in tuition fees every year. And in the capital of the pretentious in this country, many believe this to be true.
The brain drain is so watered down that the greatest cooks Manila has ever experienced are working on cruise liners and other countries. The ones who are left behind still master their craft, which really result in legendary cooking. Thus the glamor of being a chef has contributed to the triviality of cooking in general, professional cooking in particular.
So it is not surprising to see the sprouting of cooking schools all over the metro. They're profilerating like weeds, encroaching on every educational institution and nook and cranny. Granted there would be rare finds that has the same prestige as a black truffle, but most are just in it for the money. A computer technology college suddenly have a culinary program? Unknown cooks putting up their own cooking schools? (This last one I have to say are the so called 'chefs' who can't hack it in the real world and decided to just teach). This sort of thing happened before. With the nursing, caregiver, IT, call center agent craze that swept Manila as the millennium rolled around. Now the term 'chef' has been compromises to include anyone, and I mean anyone, who puts on the whites and holds a mass produced culinary diploma. And watching these culinary wannabes go through my kitchens eventually having a mortality rate of 90%, it just shows what the shattered dream is: that the first few years in a professional kitchen is not all glamor and money. It's hard work. Real hard work. And simply putting on your whites and showing off you $100 knife does not make you a 'chef'.
A chef, by definition, is a professional cook that leads other cooks. That title is earned after many years working in a hot steamy kitchen, going through each and every night of cooking to learn the trade, to eventually be able to do at least one dish consistently for a thousand times. Politics come with the territory, and the kitchen heirarchy is a tough wall to climb. But if you're strong enough, determined enough, callous enough, and smart enough, one day you may be able to lead your own kitchen and make the world a better place.


A 15 year-old list to myself


When I do get Doc’s deLorean, I will send the following list to my younger, idiot self:

  1. Squirrel away as much as you can
  2. Do not confuse love with infatuation or lust
  3. Do not attract attention to yourself
  4. Use the power of positive thinking
  5. Lose the inhibitions, but be cautious
  6. Leave company when advancement is via seniority, not merit
  7. Avoid female bosses
  8. Learn to control your temper
  9. There are better people than you who have done worse
  10. Buy into Google and Microsoft
  11. Textbook cooking is not the same as real cooking
  12. Do not leave the Peninsula hotel. Go wherever Chef Gundlach takes you
  13. People who look for the limelight are the ones who are pretentiuous
  14. Believe in the phrase ‘Birds of a feather…’
  15. Keep to your mind map
  16. Learn how to read people
  17. Stay in the shadows, find the the opportune time to strike
  18. ‘When in doubt, throw it out’ applies to everything
  19. Peer pressure is as lame as the word ‘impossible’
  20. Choose your trysts, you may regret it down the road
  21. Having the latest and the greatest isn’t always the best
  22. Don’t lose sight of serendipity
  23. Your choices are what define you, not what you do
  24. Do not let anyone cut you down
  25. Start networking…a lot
  26. Assets are liabilities. Make them into generators of your future
  27. Save enough for even just one real estate property, and buy it
  28. Gratification is a luxury. Attaining it is the adventure
  29. Politicians are crooked
  30. Policemen are crooked
  31. Government employees are crooked
  32. People will never pay attention to you unless you could do something for them
  33. Do not ever hope for a career in showbiz
  34. Keep a notebook of all your own recipes
  35. Live life

This is not an existential list. It sits on my desktop until I can print it out to give it to Doc and Marty


In limbo

I have been out of the loop for a while. In fact, the last time I did anything strenuous was over thirty days ago. Yes. I am unemployed at the moment. because one day my ex-boss took me aside and says they have to let me go because they couldn’t afford me anymore.

‘didn’t you see this coming when you hired me?’ I asked in an even tone.

Boss just looks at me. ‘I left a pretty good job for you’ I said.

To which he replied ‘Maybe you could go back’. That bridge has burned, I though to myself

So now I watching every cent, every movement that I do. At this moment I am very worried. School starts soon, and the bills will be coming.

It’s incredible how I find myself in this situation. But I will not let it control my fate.

I have an interview in an hour. Wish me luck.


A proposal like no other

I came across this video in the middle of the night. And I cried.

And it made me feel happy. If you have friends like they do, you are very lucky. Please leave a comment below for the creators to see how you felt. And congratulate them.


A weekend at the hospital

Our little one, Maxine had to have her tonsils taken out. The doctors said they were ‘kissing’ and was a candidate for removal. Maxine snored like a chainsaw at night, and these two globules were the culprit. And so after a few consultations and many hours at the hospital clinics, we moved into Makati Medical Center


Day 1 – Got a text message from the Hospital saying that the room is ready and to check-in. Rossana was at work, so I took Maxine to the hospital right after lunch. Her apprehension was apparent, being quiet the whole time in our cab trip. After an hour of clearing with the HMO, we were brought up to the sixth floor and settled in. Fluffy pillows, small semi-private room. After the prerequisite nurses’ visit for vital stats and recording, we gorged on chips and ice cream. I wanted her to be as comfortable as she can and keep her mind off next morning’s procedure. Rossana took over the shift after dinner, and I went home to scrub off the sterile hospital atmosphere from my body and get some sleep.

Day 2 – at six, nurse comes in and gently wakes Maxine. She opens her eyes, the fear not settling in yet as she does not know what is coming next. Rossana tells her that an IV drip will have to be inserted and that she will be breathing in sleeping gas. At three years old, an idiot nurse stabbed the back of Maxine’s hand eight times unsuccessfully to get a vein. And that is pretty ugly for a three year old. So it was understandable that Maxine was scared now. At the pre-operating room, Rossana suggested I go in to help Maxine cope and appreciate that were there with her. In my scrubs, I whispered over and over in the operating room that everything will be ok. That we love her. That this is only temporary. She struggled quite a bit with the gas mask. It was painful for any parent to see their kid being subjected to all these kid-unfriendly equipment probing her. So Maxine held my hand tightly to see I was still there. Still there for her. Two minutes later she went under. I left the operating room to join Rossana and prayed that Maxine will be alright. We went back to the room and waited. Two hours later, we got a call from the operating room to come. When we got there, we found Maxine on her side, crying quietly from the pain.


We again whispered that we were there, touching her, holding her hand. Whimpering, she was escorted back to the room. And I rushed out to buy some ice cream. She had a few spoons, then promptly fell asleep. She cried in her sleep, clutching at the ice bag that was resting at her throat. She woke at sunset, not hungry, but we fed her a Slurpee anyway. A little past nine her favorite cousin Colin came. And she was more alive again. Her pain has lessened, and she went to sleep feeling a little better. Rossana went home and I took watch. It was going to be a long night.

Day 3 – After several bathroom breaks and broken sleep from the pain throughout the night, Maxine awoke with a smile on her face and said ‘Doodah, can we go home?’ She was smiling. After clearing with the hospital and the doctors, getting the prescriptions and the diet advice, we made our way home with her Aunt Gina. and we bought more ice cream. And she was feeling a little better. She developed a cough and cold at the hospital, but she was happy she was finally at home. Rossana was happy that all went well. And she hugged Maxine, and mommied her, and loved her. She had that same look when we brought Maxine home after being born. And that was the moment any mother will truly cherish, knowing that their baby is the center of the universe.

That was a long weekend.

Green mango in this heat?

I really can not stand the heat. I can bear the heat of the kitchen. But not the heat that summer brings. Especially this summer. It is so bad that there are many hours when it is too hot to move.

I tried many things to cool down. A few cold showers a day. Drinking lots of cold water. Even just spending hours in the mall. But it can only go so far. And you can’t get naked in a mall. My pee is bright yellow. Dehydration. Air-conditioning is a big drain on the electricity bill, and it really isn’t good for the environment.

It is now reported to be 39 degrees centigrade. Incredible. And 60% humidity is not helping. It just makes the heat fell more like a pin prick on every pore of the body.

I made a batch of green mango ice cream, since it is this time of year when green mangos are falling off the trees like hail stones.

So I made this simple recipe for the sake of cooling down. It’s easy, fast and a good way to take the edge off the heat even just for a few minutes. So here goes




Green Mango Ice Cream

1 green mango, peeled
300 ml condensed milk
600 ml whipping cream
60 gr white sugar
2 gr salt

  1. In a food processor or blender, pour in the the condensed milk and the chopped flesh of the green mango. Process for about a minute until smooth. Add in the salt and pulse for a few times
  2. In a bowl, whip the refrigerated cream with sugar until soft peaks form
  3. Fold green mango puree into the whipped cream until just blended
  4. Transfer to a ice cream container and place in freezer for two hours
  5. Take out of the freezer and whip with a spoon just to break up any ice crystals
  6. Serve very cold

How do you chill out? Please tell me. I’m dying here


Is a call center job for you?

I am not a hypocrite. Well, not all the time. To err is human. But I did for exactly 365 days take up work with headset on my head receiving calls to earn a few bucks. Yes. I did the call center gig. Among other reasons, the primary raison d'être was the bubble had to burst. Because, no matter how desperate you are, or how jaded you are, a call center ‘job’ will not live up to what you want in life. Call center gigs is not something to be proud of.

BPOs outsourced their customer relations strategies for just one reason alone: money. Because labor is cheap in Manila. And to earn a measly $300 a month as an agent saves a bundle for the overseas companies. This is one view.

From the employees view, they think they are working for an international company, where skills and communication are king. And to work in the commercial business district and calling your half a cubicle your ‘office’ makes you feel like you are on the prow of the Titanic. In a way you are. Tragic ending and all. Let me give you the reasons…

  1. You work with scripts. Set phrases and words that are supposed to be posted on a notepad on your desktop. And they are strictly the only words anyone is allowed to use. Quality analysts, team leaders and coaches listen in on your calls to make sure that you don’t get creative. This script is ingrained in the first two weeks, where each and every agent is taught how to speak English like an American. With the twang and drawl.
  2. Your ‘office’ is half a cubicle, which holds a desktop computer, a phone interface and headset. As an agent, you are not allowed to make that office your own. No family pictures. No personal effects. That is where you will be stuck in for 8 hours a day. Watching a computer screen endlessly, accumulating carpal tunnel syndrome and dealing with the frigid air-conditioning because the PCs are more important. So very loud woolen blankets with prints of Winnie the pooh and bright patterns are part of the uniform
  3. Your work is determined my numbers on a spreadsheet. You are graded and judged by both the customers and the internal Quality Analysts. These stats determine how aligned your mindset is with the company, in a more robotic drone kind of way.
  4. It’s like college all over again. The freshman year. Aforementioned stats are summarized by teams and posted on walls as an arts and crafts projects. Bulletin boards are plastered with cardboard, Styrofoam strings, markers and everything else except cheerleaders pom-poms. You have coaching, team huddles and Team leader and agent conferences. In the center I worked for, you basically have no uniform, pretending to have the Google culture.
  5. Incentives are incredible. Where else can you get a small can of Pringles and a bottle of iced tea as a prize for getting a perfect score in one customer survey (which is subjective, no matter how you see it)
  6. The extent of your customer relations is through phone. Never face-to-face. So being a jerk will not incur reprimands because the customer on the other end can’t do anything about it. Connecting with the customer is simply a digital voice that works a script to empathize and acknowledge
  7. You work with people from all walks of life. Gay, straight, corporate, hippie, yuppie, dirty old men, cougars. I even came across hookers, former doctors and nurses, singers and transvestites. Because of statistics, equality rules. And you meet hundreds of them throughout the tenure, since turnover is high
  8. Unlimited amounts of coffee. In the form of premixes. Convenient. Don’t have to deal with brewing another pot or waiting in line for a latte. Just bottomless dredges provided by Nescafe.
  9. It’s easy work. You sit on your butt for hours, in an air-conditioned room, play with your computer, take a few phone calls, and you get a pay check. No brain needed. Just scripts. And the tools that help make those scripts happen to get that perfect customer survey so you can enjoy this time a bag of chips and some Oreos.
  10. Office romances and politics are nil, so there is no chance of making a mess in your own backyard. Like I said, interpersonal relationships are by phone. As a trainee all you and your team member will be asking is ‘how are your calls?’

Call center work is really a stop-gap when you are in between legitimate jobs. It also is a dead-end. If you decide to make a career out of it, think about these things: If someone asks you what work you do, can you honestly be proud enough to say you work in call center? What happens after a few years of call center work? Do you advance? What skill can you get from taking phone calls that could land you  a real, if not better, job? And last, but not the least, did you really work hard through college just to answer phone calls for a living?



I think not.


Beeep! Wrong answer!

The past few weeks have taught me that there are two kinds of people: The ones who move forward. And the ones who rot themselves in mediocrity. And it was well pronounced in the many interactions I have had with Globe Telecoms that provide my phone and internet services, or the lack of it. But that is another post. A lengthy post that is worthy of the ears of the Department of Trade and Industry and any other broadsheet that matters.

Image courtesy of Global Leadership

What I am writing about it are the responses that tell me mediocrity rules in people who are only after their paycheck, themselves and indifferent to how the world still moves along, despite the narcissistic attitude of thinking it revolves around themselves. Many people have written about how mediocrity creeps into our interactions with the world. Biased or otherwise, being mediocre is not we as humans have evolved over millions of years to strive for. And yet here we are, taking this crap from ‘Customer Service Agents’ that do not know a thing about customer service and work in a cubicle calling their call center gig a job. This does not apply just to the call center dweebs. This applies to anyone who makes the mistake of uttering any or both of the two phrases that bring out the worst in me: ‘It depends…’ and ‘Pasensya’.

Now these two phrases are a product of laziness, of being safe, and, as mentioned before, mediocrity. And I will tell you why.

When I present a situation to you, in the form or a question, a theory, a hypothesis or simply asking for help on choosing the lesser of two evils, I look for a direct answer. Because most likely, for all intents and purposes, I have considered the pros and cons, and merely looking for a second opinion or an objective perspective from another point of view. But if you start your reply with ‘It depends…’ it tells me that you are trying to be a know-it-all, a smart-ass, a charlatan. Because you are unsure yourself of what the answer should be, so you utter those two words just to be safe. That you think you can wash your hands clean of all responsibility for any or all consequences that may come. A straight direct answer earns my respect and the possibility that I may need your help again.

Now Globe Telecoms is a different kind of monster. Numerous phone calls to their agents allowed me to conclude that 99% of them are morons who can’t get work anywhere else because their command of the English language and any interpersonal skills in English and Tagalog  are mediocre at best. And apparently, their supervisors, bosses and trainers all subscribe to the idea that ‘Pasensya’ actually does anything to placate an abused subscriber. ‘Pasensya’ essentially means ‘Have patience’ or ‘I’m sorry’. Done right, this phrase should be able to reassure anyone. To make them feel better. But uttering these two words to get that result, as evident by many from Globe Telecoms, can only be achieved by those who value human relationships. Have patience, the service will come back up as soon as possible. Have patience, this is only a temporary setback. Have patience, you will be fairly compensated for any inconvenience we may have caused you. Now that works. But people who are lazy, mundane, mediocre and of a lower class do it differently. The say ‘Pasensya’ to shut people up. They say ‘Pasensya’ because they don’t have the articulation to think up a reassuring response. ‘Pasensya’ is a quick response to say ‘That’s it. No more.’

So give me a direct answer. Don’t tell me to shut up. Follow through on what you are doing and saying. Speak to me with conviction. Be deliberate and with purpose. Know what you are doing, or give the work to somebody else who needs it more.

‘It depends…’ and ‘Pasensya’ never worked for anybody. The speaker of these words may live in the illusion that it accomplishes anything. You are right. It shows how mediocre you are. So don’t waste my time.


30 minutes from scratch

I look into the sunset and the glow just feels right, even though the summer heat was creeping into every pore of my body. To figure out what is for dinner is a daily challenge, as most people would experience that there is very little time to prepare a meal, much less for more than one person. With all the advances in technology that has created numerous time-saving gadgets and processes, we seem to have less time than before.


So it is out of necessity that people look to quick recipes, short cuts and the throw-everything-together mantra. You must understand that cooking food, good food, requires serious thought and contemplation. That cooks long before you have struggled to discover ingredients, techniques and innuendos into recipes for future reference. Canned goods, prepared foods, mass produced sauces, etc. are only good for two things: Consistency and for the idiot cook. Consistency is what a real cook strives for each and every time he makes a dish. But only because a real cook knows the principles behind the cooking. The idiot cook, on the other hand, believes that he will never fail a recipe because what comes out of the can will always be the same. Mind you, a lot of professional cooks used canned produce for the sole reason of consistency. And they can produce magic from it. Prepare good food. And more often than not that canned produce will never be the main focus of a meal.

So here is a recipe made from scratch, and can be done in less than 30 minutes. Not because I devised this to be made in half an hour, but because it is such a simple, hearty, beautiful dish that can be built upon. So have a go.




250 g pork shoulder, diced 1-inch
250 g pork liver
120 g carrots, peeled and diced
120 g potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp sea salt
30 m palm oil
200 ml tomato sauce

  1. In a bowl, rub the pork with sea salt throughly
  2. In a sauce pan, heat the oil over medium high heat
  3. Add the pork by batches and stir to brown all sides evenly. Remove from pan and set aside, about 3-5 minutes
  4. In the same pan, add the liver by batches and stir to brown evenly on all sides, about 3-5 minutes
  5. Add the garlic and onions, Stir and cook until tender, about 2 minutes
  6. Add back the pork and pour in the tomato sauce. Stir to distribute evenly.
  7. Add the potatoes and carrots. Lower heat to a simmer and cover for about 10 minutes until tender. Stir occassionally.
  8. If the sauce gets too thick, just add water. Season to taste

Now I have this recipe with steamed rice. It is equally good with some crusty bread to sop up the sauce. Or maybe this can be made into a pot pie. Hmmm…there’s a thought.


Popeye creamed!

Let’s see…hot charcoal on the grill, check! Marinated big ass pork chops, check! Summer, check!

Now the sides. potatoes of course come to mind. Maybe some caramelized tomato halves. I wanted something that would go well with the tangy taste of grilled pork chops. This recipe is simple, straightforward and just downright yummy. Vegetarians may love this. It is basic, and most home cooks have their own variation or twist just to make it look like it was imprisoned in a cookbook gathering dust in the dark corner of the kitchen.


Creamed Spinach

300 g spinach leaves, washed and drained
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 strips of smoked bacon, roughly chopped
30 ml olive oil

30 g unsalted butter

100 ml heavy cream
Some fresh grated parmesan

Bring a pot of water boil. Add the spinach leaves to blanch and wait for the bubbles to rise up again. Transfer spinach to ice bath to shock and retain the green rich color. Drain in a strainer and squeeze out as much water as possible. Set aside.
In a sauce pan, heat oil and butter over medium high heat.
Add the bacon and render for about 2-3 minutes until tender. Do not burn
Add the garlic and onions and saute for 2 minutes until tender and you can smell the heavenly aroma
Add the spinach and stir to coat all the leaves evenly
Add the cream and stir. Lower heat and let simmer for 3-5 minutes until spinach is tender

Season to taste. Transfer to a hot dish and sprinkle some fresh grated parmesan. (It is important you use fresh parmesan. The sawdust available at supermarkets is just plain wrong)

And guess what. There were leftover pork chops. This dish was cleaned out. Cleaned out.

As a variation, you could use bechamel sauce on this and bake in the oven at 375F for 10 minutes.

Let me know how this works for you. How would you do it differently?


Midnight Snack on a Skillet

Coming home at dawn was a welcoming diversion when I was a lot younger. This morning I suddenly realized that dawn can be quite beautiful during the summer months in a tropical country. What made it even more pleasant was because of two, entirely separate things. One is that during Holy Week a mass exodus to the beaches and resorts outside of Manila leaves the city almost deserted. It is quiet. No traffic. No hurries. And there is a reason to just veg out.

The other, more interesting, reason is the perfect after-midnight snack I had at a friend’s house. It is simple food inspired by Israeli cooks. It serves well for brunch. And the following recipe proves that it can be had any time of day. It is quick, simple and infinitely open to variations. According to Wikipedia:

Shakshouka (Arabic: شكشوكة‎; Hebrew: שקשוקה‎) (also shakshuka) is a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, often spiced with cumin.

shakshouka (2)

So the following recipe should be good for anyone with a craving after midnight…or brunch. Whatever floats your boat.

400 g canned tomato
1 long green chili, chopped
120 g green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
120 white onion, chopped
100 g tomato paste
75 ml olive oil
2 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
30 g fresh coriander, chopped
4 large eggs

  1. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and chili and saute for 3-5 minutes until tender
  2. Lower heat to medium and add the onions and bell pepper. Saute for 3 minutes more
  3. Add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer.  Add the rest of the spices and stir occasionally, simmering until the saue has thickened
  4. Add the eggs and let poach for 2-3 minutes. You can cover the pan for a more even cooking. The eggs should be soft and not overcooked
  5. Remove from heat and serve hot with crusty bread or baguette


As a variation, a few grates of fresh Parmesan adds a sharp flavor and adds more character to the dish. I would go even further as to add maybe a few more drops of olive oil and a spritz of fresh lemon juice. How would you change this recipe?


Beauty and the Bisteeya

I went to the extremes recently. Like any other cook, I took a new turn, and took out a recipe that was not in my repertoire. Though Mediterranean recipes often excited me, this made me nervous. The ingredient list was so long, the procedures twice as tedious. Plus, it’s a flavor that I am not familiar with. It is a typical recipe of chicken in filo pastry, but the steps involved prevented me from further experimentation. Why I took on this task you may ask?

I wanted to get some bugs out of my system. For days I have been plagued with anxiety attacks, nervousness, and worries. Though worrying does not solve anything, I needed to get myself out of the rut of inactivity and make my hands do all the talking. I thought of making some baguette, the wrestling of the dough surely to take away the feeling of impending doom. But that was too short of a diversion. Then cinnamon rolls, then brownies, then apple pie. No go. I needed something that would be both entertaining and complicated enough for me to believe that I could still spread my flour and butter stained wings.

So the following is a recipe for a Moroccan chicken and almond in Filo pastry

Ma'amoul (9)


15 ml Olive oil
750 gr breast fillet, skinless and coarsley chopped
2 cloves of chopped garlic
20 g freshly grated ginger
1 long chili, deseeded and chopped
10 g cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp saffron
300 ml chicken stock
50 g toasted almonds
20 g confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
50 g clarified butter
6 filo pastry sheets
1 egg
a bunch of fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Heat oil in pan over high heat. In batches, add the chicken and cook until toasted. Transfer to a bowl
  2. Add a bit more oil and saute onions and garlic until tender, not toasted. About 2 minutes. Add the ginger and chili and cook for 3 minutes more to let out the flavor and aroma.
  3. Add the chicken, cinnamon stick, saffron and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes or until liquid has evaporated. Take away from the heat and let cool
  4. Preheat oven 180C/375F
  5. Finely chop the toasted almonds and mix in a bowl with cinnamon and sugar.
  6. Grease a 9-inch pie pan with the clarified butter. Lay one sheet of the filo pastry on the pan, letting the edges hang over. Brush lightly with clarified butter, and sprinkle some of the cinnamon almond mixture. At a slight angle, lay another sheet of filo pastry and brush with butter. Sprinkle some more of the cinnamon almond mixture. Continue with the rest of the filo, laying a layer at an angle from the previous sheet
    .Ma'amoul (2)
  7. Add egg and the chopped coriander to the chicken mixture. Season to taste, then spoon the filling into the prepared filo lined pan. Bring the edges over the filling to enclose, then brush with the remaining butter.
    Ma'amoul (4)
    Ma'amoul (5)
    Ma'amoul (6)
    Ma'amoul (7)
  8. Bake for 10-5 minutes until golden brown
  9. Sprinkle some confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon powder on top, then cut into wedges.
    Ma'amoul (1)

It’s rich. It’s savory. The flavors are incredible. The kitchen smells incredible. Try this recipe. Let me know if you have any improvements. Please make suggestions by commenting. After all, I don’t do this everyday, and I would like some input on how to make it closer to perfection.


Chocolate lovers' chocolate lava

Chocolate. The universal component of feeling good, love, and indulgence. For this past week I have been playing and teasing and cajoling with this ingredient to come close to perfection in the making of the classic French dessert that every self respectable cook should be able to accomplish: The Molten Chocolate Lava cake.

Chocolate lava 2

I began by going through my old Les Roches notes about the dessert. The recipes I had were written in my undecipherable chicken-scratch-like penmanship, so I reached out farther to my cookbooks. Larousse Gastronmique had a recipe that I referred to years ago but the amounts did not look right. As with most pastries and desserts, measurements are, and should always be, precise. I then searched through the web, watched wed videos and took more notes.

I whittled down the myriad of variation down to three recipes. Going through many chocolate bars in the process, a measure of hit-and-miss, produced exciting results. With time and temperature being constant, the first recipe yielded a tough, dense and overly sweet hockey puck. The second fell apart, with the chocolate flowing like a river, leaving a mess that any date would lose her poise with. The third recipe yielded a consistent product, but the chocolate was a mere dense center. Gooey, but not decadent.

So adjustments in temperature led to the same results as the 2nd recipe. Adjustments in time led to results of the first recipe. With determination, as I could not admit that this little piece of cake will beat me, i made some hairline adjustments, took more notes, ate more chocolate, and on Friday sliced into a perfectly soft sponge, the chocolate center slowly flowing out into the plate. The following recipe is the result.

Molten Chocolate Lava Cake

180 grams dark, bitter chocolate bar
150 grams unsalted butter

Place chocolate and butter in bowl and melt slowly over a double boiler. Stir occasionally to thoroughly blend
Remove from heat and cool slowly

2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
75 grams white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
30 grams all purpose flour

In a bowl, briskly whisk eggs, vanilla and sugar until light, pale and thick
Fold in the warm chocolate mixture while enjoying the color burst. Fold in the flour until smooth and silky

Preheat oven to 400F
Grease some ramekins with butter and then coat lightly with sugar
Pour chocolate mixture into ramekins until just below from the rim
Place in oven and bake 10-12 minutes

Now this is where your sense of touch will make it come out perfect…

On the tenth minute, lightly prod the cake top. It should be wobbly
On the eleventh minute, touch the top again. It should be very slightly firmer
The moment the top does not wobble, take the cake out the oven
Let rest on table for 3-5 minutes. You can expect the dome to disappear after this. Run a small knife around the side of the cake to loosen
Place a plate on top and invert the cake. Slowly take out the ramekin

Serve with whipped cream and fresh strawberries or raspberries while warm

Like with any recipe, and especially with chocolate, love goes into the cooking. And when that happens, the recipe will be your own.

Lunch with a bit of Seoul

I get some Korean guests from time to time. I like cooking for them. They know good food, good drinking. Their culture is a fascinating part of the Lonely Planet, and their cooking is a facet that has piqued my interest often since I started learning Asian cuisine.

Yesterday we had ten Korean nationals who flew in from Seoul for a business meeting with some of the Real Estate agencies in the building, and their coordinator requested some good cooking that would welcome them. Though there was the option to make Filipino food, I wanted them to feel at home as well, trying to meld the two cultures together into one lunch.

So the following recipe came into fruition as I was researching for some recipes. Based on the Dakjim Gui recipe, it’s a simple dish that makes the meat deliciously tender, and infused with the flavor of fresh garlic, ginger and toasted sesame


Sesame Ginger Grilled Chicken

4 chicken quarters

1 onion, copped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
90 ml soy sauce
60 ml rice wine
60 ml ginger juice, squeezed from grated fresh ginger
30 ml sesame oil
2 tbsps sesame seeds, toasted
2 tbsps sugar

Using a sharp knife, make small incisions around the chicken quarters
For the marinade, mix all other ingredients in a bowl until sugar is completely dissolved
Pour over chicken and rub until well coated
Marinate in a covered container 2-3 hours or better yet overnight
Preheat grill until very hot
Grill the marinated chicken 5-10 minutes on each side, basting often with the marinade, until crispy and cooked through
Top with fried grated ginger and toasted sesame seeds
Serve with steamed bok choi and rice

This goes will with a very cold bottle of Soju or your favorite beer. You can add a bit of zing to this recipe with chili flakes

If you had any Korean friends over for dinner, what would you serve them? Do you have something similar to this?