Christmas came two weeks early for the first graduates of the Punlaan School-Diamond Hotel Culinary Program for House Cooks.
A special scholarship initiated by Diamond Hotel president Cecile Ang to train unemployed young women to become skilled cooks for homes, it is also supported by Punlaan School, a nonprofit vocational center in San Juan City that has been training women for various skills since the 1970s.
The program aims to secure better salaries for its graduates. And within days of their graduation on Dec. 11, all 19 scholars had found regular employment, guaranteeing their membership in the Social Security System and Philippine Health Insurance Corp.
While work as household help is deemed a dead-end job in this country, the scholars see it as a first step to a better life. Eighteen-year-old Analyn Urbano from Bulacan dreams of becoming a chef someday. But, with her father’s passing a long time ago and her mother only getting babysitting jobs, she and her eight older siblings could not even finish high school.
She was about to begin work as babysitter for her aunt’s children when a pastor from her church informed her of the scholarship.
She joined the Punlaan class because she liked cooking anyway. “I thought it would be a good opportunity,” she said.
But the program proved to be a baptism of fire for her. Every day for two months, from October to November, she went on a whirlwind tour of tastes and textures of dishes from all over the world that she had never encountered in all her life. And while the classes were conducted in Taglish, the recipes were in English. Reading and understanding them were quite a challenge for the aspiring chef.
Their teacher was Roland Victoria, a retired Diamond Hotel chef who has 29 years of experience both here and abroad. He used a hands-on approach in teaching cooking.
Victoria would demonstrate four to five dishes a day then, on Fridays, every student must prepare what he had taught.
“I told them that if they cooked something and it pleased people, they’d remember me everywhere they go,” Victoria said. His first commandment to them:
Do as I say. His second: Make the food delicious.
But not everyone completed the course. The class originally had 25 students but a few quit soon after the start.
“Those who left didn’t seem to have interest or passion, which in the end was well and good because if you don’t really have the hilig (aptitude) for cooking, which is the main ingredient, you will not last,” said Punlaan school director Nanan Jacinto.
Those who persevered received the Certification in Household Services from the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).
Sarah Zaragoza of Bacolod, 27, hopes the certificate is her ticket to a job abroad someday. The fifth of 11 children, she was a freshman in college when she had to stop schooling because of her family’s financial problems.
To make ends meet, she worked odd jobs. Now, she hopes to find stability in her new job.
As for Urbano, she admitted she was both excited and afraid to start work. She felt there was so much more she needed to learn to be a good cook.
“I want to go on to college,” she said.
Having stopped schooling after her second year in high school, Urbano recently took the Alternative Learning System examination for out-of-school youths.
If her test results show she has acquired the skills and knowledge of a high school graduate, she will be eligible to enroll in college. If not, she still has her cooking skills to fall back on.
The second group of scholars of the Punlaan School/
Diamond Hotel Culinary Program for House Cooks will begin classes in February. Call 7270581/82 or 7226571.