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Chef Jessie

Veteran Chef / Entrepreneur

Security Bank clients since 2015

Chef Jessie in her signature chef whites reminiscing her early days in the kitchen

Most people spend years—even their lives—seeking their true calling. As for Jessie Sincioco (or Chef Jessie, as she’s known in the business), she never even imagined working inside a kitchen.

“My goal was really to work in one of the banks along Ayala Avenue,” recounted the Banking and Finance graduate when we met her at her iconic Rockwell Club restaurant. “Every time we would pass by [the banks], I felt like I was in New York!” But before her banking career could take off, an unexpected invitation would change her life forever.

“I was counting down the days before I started at my new job when my aunt invited me to join a cooking contest with her. We joined the baking contest and got all the way to the finals!… And alam mo na sino ang nanalo (And guess who won)? [laughs]”

After posing for winning photographs, Chef Jessie was approached by one of the judges. “He told me ‘Young lady, I’m offering you three months training in our pastry department.’” And the rest, as they say, was history.

With a host of booming restaurants, Chef Jessie’s success has gone beyond the kitchen. “One has to know how to handle the business beyond the kitchen,” she declares. “And the service provided to me by Security Bank has been excellent. When I was planning to borrow money to finance my new project, Security Bank was really kind to understand my vision and where I was coming from as an entrepreneur.”

As for the highlight of her career, the veteran chef points to the “I heart Pope Francis” stitching on her chef whites. “Ah, without a doubt, this is really it…I cooked for the Pope every day during his stay at the Nunciature—breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday,” she recalls, her smile widening.

”When the Popemobile passed, Cardinal Chito saw me and said to him ‘Your Holiness, that is Chef Jessie, she is the one preparing your food.’ He reached out both of his hands to me and said “Gratzie mille! Gratzie mille! Delizioso, delizioso!” He wouldn’t let go! The Popemobile had to stop. He continued to thank me in Italian, ako naman natulala na, ‘di ko na alam sasabihin ko! [laughs]

Was it always your dream to become a chef?

No. Actually, I took up Banking and Finance in college.

After graduating, I finally applied to the banks along Ayala Avenue—I think sent my application to five banks. But then, hindi ako natanggap ..I was so disheartened.

How did that lead you to the kitchen?

Well my aunt saw how down I was after not getting accepted, so she asked a friend of hers who worked at another bank to let me take an application exam. So I went to the interview and took the exams and I passed! The only problem was this bank’s office was in Binondo, Manila…So even though I got accepted, a part of me still wasn’t fulfilled because it wasn’t in Ayala Avenue! But anyway, I said, “Nevermind, it’s still a bank so it should still be okay.”

While I was counting down the days before I started at my new job, my aunt invited me to join a cooking contest with her. To make the long story short, we joined the baking contest and got all the way to the finals. The winners were announced and alam mo na sino ang nanalo? [laughs] By the way I still had no form of training in the the kitchen to this point.

After winning the grand prize and smiling for photographs, I was approached by the restaurant manager of Intercontinental Hotel, where the contest was held. He told me “Young lady, I’m offering you three months training in our pastry department.”

In my mind, wala na yung banko. Sabi ko “Yay! ‘Di na ‘ko magtra-trabaho sa Binondo.” [laughs]

What happened after that?

A few weeks after I won, I went to the InterContinental Hotel and told the hotel manager that I was ready to start my training in pastry. I was in an all pink blouse and miniskirt, wearing 3-inch wedge shoes that matched my handbag—just to let you know how naive I was in the kitchen!

He led me to the bakeshop at the end of the kitchen and introduced me to the Swiss pastry chef. He looked at me and asked “You want to start today?” I said “Yes, chef.” They gave me an apron and I started my training. Good thing my wedge shoes weren’t so hard!

But you know what, while I was there, I was just amazed at their creations. I said “Oh my god, ang ganda ng mga gawa nila!” My legs hurt from all the standing but before the day ended, I felt like I’ve found my place. I was so happy.

Most young chefs get intimidated in the kitchen. What was your mindset starting out?

I just wanted to learn everything—it was so positive for me. I was so amazed at what I was seeing that I didn’t even care that I was the only girl in the kitchen! All I knew is that I wanted to learn how to do what they were doing.

And I never knew that that was the start of this wonderful career. I started at the hotel as a trainee in 1983, when I left the hotel in 1990, I was the first Filipina pastry chef—a position that was given to expatriates only. And guys, no less.

I was able to prove to them that a Filipina could do it, too.

God really works perfectly. Imagine, I wanted to work in a bank but instead, He led me to the kitchen. And the training I had prepared me to cook for his vicar on earth.

What would you say is the highlight of your entire career?

Ah, without a doubt, this is really it… Without a doubt.

God really works perfectly. Imagine, I wanted to work in a bank but instead, He led me to the kitchen. And the training I had prepared me to cook for his vicar on earth.

I cooked for the Pope (Pope Francis) every day during his stay at the Nunciature–breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday. When they’d go out of the compound, we’d walk with him to the gate and say “Bye-bye, ingat!” and welcome them when they get back, kaya nakakapagmano kami.

The highlight of my encounter with him was when he was leaving for Luneta. I knew he was leaving so I grabbed my iPad, stood along the driveway, and started recording–I always record him passing by.

When the Popemobile passed, Cardinal Chito saw me and said to him “Your Holiness, that is Chef Jessie, she is the one preparing your food.” You know what, he reached out both of his hands to me and said “Gratzie mille! Gratzie mille! Delizioso, delizioso!” He wouldn’t let go! The Popemobile had to stop.

He continued to thank me in Italian, ako naman natulala na, ‘di ko na alam sasabihin ko! [laughs]

So what did you say to him?

I just asked “Did you like the steak, Your Holiness?” because I cooked roast beef for him earlier that day. Sabi niya “Yes, yes, yes! Very tender like the cow… ‘Mooo!”

You know why he said that? Because he asked for the doneness of his beef to be rare. And I was so glad that I was able to give him his steak rare. I don’t know why, but when I was preparing his steak the day before, I decided to slow roast it in the oven for eight hours in very low heat.

When steak like that is cut in the middle, the center is rare but safe to eat. Imagine if I gave him a fresh slab of frozen beef?! I wouldn’t let him eat it rare! Delikado! I wouldn’t want to be responsible for getting the Pope sick!

So what did you say to him?

Not really, because we worked off of each other’s strengths. When we started the restaurant, we had division of labor. One of us was very good with salads and main course; the other chef was very good in the hot kitchen; our other partner was good with PR; and I handled the pastries. So may division kami.

We really held our own. Most especially in the pastries, ‘di nila ako pinapakielaman—that’s my turf! [laughs] I believe that if you’re able to find your niche, you won’t lack in anything.

But I also had to learn everything, eventually. My partners all being expatriates meant they weren’t always in the kitchen. I feel so blessed that I was entrusted with the responsibility of running the restaurant. I had to learn the trade so that when people like Imelda Marcos would come over and ask, “Oh chef, what would you recommend?” I knew what to say. I mean, what would I recommend if I only knew pastries, right?

Just being in the restaurant everyday—that’s how I learned. It was almost like on-the-job training. And that’s the best, right? Because you see and experience the real thing. So that was how I was honed.

Would you say being an entrepreneur is entirely different form being a chef or do they go hand in hand?

You know, for a restaurant to be successful, the chef actually has to do very little thinking. All he has to do is to work on what he knows and what he’s good at. That’s the best way to have a successful restaurant.

It’s not always about coming up with a radical new concept or doing what is in fad or in fashion or kung ano ang uso—no. It’s doing what you know best. If you stick to that, nothing can go wrong.

They really know how handle clients—they understand. Security Bank was really kind to understand my vision and where I was coming from as an entrepreneur.

Let’s talk money, with so much going on in the kitchen, how do you deal with your finances?

I only became a client last year, but the service provided to me by Security Bank has been excellent so far. Because when I was planning to borrow money to finance my new project, I was choosing between two banks. What I found out was that I was really able to compare the strengths and weaknesses of both. I think it’s clear who won my vote now that I’m your client. [laughs]

I was planning to put up a small building for our commissary because we keep a stock of catering equipment enough for 1,000 people. You could imagine how big of a space we needed to store the equipment. So I wanted to have a building where I can store all my catering equipment in one place and house our central commissary for catering, as well.

That’s the reason why I really needed help with financing. I’ve got to say, even your executives are so professional. They really know how handle clients—they understand. Security Bank was really kind to understand my vision and where I was coming from as an entrepreneur.

What’s next for Chef Jessie?

I’m opening my third restaurant this month which is the smallest outlet I’ll be handling. It will be called “Chef Jessie Grill at The Grove by Rockwell”—this too was financed by Security Bank.

This project is really for my staff. Unfortunately, I didn’t renew my contract at another project but I wanted to keep my staff who’ve really proved to be loyal and devoted to their work; I wanted to give them the opportunity of continuously working with us.

Any advice for aspiring chefs?

When you start working in the kitchen, chances are you have to start out by peeling a sack of onions—just do it. These things you won’t mind doing if you know you love what you do. I always tell them you have to look for something that you really want to do, because no matter how difficult it gets, you’ll definitely overcome it.

Every time I get invited to speak at commencement exercises, I always tell the students one thing: find out what you want to do in life. In the end, the most important thing to do is to discover your purpose—the reason why you were created. If you are able to do that, everything will fall into place.

I think I’m one of the happiest persons on earth. With the way my personal life, career, and business is going—I couldn’t ask for anything more. Sure, there are problems everyday, but when you know there is someone guiding you, you won’t be afraid.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Photography by Andrea Beldua

Just like Chef Jessie, you can manage your finances with Security Bank.

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