Young Filipino chef succeeds in Auckland

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Filipino chef Carlo Buenaventura (left) at his pop-up kitchen called the Cult Project in Auckland, New Zealand, which he co-owns with fellow chef William Cook

Filipino chef Carlo Buenaventura (left) at his pop-up kitchen called the Cult Project in Auckland, New Zealand, which he co-owns with fellow chef William Cook

For fresh culinary graduates seeking excellent job opportunities and higher career goals, working abroad is a typical direction especially if they want to make a mark early in their profession. This is the decisive path that Chef Carlo Buenaventura took—and now happily looks back on—exactly six years ago, when he chose to explore what the world has to offer through culinary arts.

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Although Buenaventura had an interest in cooking since he was young, his culinary journey didn’t take the familiar route. “My greatest influence was my grandmother, Lola Ludy. But I didn’t take up culinary arts immediately, I finished nursing first. When I moved to Manila, I worked for my uncle in Congress. It was then that I decided to take up culinary studies as a second career since I’ve always wanted to have my own restaurant,” he said.

Upon the recommendation of his friends from Ateneo, Buenaventura took three-month short course on Fundamentals on Culinary Arts at the Center for Culinary Arts, Manila (CCA, Manila). After “testing the waters,” he enrolled in the two-year diploma program.

“What I liked most in CCA is that they offered me a really good program. They have student assistant programs where I gained great amount of actual kitchen work experience,” he added.

As a student, Buenaventura’s accomplishments included being the youngest member of the culinary varsity team of his school. He also joined competitions abroad.

Shortly before graduation, Buenaventura decided it was time to try out his luck overseas. He was among the first wave of CCA graduates who ventured for job opportunities in New Zealand, which had just opened up for foreign workers at that time.

As he soon found out, New Zealand is indeed a country of immense opportunity for Filipino culinary graduates. Buenaventura immediately took on various job positions, starting at the Crowne Plaza in Queenstown where he was hired as a full time commissary chef and worked there for two years.

In 2012, he also worked at one of the longest standing restaurants in Wellington, the Matterhorn, where he met his current business partner and co-chef William Cook.

After a brief stint at Foxglove Bar and Kitchen, Buenaventura then moved to Auckland to work at Orphan’s Kitchen before finally opening a pop-up kitchen called the Cult Project together with Cook.

“Our business philosophy at Cult Project is that food is our common ground. To date, we have a lot of collaborations with major restaurants in New Zealand and in other cities, one of which is with Roots Restaurant this June,” he explained.

While there are a lot of pop-up restaurants in New Zealand, Buenaventura said they are mostly run by well-established restaurants.

“Through our pop-up, we are trying to create an ‘Auckland cuisine’. It’s indirectly using my influence in the Philippines, our way of discovering our own local cuisine within the city by using the diverse influences and multi-culturism around us with the help of local produce and flavors familiar to Kiwis. That’s how we create our dinners and menus,” he stressed.

Now enjoying a well-earned and blessed career in New Zealand for six years, Chef Carlo returned to his alma mater to inspire and invite applicants for BurgerBurger, a growing company in Auckland—whose head chef is another CCA graduate, Chino Salazar.

“They really want to hire Filipino chefs. So when my employers asked me to do school visits and orientation for them, I took the opportunity to do so and share the good news and opportunities to my fellow graduates,” he noted.

“I told them to weigh in on their options as there is so much to explore in the other side of the world, like in New Zealand. Especially now that they are promoting their own cuisine to the world, they are in need of well-trained Filipino chefs.

For young cooks to get their foot in the door, Buenaventura said that having world-class culinary education is a must as it serves as the best foundation and preparation for the real world.

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