“…if you want to see your full potential, you kind of have to be pushed off a cliff.”
If any good has emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, it has allowed a number of professionals, whose careers were upended by the health crisis, to explore new income streams and discover fresh truths about themselves.
That is exactly what has happened to Philippine Air Lines (PAL) pilot, and now food entrepreneur Gabriel Mendoza, who operates Crack Pie.Ph. Prior to the prevailing pandemic, “Gabby,” as he is known to friends and family, never envisioned himself behind any kind of business.
He says: “I’ve always been a shy person, but I can connect with people through food. There’s just something so beautiful about it. Meeting and chatting with people, who show interest in the things I make has made it (the experience) so fulfilling.”
Late last year, Gabby officially ventured into the food business, baking crack pies — pastries characterized by an oatmeal cookie crust and gooey filling. He asked friends to sample them and render feedback. Fortunately, starting out did not prove too difficult for the young man, who always had a deep connection with food. “Luckily, I gravitate to people, who share the same passion,” he beams. “It was through their influence, encouragement and willingness to teach me a few skills and tricks along the way, that I learned to cook and bake.”
Gabby first tasted crack pie on one of his early trips to New York City. “At first bite, I just felt that spark,” he recalls. “It was like a warm hug; a happy sensation running through me. I became curious. In a weird way, it felt like an easy friendship.”
His interest in the pastry was further inspired by a documentary on the American chef Christina Tosi, who is famous for her version of the dessert. Gabby says: “I immediately fell in love with crack pie even more. Tosi was so wholesome, warm and friendly, exactly how I felt about the crack pie. She managed to put her personality in it, and I told myself, that’s exactly how I want my food to be — an extension of me.”
Gabby’s friends always knew him to be enthusiastic in the kitchen, eager to cook for them. “I started with very basic cooking skills,” he admits. “The need to connect through food was strong, so through the years, I learned to cook and bake from people I knew.”
Despite having a wide repertoire of recipes at his fingertips, Gabby says, he has no real favorites. “Every dish brings me on a different adventure. As someone told me, never limit yourself to the familiar. Every food has a story and all deserve a chance to be told.
“This is why I’m very grateful for the four years I spent as second officer in PAL, which gave me a chance to encounter new dishes, flavors and ingredients.”
For Gabby, the food industry never presented itself as a career option, despite his sister encouraging him to pursue a culinary course in New York City. “I ended up choosing business economics at the University of the Philippines Diliman. This, I thought, would be a safe and familiar course because most of my uncles took it, and I thought was most versatile in terms of finding a job
After graduating, he instead decided to follow in the footsteps of his father Boy Mendoza, a veteran PAL pilot. “Growing up, watching my dad fly Boeing 747’s, Airbus 340’s and 330’s, made me decide to enter the aviation industry. Fortunately, after finishing aviation school, there was an opening at PAL, which enabled me to fly with him to different destinations.
“He remains as my biggest inspiration. I learned a lot from him.”
Flying seems to run in the Mendoza family. Besides Gabby and his dad, one uncle is also a pilot, while Gabby’s mom Mel and sister Kaye were former flight attendants. Another sister, Anna chose a different career path in Sydney, Australia, and is now video production lead for the country’s biggest supermarket Woolworths as well as an Australian Open photo editor for Tennis Australia.
Of the destinations that Gabby has visited for work and pleasure, New York has always been special to him. “I remember my first time there when I was a kid, I didn’t enjoy it because of how aggressive and unfiltered people can get there,” he recalls. “However, I had a change of heart when I started traveling by myself for work. It felt different. What I once saw as rudeness, I suddenly saw as authentic New York behavior. For some reason, it made sense to me that this is what makes the city what it is.”
He is also fond of returning to Australia. “Other than the attraction of its beaches and the people, both Sydney and Melbourne serve so many amazing dishes. I remember having one of the best experiences in the restaurant ChinChin, which serves traditional Asian cuisine with a different, more elevated spin.”
At heart a shy and introverted person, Gabby admits that “it was hard being in an industry where people are aggressive and tough.” In the beginning, he says, he found it difficult to socialize, especially during the long hours in the cockpit. But in the end, he got to ease up and grow out of his shell and form close relationships with the flight deck crew.”
Gabby, who is currently a second officer at PAL, now flies only twice a month due to the slowdown in travel. “Part of my job is to back up our captains and first officers,” he reports. “I serve as a cruise pilot, which gives the pilot or first officer a chance to rest during the flight, while maintaining a two-man crew inside the cockpit, to ensure the safety of the flight.”
After four years of working in PAL, Gabby now faces the unique challenge of operating his own venture. “It’s an entirely new territory and a very scary one at that, because for the first time in my adult life, I don’t have a full-time job,” he says with all candor. “I have to remind myself what [chef] David Chang of Momofuku [restaurant chain] said in the documentary on Christina Tosi – that if you want to see your full potential, you kind of have to be pushed off a cliff.”
But despite the uncertainty, Gabby welcomes the learning curve. “It’s only been a few weeks since I (really) started, but I’ve baked so many pies and cookies and learned so much,” he declares. “That said, I’m still learning as I go along…to be more efficient with the use of our supplies and other resources like time…tto use social and digital media to make sure our creative exposure is constant.
“I’m also learning to take it easy, to not sweat the small stuff, to listen to other people, who have experience and perspective. I am aware that there is still so much to learn and that excites me.”
Previously, Gabby was content to be known as “Gabriel Mendoza, second officer, Philippine Airlines.” Nowadays, being recognized as “Gabriel Mendoza, CrackHead” is happiness enough.
My dad, Boy Mendoza
To be happy and successful in my new venture without losing the passion for food
FIRST PAYING JOB
Second officer at Philippine Airlines
Coffee, shower, coffee, workout and more coffee
Serving people food
Time spent on social media
Two to three hours a day