Experiences

6 Lessons I learned from my Chef Boss

Baking is a hobby that I’m always fond of since I was a kid. I watched my mom do this and I remember standing on a high stool to assist her mix and beat things up. I wanted to be a chef someday, but I went through different paths, but recently, I had a job where I had to work with a chef. It’s not the world’s #1 chef like Rene Redzepi, nor the hottest chef in Manila, Erwan Heussaf, it’s no other than the “cupcake queen”, Ms. Sonja Ocampo.

I’m not spilling her secret recipes here but here are some lessons I’ve learned while I was working in one of the first “cupcakeries” in Manila, Cupcakes by Sonja.

Taste the food like you mean it. A chef uses their taste buds to describe how tasteful or not a dish is, well, we all are, but they are more specific on how they identify the flavors and they are very imaginative. Sometimes we just say “yummy”, “tastes good” and other expressions, but those are not enough when we’re doing taste tests in the kitchen for product launches. We we’re whipping up a “birthday milkshake” in time for summer and I got to taste the first try. She asked me, “Rae, how does it taste? When you had the sip, did you feel like it’s your birthday?”. I had to really describe how the explosion of those sweet sprinkles scream “Happy Birthday!”. But really, I am so easy to please when it comes to food, so anything is delicious, but when I worked with her, I shouldn’t be satisfied in the first try.

Marketing should result to ROI. This is given to any business. Ms. Sonja actually started her own business, her first ever store was in Serendra in Taguig City. She loves to sponsor events for kids, she loves kids. She believes that children is a target market for her cupcakes and cakes. Because in Manila, the rich families go all out for their kid’s 1st , 3rd, 7th birthdays, even sweet 16 then debut, phew! Yup, they would spend at least P10,000 for desserts. This pastry chef also just sponsors the real influencers in the indusry. She sponsored for the fashion show of Rajo Laurel one time, and the other Laurels also ordered from her. She has loyal celebrity customers as well, at first she gives free tastes then they would order. One regular customer is Tessa Prieto, and she orders a lot of cupcakes and special customized cakes for her celebrations. I was advised to sponsor events for celebrities that will also give something in return for us. Some celebs just wants everything free everytime but their few posts of the cake/ cupcakes we give in Instagram comes with a big turnout, yes, the followers buy what they see on their idol’s page. Andi Manzano’s 1 week old baby customized cupcakes is a best example.

The millenial generation is the key. One day she came in the office randomly asking me what movie I like, songs I listen to, celebs I follow or where I shop. And I’m like, “Ms. Sonj, why are you interviewing me?”. She answered, “Rae, because you are a millenial! Millenials are influencers, you’re the generation that we have to please, the industry gets ideas from you.” One time, she asked me if I like the flavor “salted caramel”, I said no, I’m a chocoholic, but I didn’t expect a lot of my age likes that flavor, yuppies also love it. She came up with a Salted Caramel and Chocolate Salted Caramel cupcakes and it was a hit, next to her Red Velvet Vixen and Vanilla Sunshine.

Customer is always right. In a customer service industry, we should accept this. Even if they don’t admit that they were wrong. I had a client, an acquaintance of my boss. She has a powerful personality, we missed out to follow-up her order, well, she didn’t place her order accordingly. Some may think that connections with the boss will get what they want easily, but nope. Business is business, the client insisted that she made an order to me and she just said it on the day when she needs the cupcakes and cakes. But, customer is always right, Ms. Sonja still made a super rush order, she said, “we have to do it, I fixed it, I fixed it…”

You learn from your mistakes. This kind-hearted and simple boss I had taught me that when I make a mistake or the team made a mistake, brush it off, and learn from it. One thing I similarly learned from employers is “don’t make the same mistake twice”. Some challenges we experience are time pressure, lack of manpower and lack of focus. She would say to me, “Okay, let’s fix it, then what do we do to prevent that from happening again?” The problem was, one cupcake topper was missing on one cupcake. That is so mind blowing. She actually won’t dig who did not or who did what, she always says, “Anyway, Moving forward, next time….”. When her employee made a mistake, she’s very forgiving, unless the employee isn’t sincere, then that’s another story.

Be a foodie. I am not a foodie until I worked with someone like Ms. Sonja, and the rest of the team who each has a unique sense of taste. Aside from Ms. Sonja, we have another chef, the head of the production team, she’s Ms. Filipina Purruganan. She came from Red Ribbon and her knowledge on pastries is excellent. Every lunch time with my workmates, we talk about food, aside from our duties, we chit chat about the new restaurants that opened, the best pizza, ramyun in Manila and more. At first I was very silent, I don’t know how to relate! I confirmed from them that my favorite burger is the best burger in Manila, that’s Sweet Ecstasy. It’s a small burger joint at Jupiter Street, Makati City. I will tell about it more on another blog. Being a foodie is being spontaneous, even on a busy day at work, Ms. Sonja would say, “let’s go to Sweet Ecstasy this lunch, please I’m craving for it, I know we all are!”. A foodie knows the places with best ambience, taste and especially, who’s chef owns it.

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