Auckland is a long way from Laoac, Pangasinan, where I’m from. But this is home now, and my partners and I are setting up a Filipino restaurant in the heart of the city.
Back home, I was a registered veterinarian. My work ranged from teaching at a college in Tarlac to being a monkey breeder/vet on the island of Mindoro.
When I moved to New Zealand in July 2008, I couldn’t practice my profession. Instead, I got into dairy farming and then outdoor pig farming.
My plan was to go back to university so I could qualify and practice as a registered veterinarian in the Hurunui district north of Christchurch – but my life has since taken a completely new direction.
A family that loves to cook
I was never planning to be a chef, but I do come from a family of really good cooks. I grew up as the kitchen hand, chopping onions or peeling garlic.
When I moved overseas, I had to teach myself how to prepare a good meal. Food comforts me, so I relied on the memory of how dishes tasted, like my great-grandmother’s adobong pata ng baboy sa atsuete (pork hock adobo in annatto) or my mom’s dinuguan (pork blood stew).
I learned how to cook by reading books and articles on the internet, and watching food shows.
When I first watched MasterChef New Zealand, I knew it could teach me a thing or two. I got hooked on every episode and became fascinated by the idea of one day joining the reality show.
In 2015, I was shortlisted from hundreds of applicants, survived the unfilmed cooking audition, and the rest is history.
Since coming second on MasterChef New Zealand, my life has gone through a “mastershift”.
Opening a Pinoy restaurant in Auckland
From being a vet and pig farmer, I’m now a chef and partner of Azon, a restaurant that will open in November in Parnell, Auckland’s oldest suburb, and an area known for its trendy restaurants and cafés. (Ed’s note: Azon is now closed permanently.)
It’s definitely the place to go for good food and a great restaurant experience. I love the diversity in Auckland, where I can immerse myself in lots of different cultures.
It’s also booming, with heaps of good places to eat, drink and hang out. If you’re ever in Auckland for a weekend, here’s what I recommend to see, do and try.
My day begins with a visit to La Cigale French Market (69 St Georges Bay Rd) in Parnell. They offer an amazing array of products and produce from France.
I like sourcing fresh ingredients here and gathering inspiration from what I discover, see and taste. I always wander around the market with a glass of freshly squeezed fruit juice and a croque monsieur – a French-style toasted ham and cheese sandwich – in hand.
Award-winning cheeses, pâtés and hot croissants can be picked up for a picnic later in the day.