A bowl of piping hot rice and salted, dried herring (tuyo, in other words) with salad made of fresh cilantro, tomatoes and onions on the side.
Who would think that such simple meal makes this executive sous chef happiest?
But the journey to becoming a Fil-Canadian is not that simple. Edward Edison Antejos speaks of his evolution from a shy Filipino-originated boy to someone who is excited today to showcase his origin through Pinoy cuisine. Ed is actually second-generation Filipino in Canada, with both parents having come in the 70s. Mom Sonia is from Bicol while Dad Edward is from Dumaguete City. Sonia and Edward Sr. met in Richmond, BC and got married in 1975.
While Ed Jr. failed to learn to speak Tagalog fluently, Mom’s fine cooking successfully trained his palate to like most-loved Filipino food such as adobo, kare-kare, bopiz, dinuguan, pancit, lumpiang shanghai and lumpiang sariwa, to name a few. But appreciating these dishes gastronomically is entirely different now that he is learning to see value in their uniqueness and potential. But that is not how his story started.
Whether by accident or by fate, most of Ed’s life revolved around restaurants, hotels and kitchens. It was not a choice at the beginning because choice was something he did not recognize at first. As a normal high school graduate, he went to college for general studies as he did not know what he wanted. Worse, when a very good friend met a tragic death, he flunked out of college and did not know what to do. Recovering from that, he went to Vancouver Community College for hospitality management, then to University of Victoria for a commerce degree.
Part of his university studies included an internship for which he went to Hyatt Hotel’s food and beverage department. An extended placement came up for Hyatt in Columbus, Ohio and he went through it for 8 months. He moved in various departments both in the front office and then in the restaurant, lounge and banquet areas as server. After the Ohio training, he went back to finish his commerce degree at the University of Victoria, after which Hyatt in Columbus hired him back as assistant outlet manager. Hyatt he did for five (5) years, including helping Hyatt open its Boston and San Diego branches.
We are always wont to say that fate has a way of twisting and turning circumstances for us. And to Ed, it was as simple as watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey show.
In this episode, he encountered Po Bronson and his book on “What Should I Do With My Life?” The best-selling book resonates among people who wants to find larger truths in their lives by overcoming fear and confusion and eventually experiencing transformation. The Book “struck a powerful, resonant chord on publication, causing a multitude of people to rethink their vocations and priorities and start on the path to finding their true place in the world.” It is an anthology of inspiring success stories of people “who broke away from the chorus to learn the sound of their own voice.”
On to His Journey to Culinary
Change strikes you hardest when you are most vulnerable.
The Oprah episode came at a time when Ed was at a crossroad. He knew he had started a successful career in Hyatt Ohio but he also knew he had other aspirations. And these aspirations he felt he had to start chasing. Even if that meant dropping everything he had in Ohio and going back to Vancouver and going back to school. Culinary arts at the Vancouver Community College it was.
New ground, new challenges to hurdle. Having decided on culinary as a second career in his late 20s meant that he was competing with younger classmates who were similarly full of hopes and energy. But his maturity gave him the sweet advantage of focus and determination to succeed at this newfound vocation. Cooking is a competitive arena, says Ed. Not only competing as to who prepares the best dish but who gets the best job.
And to stay on top of his game at the time that he was studying, Ed said he almost ate and breathed culinary. He also set his own goal – “to become an executive chef/sous chef by age 40” – and truly, he has accomplished that. Ed is currently executive sous chef at Pier 73 of the Pacific Gateway Hotel. His 12 years in the industry include stints at Showcase Restaurant & Bar at the Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown, Grand Bay Café at the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort & Conference Centre, and the former Griffins at The Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver. He had come a long way from his first taste of the kitchen as sandwich artist of Subway in Blundell Centre.
“It is about your attitude. You need to love what you are doing. Love to cook. Love the industry. It is okay to be passionate about success but learn to enjoy the ride,”
advises Ed. He adds that this industry is a very small field. Networking for a job is common and real. Word gets around fast, too. If he sees, for example, a resume on his desk, all he needs is to ask a colleague about the applicant to make a hiring decision. It is the passion that Ed wants to see in aspiring chefs.
Ed recalls that when he was in Columbus, Boston and even San Diego, he saw these places as great places for food. Yet he did not see the passion in people doing the job or working in the culinary business. And this frustrated him, he recalls. But Filipinos, they have the best attributes to succeed. “I have met a lot of Filipinos who are very hardworking, dedicated, ambitious and loyal.”
“In this arena, you don’t stop learning. Whenever you can, gather as much as knowledge and experience,” he said. Ed feels that in this industry, you never know when you are applying for a job. He added that it seems like for everything you do, you are always auditioning for something.
When pressed for an answer why men excel in cooking when the kitchen is supposed to be a woman’s turf, his gentlemanly reply was- “Women today are very liberated. May be they have realized that their place is not only in the kitchen anymore. They have branched into other fields and found even more success.” To this, he added, many of his classmates in the culinary school have moved on to other fields, too.
Kwik Snaks and other Cooking Twists
But to Ed who also goes by the monicker Eddy Ramen, there is so much to discover and enjoy. “Cooking may not make you rich but the knowledge and excitement that I gain from it makes me feel rich.” As in a typical Filipino, he confesses that family and friends are important to him.
While his appreciation of the Filipino cuisine as a chef did not come early on, his present journey into discovering Filipino dishes excites both his palate and creativity to want to show the world that Filipino cuisine is one of the best in the world, and that people should not miss that.
“I want us Filipinos to be proud of our cooking, just as the Chinese and Japanese are.”
For his part, he has already embarked on a project with some Filipino friends filming and sharing quick recipes via Instagram and Twitter in a series called Kwik Snaks. The series intends to showcase Asian cuisine and promote those inspired by the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Ed is also proud to be working with Executive Chef Morgan Lechner on Pacific Gateway’s Growing Chefs Program, where they give elementary school kids hands-on experience with agriculture and cooking. Ed considers Growing Chefs Program as a significant highlight of his career as a chef.
In a separate interview, Ed said, “(These kids) are our future. If we instill them with that knowledge, hopefully, some of them will take that to heart,” says Antejos. As part of their commitment to the program, at Pier 73, $1 from every order of Pacific Provider wild salmon ($28), with crispy eggplant, green pea spaetzle, roasted cauliflower, kale, and girondine sauce, is donated to the Growing Chefs Program.
What more is there to aspire for? Ed hopes to deliver the best fusion of Filipino and Southeast Asian cuisine in the near future. He believes he could almost see the Pinoy factor in cooking as making great strides and already on its way to conquering North America. It is n ow making a big buzz in the East Coast, specifically New York. Probably, western conquest can come from his side of Canada in the beautiful British Columbia.
“I would love to put up my own restaurant 5-10 years from now. Cooking Filipino food, my take on Filipino cuisine and its influences. I am proud of my Filipino culture.”
Although such culture admittedly had to grow on second generation Filipinos like him, Ed Antejos proves that once the burner has been set on fire, there can be no stopping from keeping the flames of pride alive in his Filipino heart from now on. To which, we would always say – Bon appetit!