Meet the Gastronomes: Jappy Afzelius

Time for the first installment of the new series, “Meet the Gastronomes”.

It seemed fitting to begin with the most friendly person of the group.  If you were to visit Bra and meet my friends, he would be the first person to introduce himself.  He is the guy who is always happy to see you, ready with a hug and a smile.  He is an incredible chef, bound and determined to share his culture and native cuisine with the world.  Time to meet, Jappy.

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Hi. My name is Jappy Diago Afzelius and I am a chef from the Philippines currently taking up my Masters for Food Culture and Communications in Italy. This is my first attempt in writing a blog so pardon the rookie writing . I’d like to start by sharing my story on how my love affair with food started.

Food was always a big part of our lives back in the Philippines and most of my fondest moments in life have been food related and always celebrated with my friends and family. I was always fond of cooking for everyone, even before I choose to become a chef. My friends and I would always have a barbecue during weekends and celebrate birthdays by firing up the grill. It’s funny that when I look back I never really pictured myself cooking professionally and working at some of the top restaurants around the world.

My bachelor’s degree was in business and finance, so my career started as a mortgage banker. I spent about 4 years working for a mortgage bank in San Francisco, California where I moved right after finishing college in the Philippines. When the banking crisis hit America back in 2008 and I had unfortunately lost my job but little did I know that this was going to be the beginning of my culinary journey.

I started working at different restaurants beginning as a server and food expediter. My kitchen career began oddly enough because I speak Spanish so I was asked to help out in the back of the house. This is when I discovered that I wanted to cook and that spark that I was looking for in life had finally been found. After a few years of working around various restaurants around the Bay Area, I decided to go back home to the Philippines and go to Culinary School.

I felt that there was a lot that I had to learn in order for me to advance in the culinary world and it was time to start taking this seriously. Culinary school was real tough in the beginning, I never had to work so hard in my life before. I was real poor in class and my skills were sub par at best. I started working extra hours at the butcher shop on weekends to harness my knife skills and I was determined to get sent to Paris*. The hunger inside me was driving me to strive harder than ever before.

After the intense 15 month program in school, I finally got the message that I would be sent to Paris to work at Alain Ducasse’s restaurant, Chez Allard. This was a magical feeling and I never felt this happy in life that I achieved something that I wanted so badly. The training I received and the guidance that they have given me in Paris was extraordinary.  Everything became a roller coaster ride after my time in Paris.

I got sent to New York to work at Benoit Bistro by Alain Ducasse and worked at various other places before finally focusing on my project to promote Philippine cuisine. I find it very fulfilling to be able to do something I love while promoting my country’s cuisine. I hope that by sharing my story I’m able to inspire you. Dreams do come true as long as you work hard for them and most importantly if you dedicate yourself into achieving something  then nothing is impossible.

Ciao,

Jappy Diago Afzelius

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I think Jappy says it best, “if you dedicate yourself into achieving something then nothing is impossible”.  But to understand how true that is you must know, Jappy is quite humble.  The culinary school he attended in the Philippines sends only 12 students per year, out of about 150 to continue training in Paris post-graduation.  To be chosen is a great honor requiring dedication and perseverance, especially for a student like Jappy with little prior kitchen experience.  He did so well in Paris, he was chosen to go to New York to work at the restaurant there.  Truly a picture of hard work being rewarded.

Also, the “Philippine Cuisine project” he was pursuing was the opening of a restaurant with a friend, Manila Social Club at 2 Hope Street in Brooklyn.  He chose to leave that restaurant to attend the University of Gastronomic Sciences in order to expand his food knowledge to outside of the kitchen.

Interested to know more about Jappy’s story? Or have any questions about Philippine cuisine? Jappy is the author of his own blog, http://www.republikakulinarya.wordpress.com.  He is also on Facebook and Instagram, @republikakulinarya.

Follow and stay hungry friends.

-The Very Hungry Traveler

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