Thinking of taking up culinary studies in Spain? Filipino chef Oyeen Valcos talks about studying in Le Cordon Bleu Madrid and how he brought authentic Spanish taste back home to the Philippines.
It took 15 years for Chef Antholyn “Oyeen” Dy Valcos, 46, to realize his culinary dream. He once planned to study in the prestigious culinary school of Le Cordon Bleu in Los Angeles in 2001 but life took him to a different path. A family health crisis happened and his mother had just opened a new business. He was left with no choice but to help out and stay on. More than a decade passed and pursuing Le Cordon Bleu already seemed out of the question. He felt he was too old to even consider it.
Oyeen was feeling the void that he started to avoid watching cooking shows, something that he used to enjoy doing. Even people at work noticed that he was getting temperamental. During one board meeting, a trusted management consultant told him,“Wasn´t there one thing you would like to do? If you don´t do it this time, you won´t be able to do it forever.”
With his mom’s blessing, Oyeen took it as a sign to give his dream a go. He initially picked one of the local culinary schools but figured he waited long enough so he might as well go on an adventure, at the same time celebrate his 40th birthday. Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo topped the list. But he felt it was too close to the Philippines and his family would surely visit. “This won’t be the adventure I am looking for. Maybe I should go further away.”
Finally, his dream coming true but…
Being the only branch of the school that teaches Spanish cuisine and him, being a big fan of paella, Madrid was the perfect choice. In August 2016, Oyeen officially became a student of Le Cordon Bleu Madrid. He was thrilled to finally get closer to his dreams. But then, not everything went well as he expected.
The classes were in Spanish. Oyeen had to wear headphones in class and had a chef translator at his back. It was hard hearing Spanish spoken to him by his chef, at the same time listening to his translator. Some of the ingredients were unfamiliar to him and that his chef assumed that he knew all of them. Oyeen also had to commute daily from his flat to the school daily via public transport which he found a hassle. From being a boss of a company, he became a student who got chewed out by his teacher. Oyeen seriously considered dropping out, a week or two into the course. But his friends and family pushed him to continue.
Studying in Le Cordon Bleu involves classroom and practical tasks. The practical work involves cooking a set number of dishes that will be judged by their chefs.
Oyeen relates how he spent his days staying in his room, to the point that his housemate called him a monk. He had to master ten recipes and on examination day, he needed to cook three of the ten recipes, based on the given ingredients and within a strict time frame. Unfortunately, he was assigned to a burner that wasn’t working properly and he failed to finish two dishes correctly. He was given a second chance after the observer chef confirmed that the burner was defective. Oyeen passed and finally found the will to stay and soldier on.
From being one who would always finish last, Oyeen worked his way to the middle of the pack, to being the first to finish cooking the assigned dishes to heartening reviews. He became excited about presenting his work, got encouraged by any positive feedback from his chefs, and took criticism of his work constructively, less personally.
Oyeen graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with a diploma in Spanish Cuisine in April 2017. Out of the 19 students who started with him in the Basic course, only five graduated. He got the 2nd highest grade in the final practical examination.
When he went back to Manila, the first thing Oyeen did was to cook paella for his mom. But he didn’t jump into cooking right away, opting to take a break. Eventually, he realized that he shouldn’t waste his hard-earned knowledge. “I didn’t know how to start. I knew I didn’t want to open a restaurant.”
The birth of Museo Valcos
In January 2018, a friend was celebrating a birthday. Oyeen offered to cook paella, tapas, soup, salad and sangria for eight chosen friends, degustation, to test the waters. Good reviews, social media and word of mouth gave him more clients after that. By the end of 2018, the private dining doors of Museo Valcos (in Oyeen’s condo in Pasig) was formally opened.
Museo Valcos (@museovalcos on IG) became popular. Clients love Oyeen´s Spanish degustation dining and appreciate the various art pieces displayed in his house. He did not advertise. He wanted Museo Valcos to grow organically by only accepting reservations from friends or people vetted by friends, because the private dining experience was done at his place. At its peak, Museo Valcos was open daily, and Oyeen did everything himself: prepping, cooking, serving, entertaining and cleaning.
In 2019, Oyeen was invited back to Spain by his Chef in Le Cordon Bleu for a one-on-one mentorship for two weeks. He was supposed to train again last year but then the pandemic hit. When Metro Manila was shut down in March 2020, Oyeen had to close the doors of Museo Valcos. He rested in the first month, thinking that the pandemic would not last long. But it did. Oyeen started to wonder what to do next. His neighbors discovered his cooking and started ordering paella, with him bringing his paellera to their doors before mealtime. Then his regular clients began to order in food trays. Oyeen took this as a chance to expand his takeout menu to include cochinillo (roasted sucking pig) and callos, among others.
Rising above challenges
Being a chef gives Oyeen instant gratification. His decision to drop all his worries to face the challenges and hardships of the course was all worth it.
A Le Cordon Bleu chef is not just an ordinary chef. He or she is able to cook food to the highest standard. Knowing this by heart, Oyeen works very hard to live up to the title. “I once heard someone say that it is not enough to live your life, but you must also play a role in your life. I chased my dream and I´m living and loving it.”
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Patricia Ann Bello is freelance writer based in Manila, Philippines. An avid reader with an enormous TBR pile, her Instagram page @patandpages is dedicated to her love of reading. She keeps a day job as a banker and juggles being a wife and a mother to two boys while she indulges her passion for reading, writing, and traveling.