By Louie Encabo
Human survival is predicated on nourishment; this makes food preparation an integral part of our daily lives. The work done by food growers is as important to our self-preservation as that of those who process these ingredients into succulent recipes ready for human consumption. It is through our consumption of food that we intake nutrients necessary for our well-being.
How-ever, for some people food preparation is as vital to survival as consumption. This is the reality of Vicente ‘Boyet’ Deloterio, a 45 year old chef from the Philippines who is currently plying his trade in Auckland’s famous Boracay Garden Filipino Restaurant.
The soft-spoken Kiwi-Filipino migrant arrived in the country just 18 months ago, a day before the restaurant made its grand opening. According to the establishment’s owner, Stuart Bennett, Deloterio’s eleventh hour arrival was a cause of concern for him and his wife, co-owner Marjorie Bennett.
He describes how they relied on the chef, fondly called ‘Boyet’, to prepare all their meals for them since they found his abilities to be “exceptionally rare”. For the couple, it was either Boyet or nobody serving orders to their customers, hence his arrival in Auckland was integral to the start of their operations.
To be treated as indispensably as the Bennetts regarded Boyet really speaks of the impeccable talents the man possesses. But what exactly makes his capabilities so unique? With blatant humility Boyet gives a demure smile and casually shrugs when I asked him during our interview. “I just do my best,” he says.
It was a long shot getting a self-exalting statement from such a modest individual, so I inquired with his employer instead. The Boracay Garden Restaurant prides itself in serving fully-authentic Filipino dishes; such a request can only be performed by a select few. The Bennetts had already employed Boyet in another restaurant they owned in Bahrain; the man was hired straight from the Philippines where he had honed his culinary talents since the age of eighteen.
According to his employers, Boyet is a rare talent who could cater to the palates of the local demographic while at the same time preserving the authenticity of traditional Filipino dishes. It is no surprise that Boyet can capture the unique identity of Filipino cuisine; he has been honing his skills in the culinary arts since he was a teenager.
When asked why he entered the workforce at a very young age, the chef just pinned it down to survival. He disclosed how life was tough for him from the beginning and like many Filipinos living in poverty, rather than pursuing an education he was forced to enter employment. The necessity for income is also what drove Boyet to migrate to the Middle East, again a familiar experience for millions of Filipinos.
It was in the gulf nation where he would impress his future New Zealand employers, who were desperate to recruit him for their new venture in the City of Sails. The popularity of his new workplace makes Boyet a very busy man; he describes how he has to fulfill over a hundred different orders per day. He has to balance such a colossal workload with the need to ensure that the quality of these orders are held to the highest standards while at the same time preserving the cultural uniqueness of Filipino cuisine.
Despite his humility, Boyet proudly declares that he can confidently do his job correctly. He spoke of how he conditions himself to not feel pressured, mainly by thinking of the family he has to support back in the Philippines and his obligation of being their sole breadwinner.
Like any well-meaning Filipino family man, Boyet shrugs off the homesickness, loneliness and challenges of his work in order to ensure a steady stream of income for his flock. The life of this Filipino migrant chef represents a solid recipe for a good life: humility, industriousness, the ability to sacrifice and a love for family. Boyet concedes that he does not have much in the way of material belongings and describes his life to be “simple but happy”, however, such a reality is all that many of us long for.
The heap of praise given to him by his employers does not daunt the Filipino chef, instead disclosing during the interview his desire to improve his work to ensure that he continues to be employed. For Boyet his only desire is to provide for his family, which he hopes to bring with him to New Zealand one day.
Boyet’s selflessness and humility is inspiring and is worthy of recognizing him as a hero among his fellow Filipino-Kiwis.