A group of chefreneurs, who found success in restaurant and catering business, opened a culinary school in Antipolo City three years ago. The result is a high-quality institution that teaches students not only how to cook, but also how to run a business.
Abner Lowell Cauilan, executive chef of Mrs. Cheffy and Company Catering, along with other restaurateurs established Professional Academy for Culinary Education or PACE on April 9, 2012.
“It is connected to my passion. I am not getting any younger. After more than 20 years of cooking, there will come a point that you want to leave something permanent to the industry that took care of you and I saw it in building a school,” says Chef Lowell, who also serves as culinary educator and program director at PACE.
“Our first venture to business is really catering for small groups from people we personally know. Eventually, they referred us to other clients and the rest is history. As we expand our business, that is when we realized that opening a school is not just a business decision but a commitment to open the eyes of the public to the potentials in the food industry,” he says.
Chef Lowell and his partner Fiona Flores, with whom he has three children, teamed up with
Chef Catherine Ong to conceptualize Pace and invest in education.
“Opening and operating a school is not as easy as retailing a product. There is no such thing as product replacement or repair in the field of education. We realized that what we impart to our students who are our clients is something that is permanent and lasting and the money they invested for their education is more precious than its actual value,” says Chef Lowell.
PACE trains students in the fields of culinary arts, baking and pastry arts and entrepreneurship. It offers relevant and innovative training programs that enable graduates to explore the different opportunities in the food industry.
Chef Lowell, who was born in Davao City, is a seasoned restaurateur. He has three other siblings who are all in the medical field and residing in the United States. Chef Lowell says as a young kid, he was inspired by his “lola who is my personal hero as a chef.”
Before establishing PACE, Chef Lowell honed his skills over the past two decades in the culinary industry, starting as a demo chef in 1997. As the first academic scholar of a pioneer culinary school in the Philippines, he progressed from sous chef to executive chef of various restaurants in Metro Manila.
He ran Manila Electric Co.’s executive dining and its subsidiary, MMLDC’s banquet services for more than a decade. He was the champion coach during the 2013 Spoonful of Flavors Competition. In 2014, he was a bronze medalist during the 2014 Philippine Culinary Cup, in the butcher and the chef category.
“I always knew that I want to work in the kitchen. I was among the first batch of the first culinary school in the Philippines and I am proud to have been mentored by the best chefs. What I realized as I move along with my career that it is so much better to be your own boss not for bragging rights but you get to fully exercise your creativity, directions and achieve your goals in your own way. I also realized that I can help other people better if I have my own business. Of course, the blessing of profitability goes along with it,” he says.
Chef Lowell says PACE started more as an advocacy than a business. “It is our desire to give chance to more people who want to start a career or a business in the food industry that really inspired us to work hard and establish PACE,” he says.
“I’ve been in this industry for a long time now and I myself have been blessed to have such a wonderful career and experience in this industry and I know the kind of training that will really make a difference for the students. That is what we are trying to provide our students with our training in PACE,” he says.
PACE offers a diploma course in culinary arts, an advanced course in cuisines. It is also in the final stages of offering a baking diploma course. “We are also into consultancy, having helped numerous establishments from hotels, restaurants and even resorts. We help aspiring and current entrepreneurs in matters related to restaurant operations from menu development and operations training,” says Chef Lowell.
Chef Lowell says the school met several challenges along the way. “It is very challenging to meet and exceed their expectations consistently. No one can please every person but we believe that you can always give your best with all sincerity and the students as our clients will always appreciate what we give them,” he says.
“Some of the big challenges we experienced is when we started. We have to work doubly hard to deliver our unique proposition to our students of chefpreneurship. That by taking culinary arts, you do not end up solely in the kitchen but you can also start a business through it. It took years to finally deliver that message convincingly. They will always doubt but as always, results is the best proof and testament you can give the clients,” Chef Lowell says.
Nearly three years into operation, hundreds of students have enrolled in PACE’s various courses. “We have been blessed to be trusted by hundreds of students and parents in our almost three years of operations. What we are most proud of is our graduates who are now working in different establishments because of the training and experience they have gained through PACE,” he says.
The expansion of student population also led to more job opportunities at PACE. “We have a lean and dedicated workforce. We started with five employees and so far we have more than 30 employees who are all already involved in our operations,” he says.
Chef Lowell says establishing branches of PACE in other parts of Metro Manila is in the horizon. “We believe that if we are successful in helping students realize their culinary passion and dreams in a sustained period, we can definitely replicate this in similar areas where we can expand. As of now, we are strengthening our institution to be ready for expansion possibilities,” he says.
“As for our current location [Antipolo City], the intention is really to maintain a small and intimate class where we can assure the best possible training experience for our students. We never intended to have large classes at the expense of quality training,” he says.
Chef Lowell is optimistic about the prospects of the culinary school and the food industry as a whole. “The demand for food will never slow down. In fact, in the last 10 years, it even grew and expanded in areas we have never seen before. That is good news to us in the industry but at the same time, it is a challenge to always seek for innovations and trends both in cooking and education. The Asean integration should also be good news to us as it is more affordable to study culinary arts in the Philippines,” he says.
His other plan is “to open my own restaurant of course.”
As a chef and entrepreneur, Chef Lowell says the right mixture of success is a balance of task and people. “You cannot always be on one side all the time. You have to meet the demands of the job but at the same time maintain a sincere relationship with your co-workers. That is my working style ever since,” he says.
He spends his weekdays teaching classes and managing the family’s catering business.
“Whenever I can, I cook which is very often, at work and at home. That is something I will not stop until I can. Weekends is for my family. I personally prefer not to bring work at home and it stays that way ever since,” he says.
“Amidst all the work and stress, having a complete and happy family will always be my priority. As long as it stays that way, I feel that I am accomplished. Second is all of our graduates who somehow we helped in one way or another. They are the reason why we put up PACE,” he says.
Chef Lowell says “my family will always be my best accomplishment.”
Outside the kitchen and the culinary school, Chef Lowell spends time drawing and painting. “It has always been my outlet,” he says.
To aspiring chefreneurs, Chef Lowell has this simple advice. “Follow your passion for it will fuel your success. Do not stop learning and value and respect your customers. Take care of your employees and maintain a good relationship with your suppliers,” he says.
“If you want to succeed, it all starts by knowing your passion, pursuing it and as you move on, never forget who helped you succeed. Humility and gratitude will bring you to places,” says Chef Lowell.