Filipino chef talks about catering for a British princess

by Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Jul 02 2014 10:24 AM | Updated as of Jul 03 2014 06:45 PM

Chef Francis Dela Cruz prepared a summer menu fit for royalty.

BERKSHIRE (UPDATE) - A seasoned Filipino chef had the rare opportunity of serving food for royalty when a British princess visited the hospital where he worked, while his family also had the chance to meet and greet the royal visitor.

Princess Anne, the only daughter of Queen Elizabeth II, revisited the West Berkshire Community Hospital in Thatcham on July 1, a decade after she opened it in 2004.

Francis Dela Cruz, who has been a chef at the hospital since 2005, was given the task of catering for the event: a summer garden party in honor of the special guest.

“I feel a bit pressured but excited. It’s a mixed emotion, and it’s another challenge,” he told ABS-CBN Europe at the event, adding it has been a career highlight so far.

While the weather stayed mostly sunny and mild, the 39-year-old chef served a variety of appropriate summer treats for the royal and other guests, including a beautifully sculpted platter of fruits, classic English cream scones, toffee crunch, strawberries dipped in chocolate, assorted quiche, and a patriotic Union Jack cake.

Dela Cruz and his team, who are in charge of food at the hospital including a dedicated restaurant on site called The Gallery Cafe, worked together to deliver a menu that is suitable, healthy and within budget.

“I’ve known Francis now for eight or nine years, and he continues to produce fantastic quality food, which are based on his experiences as a Filipino, but also on all types of food,” said Ifor Sheldon, Facilities Manager at the hospital, and Dela Cruz’s boss.

The food seemed popular with the guests, who enjoyed their treats at the hospital’s new garden which was inaugurated at the event. The newly developed open space offers a much-needed sanctuary for patients, as well as a vegetable patch that could provide fresh produce for Dela Cruz’s kitchen.

“The patients will be able to come out into the garden and enjoy the plants. We’re also doing some therapy out here with them, and it’s also for patients who just want a little bit of quiet away from the other patients. They’ve got somewhere to sit and relax,” said Amanda Hart, a matron at the hospital.

The Princess Royal received flowers from British Filipino children.

Princess Anne toured the new garden after looking around the latest developments inside the hospital.

On her way out, Dela Cruz’s daughters, Izekrizell, 9, and Frances, 4, accompanied by their mother, offered a bouquet of flowers to the princess.

“I felt quite good, and excited and a little bit nervous,” Izekrizell said afterwards.

Her little sister, Frances, revealed that the princess advised her to “be a good girl,” adding that she loved meeting a real-life princess because “she was all pretty.”

Dela Cruz, who is originally from Pampanga, admitted that he was “overwhelmed” by the whole experience, especially after Princess Anne approached him on her way out asking if he will use the vegetables from the garden in his meals.

“You cannot describe it in one word. You cannot describe it in a thousand words. I’m very happy and honoured,” he said.

The Filipino chef is no stranger to catering for special guests, after serving the likes of British politicians and Olympic medallists in the past. But it hasn’t always been this glamorous.

He started at the bottom two decades ago, in 1994, and worked his way up, with no formal training and learning all his skills on the job, from a family catering business to a popular fast food chain.

“When I was young, I was a pot washer for my mum’s kitchen and my grandma’s catering. And then one day I said maybe I could work as a chef. Suddenly one of my friends offered me a job at a Jollibee in Manila, so I started from there and up to now.”

He got his first big break in fine dining with Holiday Inn Resort in Clarkfield, Pampanga, where he honed his craft, followed by a number of five-star hotels and top restaurants in both the Philippines and the UK, where he moved in 2001.

“Focus on what you’re doing and focus on what you want to do. And don’t be bored of what you want to do. You’re going to get there. There are some humps in life, but at the end of the day those are just humps that slow you down. But it doesn’t mean you have to stop,” he advised.

Princess Anne, known as The Princess Royal, is the aunt of Prince William and Prince Harry, and is currently eleventh in line to the British throne.

Filipino chef Francis Dela Cruz meets Princess Anne.