Have you ever wanted to learn a new skill or pursue a lifelong dream but thought you might be too old to do it? This may be that sign for you to take the leap and go for it.
Veteran actor and director Michael de Mesa, 63, with zero kitchen experience, is currently enrolled in the baking and pastry arts program of Global Academy. All these years, we’ve only known him for his passion for film, impressing us with his performances in movies like “Unfaithful Wife,” “On The Job,” “Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit.” Is baking something he’s long wanted to pursue? “Not at all. Nope, it wasn’t under the radar at all,” he tells ANCX with a laugh. The idea came out of nowhere. He was surprised he even entertained the thought. “Me? Baking?” he says, wrinkling his forehead. “Sure. Why not?”
De Mesa says it was his wife Julie who encouraged him to learn a new skill. He had a lot of free time after “FPJ’s Ang Probinsiyano” and a movie he finished filming in December. When Julie mentioned she has a chef-friend who teaches at Global Academy, they decided to inquire about its culinary program.
But de Mesa was a day late for culinary class, so someone from the academy inquired if he would like to take up baking and pastry arts instead—the class was to start the following day. “So right there and then nag-decide ako. Sige baking, I’ll go for it.”
What the veteran actor dared to embark on is not a crash course, mind you. It’s a 20-week program comprised of online classes (theoretical assessment and quizzes) and on-campus training. The classes are held thrice a week.
Just like any other student, de Mesa was admittedly a little nervous on his first day of class. “The last time I was in school was almost 30 years ago, when I took up film,” he says, smiling.
What made things even more nerve-wracking was the fact that he’s basically a beginner when it comes to the workings of the kitchen. “I don’t cook. I know how to make rice. I know how to fry an egg. I know how to make one dish, yung arroz ala cubana. But other than that, I really do not cook at all.”
De Mesa says the classes at Global Academy challenges him. “They train students who want to embark in the hospitality, culinary industry. So ganoon ang training sa school. Hindi siya basta-basta,” the new student offers. The school doesn’t simply teach recipes but techniques, and the science and art behind them. “Because of this, what you can do is limitless.”
The course trains students to become well-rounded in all the different areas of baking and pastry making. “We're done with the breads—non-yeasted doughs, yeasted doughs, laminated doughs. Now we're into pies and tarts,” the newbie baker shares. “Last Wednesday and Friday, I made chocolate chip cookies, lemon meringue tart, and apple pie. Then next week we're doing puff pastries. And then the week after, cakes na.”
What the film actor and director didn’t realize was that he’d enjoy the experience immensely. “I've been acting for 50 years already,” he says. “But baking is something new to me.” It gives him so much joy to have his family—wife, children and grandchildren—taste his goods. “They all love it. They love what I've done so far,” he shares, clearly pleased.
De Mesa himself has a sweet tooth, so he really gets a kick out of tasting his own creations. “My favorite are madeleines, now I can make my own. I love chewy cookies, now I can make my own. I don’t need to buy.”
De Mesa comes from a family of many good cooks. Growing up, he loved his maternal grandmother’s fabada, chicken soup, beef steak, and arroz a la cubana. “I guess I learned how to cook the arroz ala cubana thru my lola also. Although I tweaked it a bit, it’s my own take na,” he offers. His lola cooks really good Spanish food and he and his siblings, Cherie and Ralph (Mark Gil), would stay with her a lot when they were small.
As for his mother, the character actress Rosemarie, it’s her lentejas that’s always a winner. “If we ask our mom to cook, we would ask her to prepare the lentils.” De Mesa’s wife Julie, a Kapampangan, is also a good cook. A niece who’s now based in the United States is good at baking. “Ngayon, dalawa na kami [marunong mag-bake],” de Mesa says. He is a huge fan of Sugar House’s apple pie and the breads and pastries at Paul Boulangerie. He likes anything sweet—tiramisu, cookies, brownies, name it.
Family get-togethers and reunions are always a time to enjoy spectacular meals. In fact, the night before this interview, de Mesa celebrated his 63rd birthday at his eldest son Ryan’s place. “I guess it's the company that makes the food,” he says, “regardless of what is served.” The new baker brought his apple pie, chocolate chip cookies, and lemon meringue tart. “Then I baked some scones with bacon, herbs and cheese,” he offers. “My grandkids wrote me letters for my birthday, which made me cry.”
Asked if he’s considering to put up a business or become a pastry chef in the future, the actor-turned-baker says he doesn’t know yet. “It really depends. I don't know where this is going to take me. Bahala na,” he says, smiling.
For now, de Mesa is taking it one step at a time and enjoying his classes. His advice to other people his age who would like to try something new: “Age is just a number. It's never too late for anything,” he says. “Whether it's your true passion, or you just wanted to learn something new, just try and then you’ll just surprise yourself with what you can do.”
Photos courtesy of Michael de Mesa