How Bicol native became top chef at Harvard Faculty Club

By Don Tagala, ABS-CBN North America News Bureau

Posted at Jul 03 2014 10:45 AM | Updated as of Jul 04 2014 04:46 AM

Filipino Rolando Abaquin is the executive chef at Harvard Faculty Club. Courtesy of Harvard Faculty Club Facebook page

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts – Behind the exquisite dining experience at the Harvard Faculty Club is a Filipino executive chef.

For three years now, Chef Rolando Abaquin has been at the helm of the kitchen in one of America's oldest and most prestigious institutions – the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He was Columbia University's executive chef for 10 years before taking over Harvard's most elegant in-campus restaurant.

Abaquin said he has served some of the world's most popular celebrities.

"I met Vice President Binay, like a year ago I think, also Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, a lot of celebrities, Matt Damon," Abaquin said.

But before rubbing elbows with celebrities, Abaquin started out as a dishwasher in a New York restaurant in the 80's when an opportunity came and turned his life around --a sous chef asked him if he wanted to learn how to cook.

"So I tried and then he gave me all these books. I learned from that, and then after a few weeks, I started making all the sauces, soup... And within 6 months of training I became a sous chef," he said.

Thirty years later, today, the Pinoy chef offers quality dining to the Faculty Club's meetings, conferences, special events and even wedding receptions of up to a thousand guests.

Harvard Faculty Club executive chef Rolando Abaquin harvests his own herbs. Courtesy of Harvard Faculty Club Facebook page

Chef Abaquin's most popular dish came from his own mother's recipe called "Makati Style Chicken Skewers" - the marinade uses a Pinoy favorite -- banana ketchup.

"That's one of the favorite also in the club right now," he said.

Abaquin said that the faculty club serves other Filipino dishes, "We serve adobo. We also do noodles and lumpia, but we don't use much pork, we use chicken."

A dinner guest from New York, Joji Jalandoni said, "Excellent. Masarap... This is one step up for us na ang pagkain masarap. He did a very good job."

Before moving to the US, the Bicol-native chef was an agriculturist in the Philippines.

His degree in agriculture from the Bicol University comes in handy when it comes to providing quality meals to the Harvard community -- he grows his own herbs in an on-site organic garden.

"Right now, I'm very happy here," he said.