MANILA -- Chef Sharwin Tee is a reluctant celebrity.
After completing his AB Communications degree from Ateneo de Manila University, he entered culinary school and graduated with honors from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver, Canada in 2003.
Opening his own restaurant, hosting a cooking show on TV and launching a book were not foremost in his game plan. Although those things are not far from his mind, Tee cannot be any happier and more thrilled about his present culinary fame.
The Quirky Bacon was his restaurant that opened in San Juan and ran for a couple of years. The dining place undeniably captured the kitchen philosophy of Tee.
His first book, “Curiosity Got the Chef,” released in 2014, was a cookbook of recipes tied to Tee’s former show of the same title that ran for seven seasons on the Lifestyle Network.
Recently, he came out with his second book, “So, You Want To Be A Chef?” and offered it initially to traditional publishers around.
Finally, Anvil gave its nod. The book just came out on bookstores last week.
“So, You Want To Be A Chef?” is a memoir detailing Tee’s journey from a six-year-old kid mesmerized by a cooking show to becoming a chef and a TV host of a cooking show.
With the new book, Tee aims to give aspiring chefs a real glimpse of the food industry.
“If you’re unsure whether or not you want to become a chef, read this book first,” Tee said. “The book is cheaper at only P350. You pay half a million for a culinary course, but midway into the course, you will say, ‘Ayoko na. Hindi ko pala kaya.’ I suggest you read the book first.”
In “So, You Want To Be A Chef?,” Tee acknowledged celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, to whom he dedicated his second book. “To Tony Bourdain, whose words always echo what’s in my heart,” Tee wrote. “He was an inspiration to me.”
ADVENTUROUS CHEF AND FOODIE
Tee has become known for his quirky and innovative twists on traditional Filipino food and Chinese-Filipino cuisine. He also has web shows like “Bet You Didn’t Know” and “Not Safe for the Hungry.”
He cooks in “weird” places, like on top of a volcano in Camiguin. “I’m no daredevil, but the house is there. We just cooked outside the house near the volcano,” he allowed.
Asked how he differs from other chefs around, Tee insists he’s not a stickler for rules. “Even in the cuisine, I’m a very democratic chef. I don’t believe in authentic things. I feel like authenticity depends on the maker. If it’s authentic to you, then it’s authentic.”
Undoubtedly, he’s an adventurous chef. “I promised to eat everything at least twice,” Tee pointed out. He has no qualms about trying everything, from mole crickets – “camaro, they’re actually very good” – to frogs and even crocodiles, “which tastes like chicken.”
In Australia, Tee tasted kangaroo. “It’s very good. It’s similar to beef.” In Africa, he remembers eating zebra. “Parang matigas na beef. Very exotic.”
When he was younger, Tee swears he had the “not-so-pleasant experience” of eating snake. “I had the soup. I think it was not only cooked that well.”
Still, he will not stop trying out different food and exploring dishes. “What could be kadiri to you could be a delicacy or a tradition to some people,” Tee reasoned. “For me, you should try whatever is given to you.”
To date, Tee has cooked for a number of celebrities, including former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, erstwhile Eraserheads vocalist Ely Buendia when he had a heart issue many years ago, singer Dia Frampton of “The Voice” and more recently, Vice President Leni Robredo in her New Manila office.
“During the campaign, VP Leni traveled everywhere,” Tee shared. “I messaged her, ‘You need a break.’ The campaign was really tiring and tedious. I told her, ‘When you’re no longer busy, let me cook for you.’ A few months after she won, she found time and I did get to cook for her.”
COOKING FOR BEA ALONZO
Two years ago, Tee had the thrill of his life when he cooked for actress Bea Alonzo, to fulfill a two-decade long dream since he was in college.
“When I graduated from college, Bea started on TV,” Tee recalled. “I told my friends, ‘This girl is really my crush. I’ll give myself 20 years and find a way to really know her and cook for her’.”
Tee’s friend, TV director Katski Flores, who directed Alonzo in a teleserye before, told him, “Mabait naman si Bea. Why don’t you just post something on Instagram?”
Subsequently, Tee came up with a gimmick. “I cooked 40 dishes and I posted every dish on Instagram. Whatever she likes, she can pick her choice,” he offered.
“I tagged her in every post. The first one I posted was scallops with broccoli. Then I did prawns with butter and an okra dish with beef, because I learned she likes okra.”
One fine day, when Alonzo’s schedule matched with Tee’s, the chef got to cook for the actress. He described his meeting with Alonzo as “crazy.” There was no TV coverage or any reporter around to document the moment. Alonzo came with her manager and a few people from Star Cinema.
Tee was simply so grateful that cooking for Alonzo did happen. “I didn’t even want to post anything about it to make myself famous,” Tee explained. “So, there was really no video of that meeting.”
Tee has become a guest chef for Discovery Shores in Boracay, the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao and the Holiday Inn in Makati. He also works as a restaurant consultant, doing research, staff training and development menu composition for soon-to-open restaurants.
To date, Tee has held over 20 successful pop-up dinners in the country and abroad, including sold-out stops in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis.