Inside the kitchen of the International School for Culinary Arts & Hotel Management (ISCAHM), the media guests marveled at how Chef Ernie Babaran can create exquisite cake toppers with pulled sugar. He manipulated the sugar under high heat and produced flowers and multi-colored ribbons. Before taking on the post as ISCAHM’s Director for Pastry & Bakery Arts, Chef Ernie worked in several top hotel chains in the Philippines and abroad. He is known for making the enormous wedding cake of King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein (who was a prince then) and Queen Rania of Jordan. We also watched Chef Norbert Gandler and chef Joey Herrera prepare Pan-Roasted Lapu-Lapu with Spinach Feta Cheese Ravioli.
ISCAHM’s Executive Director, Chef Norbert shared that there’s nothing more important in a school than the faculty and it has been always ISCAHM’s goal to work only with those that have industry experience. ISCAHM takes pride in its international faculty roster from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Canada, Japan and the Philippines. Their main faculty has more than 20 years of industry experience in their respective expertise and employment record in four or five-star hotel operations. “When it comes to cooking, you need industry experience. It is very easy to study lectures but you have to know the ins and outs. Not everything is as easy as what’s written in the book, you really need to know what to do, why you do things, and what do you do when things go wrong,” emphasized the former executive chef of Mandarin Oriental Manila and executive sous chef for the opening of Makati Shangri-La Hotel.
Originally from Austria, chef Norbert has worked in nine countries, he settled in the Philippines in 1989. “We have noticed that Filipinos are very talented, they have such a high interest in the food business so it has been a dream of ours to open a school,” he related. That dream came true in 2003. Since then, ISCAHM has had over 3,500 graduates for their Diploma courses and almost 9,000 have finished their short courses.
ISCAHM offers Diploma courses in Culinary Arts and Kitchen Management with Australian Certificate III in Culinary Arts, and in Pastry and Bakery Arts and Kitchen Management with Australian Certificate III in Patisserie. The school has been working with Culinary Solutions Australia since 2011. “Our students get an international certificate which is recognized by the Australian government,” pointed out chef Norbert.
ISCAHM also has TESDA-certified intermediate courses such as TESDA National Certificate II in Cookery and TESDA National Certificate II in Bread and Pastry Production. This is a once-a-week course, perfect for those who hold full-time jobs. Graduates of their TESDA-certified courses have a 100% passing rate for their assessment.
ISCAHM is the first culinary school that offers senior high school. Senior high school Technical-Vocational-Livelihood Track – Home Economics Strand. NCII in Cookery for Grade 11, and NCII in Bread and Pastry Production and NCII Food and Beverage Services for Grade 12. “One reason for this is for them to find out if they want to be a chef, another reason is that it is always good for everybody to know how to cook,” explained chef Norbert.
Also available are lifestyle courses for those who wish to upgrade their skills in cooking and baking. These can range from 2 sessions (10 hours) to 12 sessions (60 hours). Some of these courses are the Fundamentals in Culinary Arts, Fundamentals in Pastry Arts, Fundamentals in Bread Baking, Fundamentals in Japanese Cuisine, Savory Asia, Restaurant Concept & Entrepreneurship Program, Artisan Bread, Asian Bread, Junior Chef’s League, and Gingerbread House-Making.
It is noticeable how ISCAHM’s kitchens are built in an industrial way, “so that the students can get used to working in that type of kitchen,” rationalized chef Norbert. Similarly, getting used to cooking for big groups is the reason for letting the students cook the daily meal for the entire school, that’s roughly 140 to 180 persons. Most of the time they prepare set meals but they do buffets occasionally too.
The focus is on learning cooking methods and techniques. “Any chef, regardless of what you do, you have to have the proper basic cooking knowledge, cooking techniques and methods. That’s what it’s all about. If I know how to steam, if I know how to poach, if I know how to braise, if I know how to stew, I can handle all the food. These techniques and methods were created in Europe but you use them also in Asian cooking. The techniques have not changed, what has changed today is that you have much better utensils, much better equipment,” chef Norbert reiterated.
The media guests were informed that the generous lunch spread served was by the students. Part of the feast were Smoked Salmon Rolls with Horseradish Chive Cream, Vietnamese Spring Rolls, Beef and Vegetable Stew, Roasted Beef Striploin with Bearnaise Sauce, Fish Fillet with Turmeric Sauce, Chicken Biryani Rice with Cucumber Raita and Pineapple Chutney, Apple Strudel, and Opera Cake, among others.
“When I was still working in the hotels, I was amazed that some students don’t even know how to cut. It’s not easy in the school because you don’t have so much to produce, that’s the reason why we decided that we will cook for everybody. We try to prepare the students for their first step of working for a restaurant. That’s why we have a lot good feedback from restaurants and hotels that our students are ready to work,” beams chef Norbert.
A good number of ISCAHM’s alumni now hold key positions in highly rated hotel and restaurants in the Philippines and around the world, or have become successful food related business owners. A few of them are Jordy Navarra, owner of Toyo Eatery; Rachelle Sarzona and Marge Villena, Chef de Partie at Shangri-La at the Fort; Ely Aspiras, Executive Pastry Chef at Costa Crociere Cruise Line; Maylene Carpio, Chef de Partie at Hilton Strand Hotel in Helsinki, Finland; David Brugger, Executive Chef at Simon Steakhouse in Zurich, Switzerland; Leslie Maloles Sevilla, Senior Sous Chef at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
“You don’t become a master chef or a celebrity chef overnight. But if you have a good education from a good school, you will climb much faster,” according to chef Norbert.
In culinary competitions, ISCAHM holds the title of being the only school that has won overall champion in all three major culinary competitions in the country – Chefs on Parade, National Food Showdown, and Philippine Culinary Cup. Chefs Norbert Gandler and Ernie Babaran are pillars not only inside the kitchen but also sought-after as team managers / consultants for the National Culinary team of the Philippines and individuals who wish to compete here and abroad.
When asked about the tuition, chef Norbert candidly replied, “we are not cheap here, it’s P370,000 for our diploma courses for 14 months in Katipunan. In Cebu and Pampanga it’s P310,000 for 12 months. But if you compare apples to apples then it’s not expensive. You have to look at the hours you get, the days you get. We are holding classes five days a week, not four days a week. We are doing quite a big food production 80% of the time, the students are provided meals. Of course, culinary is not cheap. Ingredients are more and more expensive, good faculty are not cheap. If you want to have experienced faculty then you have to pay also the proper salaries.”
ISCAHM’s main campus is at 4/F FBR Arcade, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The other locations are in Batis Asul Compound, Barangay Sto. Domingo, MacArthur Highway, Angeles City Pampanga and Synergis IT Center, F. Cabahug Street, Kasambagan, Cebu. For inquiries, you may call (02) 8926-8888 / (0917) 8368772 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, log on to www.iscahm.com or follow them on social media, @iscahm on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.