STIer, The PHL Representative to The World Food Championships 11/07/2017
Having the courage to take leap of faith can lead you to great opportunities. Rhea Montojo knows this best as she represents the country in the World Food Championships 2017, the largest cooking competition in the Food Sport industry, on November 8-12, 2017 in Orange Beach, Alabama, USA.
Armed with her culinary skills and a dedicated attitude, Montojo, a BS Hotel and Restaurant Management student of STI College – Alabang, has the chops to go far.
Hailing from Romblon, she learned how to cook from her father, a farmer who likes preparing dishes for his family and for special occasions in their small province. She would even take it as far as whipping up simple dishes for her five siblings when their parents are not around. Back then, cooking was not a career path she imagined she would pursue, until she entered college.
Eye-opening learning experiences
After high school, Montojo opted to forego her education and work in Manila to provide for her family. For a while, she took on odd jobs from being a kasambahay, a storekeeper, to a factory worker. But for the petite girl, it was too much to handle so she resigned and retreated back to her province.
Following months of stagnancy, Montojo realized that a bachelor’s degree is essential for bigger and better opportunities and with her younger brother’s support, she enrolled in the BS Hotel Restaurant Management of STI College – Alabang.
That was when her talent in cooking began to bloom. For Montojo, who previously thought of cooking as a chore, it was her kitchen lab classes that that made her appreciate culinary arts.
“Iyung mga oregano at rosemary na nakikita ko lang sa probinsiya, hindi ko inakala na hinahalo pala siya sa pagkain.”
When asked what she came to like the most about the art is the discipline or the mise en place that is crucial to any chef. With this kind of rudimentary principles in mind, Montojo creates dishes and recipes to suit and excite the palate of any foodie.
Built to withstand the heat in the kitchen
The thrill and unique pressure of a cooking competition is nothing new for Rhea Montojo. As a student, she joined multiple cooking contests at different points in her career. Starting from her freshman year to the present, with competitions like the Chef Xpress, a network-wide cooking contest in STI, and the Ajinomoto Umami Culinary Challenge, an inter-school competition where she got to compete with students from culinary schools.
While winning is rewarding, losing also served as a learning experience for Rhea. She can recount the times she has discovered invaluable techniques and wisdom from the more experienced chefs she encountered. Win or lose, there is no doubt that she will seek for more culinary challenges to experience and conquer in the future.
Making it big with a beloved Filipino classic dish
Montojo’s big break to date would be the time she joined the nationwide DeliChef-sponsored Great Adobo Cook-off in 2015 where she joined the final round in Pioneer Street Market in Mandaluyong City. Competing with eight home cooks was Rhea Montojo who, still a sophomore at that time.
“Lahat sila tinitingnan ako, habang ako nandito lang, nagluluto,” she recalls the experience and let her dish do all the talking for her. Montojo’s adobo with lambanog and honey gained the approval of the jurors Nancy Lumen, the Adobo Queen, and celebrity chef Ynna Asistio.
With her unique adobo dish, Montojo claimed the grand prize and became the DeliChef’s Brand Ambassador.
Out to compete as the Philippine representative
Now, Montojo is excited to see what else the culinary world has to offer. Guided by her mentors in STI, Montojo is determined to push forward and keep trying. With full support from her family, friends, the STI community, and STI Head Office for the biggest endeavor (so far) in her life, Rhea will continue to improve her cooking and develop more flavors to use in her dishes.
As she goes to Alabama for the World Food Championships 2017 and competes against almost 500 professional chefs from different countries, she hopes to inspire her fellow students to be a part of something big.
Rhea has made her way to the big leagues and is proud to say that no matter where you are from, you have the potential to go far and do extraordinary things. Just like what she said, “I never imagined that a simple girl like me from Romblon would ever get to compete in a competition outside of the country, but now I’m here!”