A Chief Cook’s tale – a tribute to the helping hands along the way, from a grateful and thoughtful Wisley N. Wacguiyan

Some say “nothing is impossible for a dreamer”, but I say “nothing is impossible, but each dream must be coupled with action, determination, passion and faith.”

Who would believe that my own dreams would take me this far?

I am Wisley N. Wacguiyan, a 31 year-old dreamer from Ifugao, the Philippines. I have been just over a month now as Chief Cook on board the “SAKIZAYA RESPECT”, and here is a short story of my journey from teacher to seafarer.

I am a teacher by my earlier training and also a board passer, but because it’s difficult to get employed in the provinces I needed to go to the city to find a job. I stayed in my cousin’s apartment while hunting for one, and in return I did the daily cooking.

One time, my cousin’s husband, who is a Chief Engineer, was back home and he tasted the food I had cooked. I was elated when he exclaimed “Why don’t you go on training to be a Messman and become Chief Cook some day? Your menu tastes really good and you seem skilled in cooking.” That was a great lift to me and I immediately acted on it. I lacked finance, so we sold our small lot in the provinces to fund my training.

The rest is history. My first contract as a Messman challenged me a lot, even though I’m used to hard work. I was culture-shocked and on the verge of homesickness to the point of coming home to quit. However, I overcame those challenges with words of encouragement from a dear uncle. I finished my first contract with flying colours and got a kind recommendation from my Chief Cook, Marvin Lucerna, to whom of course I am very grateful for also helping me improve my cooking skills.

Wisley N. Wacguiyan

Ma’am Lorena Martines, formerly a manager at Synergy, then gave me my second contract as Messman. I was once again filled with joy and motivation when she encouraged me (with another recommendation) to become a Chief Cook, which, with the kind support of Captain Jimmy Mabaquiao, I then did.

I was really challenged on my first contract as Chief Cook. I needed to level up my cooking skills, partly because the crew were mainly Indian and I did not know so much about that cuisine. So I made extra effort, watching Indian recipes on TV and YouTube, and even bought Indian cookbooks to make sure I served them well with their exquisite dishes.

Fast forward now, with highs and lows, of course, and I am so very grateful to Synergy for making me the person I am, in my seventh contract and my fifth as Chief Cook.

The menus that I prepare are special for me, as I feel that they represent the richness of my life and my journey to become a Chief Cook, and for this Galley Masters contest my main dish was kare-kare with fried rice, with lumpia as my appetiser or side dish and Brazo de Mercedes as my dessert.

You see, it was kare-kare that opened the door for me. That was the dish that I had prepared when the Chief Engineer encouraged me to become a seafaring cook. It is a uniquely made Filipino dish with simmered meat, vegetables and peanut sauce, and nowadays I try to make it more special with a spoonful of gratitude for all the people who have helped me. Here, I used lechon kawali (crispy, fried pork belly) as my meat on top of the peanut sauce, with vegetables and sautéed shrimp paste.

Galley Masters contest

Kare-kare is not complete without fried rice, which to me is the dish that represents my family, especially my parents, and it is in honour of their sacrifices and unending support, despite the difficulties of our life before. When we were young a mixture of rice, used oil and a pinch of salt was considered a sumptuous meal. But now our life is better, and I can discreetly capture that by making my fried rice more colourful. I sauté it with butter, garlic, onions, and other vegetables and also prawns on top.

And I could not possibly miss out lumpia as a side dish or appetiser, as it represents my wife, Shani Ann. Whenever I cook lumpia on board, I remember the very person who is my inspiration to keep going and work hard for my family. It also makes me feel at home, because it’s her all-time No. 1 comfort food. This lumpia is made with paper-thin lumpia wrapper and is filled with a savoury mixture of ground pork, carrots and other vegetables. It is served with a sweet chilli or vinegar sauce, which is my wife’s favourite dipping sauce.

Brazo de Mercedes is the perfect dessert, and reminds me of all the crew I have had the pleasure of sailing with. Whenever I prepare this, someone always asks how I made it, or I hear “it’s my first time to taste a dessert like this on a ship”, and some even ask me to teach them how to make it. Whenever I see the crew satisfied with the food I prepare, it makes me keep doing my best in serving them and helping them ease out the exhaustion from the tiring work that they do every day. Brazo de Mercedes is a traditional Filipino rolled cake, made from a sheet of soft meringue with sweet and sticky egg custard, and dusted with powdered sugar.

The challenge on any ship is how to provide good food with only the immediately available ingredients and equipment, and without sacrificing taste. So I need to be more creative and strategic in order to provide the best food every day, and by doing so I myself get great pleasure and  overcome daily challenges.

Life at sea is not easy, but companionship among the crew, faith, love for work and the great help of my tremendous Messman Tamayao Ar-jay M. are always with me.