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WOMAN WE LOVE: CHEF HAPPY ONGPAUCO-TIU
HAPPY ONGPAUCO-TIU is no stranger to the food business, having grown up with the founder of Barrio Fiesta and the daughter of the inventor of Pinoy favorite Crispy Pata. We can only imagine how their kitchen smelled like, and how bountiful family lunches were; after all, a family of fine cooks is what our culture loves, celebrates even. Happy wasn’t content to work for her father though, this driven lady chose the more challenging path and created her own restaurant concept in her early twenties---a fearless act for someone so young and inexperienced. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, she is now a proud owner of several food businesses, and a boutique hotel to boot! We picked her brains on how to achieve a gastronomic cult following, what surefire winning dish she serves at home and the secret to her success. Hint: it involves work. Lots of it!
You grew up in the family food business. Did you always want to take the same route?
Yes but I’ve always wanted to open my own and not work for family.
What would you be if you weren’t an entrepreneur?
Still an entrepreneur… never thought of being anything else.
What was your first ever venture into the food business that was truly your own creation?
World Topps. I did not have money so behind my parents back, I maxed out my card to open a hole in a wall 20-seater restaurant.
How old were you?
I was 23 years old.
What valuable lessons did it teach you?
Dream and work HARD to achieve it.
What’s next for you?
I will continue to grow my business at my own pace.
Top three food you can’t live without?
Hard question, too many to mention!
Best business advice and from whom?
Best business advice for aspiring entrepreneurs out there are things that I take to heart: To dream and work hard to accomplish them, to always be grateful to the people who helped you reach your goals and to put God first in everything you do because thru His guidance, you will be led to success.
What do you consider is your greatest achievement so far?
Being able to build my own group of companies on my own—just through my savings, slowly rolling my money to grow my business. I now have 16 branches of different concept restaurants, a catering company and a boutique bed and breakfast.
I’m a mother of 4 boys—I consider this my happiest and greatest achievement.
What’s the best thing about being an entrepreneur?
I have my own time. I can prioritise my family and run my business at the same time through delegation. It’s important to balance your time and give priority to what matters most.
What’s the worst?
It’s a 24-hour job
Best country/city/place to go on a gastronomic adventure?
San Sebastian and Paris
In your travels, what place impressed you the most in terms of food?
Both above—not only are their produce unique and fresh, but their ingenuity and creativity is astonishing.
Are homegrown Pinoy recipes finally finding a place internationally?
Yes I think so.
What do you think brought about this movement?
I think it’s because it’s so easy to travel these days so we are inspired by the different cuisines we experienced during our travels, thus making a lot of people abroad explore and open their own restaurants internationally.
What can still be improved?
Plating and styling Filipino food is still a challenge but slowly getting there.
And how do you see it moving forward?
Because people are exposed to all these amazing cuisines, it’s so inspiring that there is no other way but to move forward. The government also has been very supportive about sending Filipino chefs abroad on trade shows and the like.
What’s a very simple dish that has a huge impact for you?
Crispy Pata because my dad invented it.
Favorite comfort food?
Favorite fine dining food?
Steak, Foie Gras, Burratta.
Dream dinner party guests?
The Royal family.
Is there anything else you want to achieve in your career at this point?
I just want to continue to grow my business at my own pace, enjoying every minute of the journey.
Do you have a foolproof dish that you serve to any guests at home?
My 18-hour roasts and my Salmon en Papillote.
This simple yet decadent salmon dish is one of Happy’s go to recipes for the holidays. No sweat remaking it at home with ingredients readily available in your local grocery. Happy baking!
INTERVIEW Anne Bella Arguelles
PHOTOS from Happy's Instagram account