You’re not likely to think of Monica Yang first when you tell the waiter to send your regards to the chef. But rest assured, if you enjoyed your cheeseburger or your plate of kare-kare, then you probably have her to thank too for every bite.
Monica’s work as an R&D and Events Chef for The Moment Group of Restaurants (TMG) requires her to be something of a master of all palates. R&D Chefs in general can handle everything from the business end of the kitchen to the technical science of the food itself, but Monica’s specialty lies in customizing menus and dishes for special events — to bring out the best in the dishes that already make TMG better than most. While her main workstation for developing new food items is at TMG’s Mess Hall and Test Kitchen, it’s safe to bet that many other dishes in their long list of restaurants and establishments have also gone under Monica’s discerning eye and taste buds, in tandem with The Moment Group’s full team of dedicated chefs.
It’s work that doesn’t stop in an industry that’s only speeding up, and Monica is nothing but focused and up to the challenge. There’s always a new dish to test and a new taste to taste, but through it all, she’s an essential ingredient.
Of the responsibilities you have to juggle as an R&D Chef, which do you enjoy most?
I personally enjoy the actual firing of the dishes, especially in the later stages of their development. It’s very fulfilling to see, smell, and taste your work as it comes to fruition.
Which aspect of your work has challenged you most?
Patience. It can be frustrating to have to make and taste the same dish more than ten times.
How are you able to manage your time? Any work routine that you’ve had to live by?
Be as organized as possible. I don’t have a definitive routine because the projects and brands I work on call for different timelines. I make a lot of schedules and checklists that I stick by, keeping in mind the priorities I’ve set.
How has your time with The Moment Group changed your approach to work and food?
I’ve learned that there needs to be a deep understanding of the consumer. They make you who you are and you need to evolve with them. You will get left behind once you stagnate; complacency will be your biggest failure.
As a relatively younger asset to the team, what can you bring to the table?
I am young but I don’t believe that age equates to the quality of work. I believe that I have good work ethic. I’m not afraid to voice out my opinions and concerns.
How do you come up with ideas? Are they usually products of collaboration?
Almost always, they are collaborative. Putting other people’s knowledge together is better than being alone. It’s just about streamlining once they’re all in the pot.
Is originality essential in coming up with new ideas for dishes?
Originality is important but it isn’t everything. Sometimes it’s nice to eat a simple and classic roast chicken that’s executed perfectly.
How do you develop a taste for everything without being influenced by your biases?
If you aren’t open to try, you’re probably in the wrong industry. Be willing to try even the things you think you’ll hate, and you might be surprised. You’re only shortchanging yourself if you don’t. When I don’t like a particular flavor or texture, I try to appreciate it nonetheless.
What’s the most unique thing about Filipino food?
Despite being separated by thousands of islands, I believe the palate and profile is cohesive. There are nuances between regions but the craving for assertively sour, sweet, and salty is almost unanimous. It’s not like in other countries where the differences between regions are so evident.
What is the restaurant scene like in the Philippines, and where would you like to go?
It’s progressing and growing rapidly, but I’d still like to see more appreciation for technique and ingredient driven initiatives.
Are there any culinary frontiers that you’d still like to explore?
Right now I’m actually really focused on fundamentals and roots. Everyone’s focused on the next big thing. I want to do things right.
STYLING BY RENEE ULTADO
ART DIRECTION BY MAGS OCAMPO
MAKEUP BY NICOLE CEBALLOS
HAIR BY TIN TORRES
PRODUCTION ASSISTED BY EMIL HOFILENA, AIA TABUZO, ANDREA ANG, AND PATRICIA MEDINA