They are young, hot, hungry and driven. And they are rocking some of Guam’s busiest kitchens.
They are Marivic Sibal Capati, Dusit Thani pastry chef; Kinara Buekea, Hyatt sous chef and Joannyssa Rance, Eataliano demichef.
Their journeys vary but they have four things in common: a passion for cooking or baking that keeps them going when they feel like giving up, a male chef mentor who pushed them to persevere and hone their professional style and technique, and early influence by family members under whose apron strings they learned to cook.
When I saw — and tasted —the delicate, detailed, understated elegance of Dusit Gourmet’s pastries, I just had to meet the chef who made them. It made sense when I found out Capati first wanted to be an architect like her father. “It’s the balance for me – in pastry I can build things,” she said.
Buekea came to Guam from the tiny outer island of Tol in Chuuk. She saw her parents work two jobs, scrape and save to provide for the family of ten. As the youngest, she was used to having older sisters and mom doing everything for her. At a certain point, her mom said it was time for her to at least learn how to cook rice. “I always wanted to learn to cook rice. But I was afraid.”
Nowadays, Buekea is cooking more than just rice. Like Capati, I met her food before I met her. Her farm raised shrimp ceviche was featured during Hyatt’s August Chef’s Table.
Rance intrigued me with her creations at Eataliano at Leo Palace Resort. She has a competitive streak. She almost quit after getting tired of competing in an all-male environment. Chef George encouraged her to stay. “He said it was hard for him to find a woman who can keep up. And if I leave the foundation of the kitchen will be disrupted.”
Buekea was working in the cold side of the kitchen at Hyatt but “seeing the boys in the hot side rushing, I thought, I can do that. I have the body, height and talent, so I put my mind to it and pushed myself.”
Capati and Buekea are products of ProStart, high school culinary program offered by Guam Community College. They have been trained well under GCC Culinary Department Chair Vicky Schrage’s watch to compete in the annual American Culinary Federation’s Salon Culinaire. (Capati is a back to back champion in the pastry division.)
All three spoke of their passion for cooking. “If you don’t like what you do, if you have no passion for it, you cannot last,” said Buekea.
“If you can’t handle the pressure you won’t stay long. When the pressure builds up you lose confidence in yourself,” said Rance.
Having a mentor chef has been pivotal in all three chefs’ career success. “My first job on Guam was at Tokyo Mart as kitchen helper. It was fast paced. Then I transferred to the saute station. My boss was Japanese. I was the only girl in the restaurant. I had to work hard to compete how fast I can finish my work. At Leo Palace, I learned how to make sauces so if someone went on vacation so I can take over. My former sous chef told me to work hard, not just learning my own work. Build skill and speed and technique,” said Rance. “The acting executive chef at Leo Palace encouraged me to learn on my own if nobody was willing to teach me. He trusted me to be in charge of Eataliano for a month in March when he went on training for the National Guard.”
Chefs Christopher House and Roy Yamaguchi of the Hilton and Joseph Budde of Hyatt were Capati’s mentors.
“Under Chef Roy I worked all around so we can jump in and do any station. I grew a lot when I had to come up with my own creations for the Chef’s Special. I had three and half hours to prepare my special plus prep my regular desserts. It was like the TV program Chopped. So when I competed at Salon Culinaire it was just like what I was doing every day…When Roy comes to Guam once a year he gives me a recipe. When he is here I always dine so I can try what he makes. I remember the first two years it took me two hours to learn to chop parsley for him. It was intense. He is very precise.”
Capati is like a fish in water doing pastry at Dusit. “We get items I just used to dream of, such as very expensive chocolates, air flown. Your favorite Earl Grey Dome – we bought the Earl Grey aroma, a powerful influence when you eat it. Chef Bradley let me order detailed molds and a $500 spray that helps create those designs. At Dusit my philosophy of design is less is more. Like the mirror glaze you like so much, it is subtle, not overpowering.”
Buekea credits chef de cuisine Angelo Lacson for her growth. “I am lacking so much but with help from colleagues at Hyatt I’m proud of myself. I met what I want to be,” Buekea said. “My upper chef gave me something to work with and told me to make a salad out of them. At the end of the day I say to myself, I created this. I gained so much confidence to create on my own. At first I was so nervous I had to ask for help. I tend to put myself down because I am a girl and Chuukese. They said just practice. You will learn how to do it. Sometimes I make a suggestion: what if I try it this way? what if I steam it instead of grilling it?”
“As Micronesians, we always cook something big when we get together. Everybody has a special dish to bring. My family specialty is bananas. My parents love bananas and have different ways to cook it. My father was an educator and a farmer. He doesn’t want us to forget our roots. At home we always have fish, taro and bananas,” said Buekea. A product of JFK’s Tourism Academy, she took courses from GCC but never graduated with a diploma. “I regret it now. I was young and energetic, I wanted to keep working.” Her two brothers work for Capricciosa. “Seeing one of my brothers create a dish at home, I thought wow is this what you learned at work? I want to be able to do this, to cook for my family and see them judge my food.”
Capati grew up in Pampanga, Philippines “the culinary capital of the Philippines.”
“It is food culture. Everyone cooks there – men and women. My mom had a good business making Filipino afternoon snacks called kakanin. I remember shopping in the palengke with my grandmother and learning to make puto.”
Rance’s family also loves to cook. “As a kid my grandma taught me to cook kakanin using wood and charcoal. While in high school her Chicken Cacciatore won during Nutrition Month. In college her professors always asked her to cook lunch using the school kitchen.
Rance dreams of being a chef in a cruise ship. Capati wants to travel and own a fine dining restaurant. Buekea wants to someday tell her son how hard it was growing up and how far they have come as a Chuukese family. Whatever the goal, wherever the journey takes them, food will always be a part of Buekea’s, Capati’s and Rance’s lives. They are young. They are hot. They are hungry and driven. But they are also well trained and they have mentors pushing them to their limits. They are talented, passionate and hardworking. That’s why they are rocking some of Guam’s busiest kitchen.
Jeni Ann Flores is an educator, blogger and freelance writer. You may read more of her writing in