It was a particularly hot Baguio morning (scorching, by local standards), but the welcome we received from the Culinary Arts, Hotel, Entrepreneurial and Travel Services (CHETS) Academy staff was even warmer.

Standing in the hotel-like reception area, boasting hardwood floors, plush cushions and multiple clocks set to different time zones, it was hard not to feel overwhelmed. The school had just moved to this new location on the outskirts of the city, which explains why the construction crew was still drilling and hammering away. However, the rich interiors were enough to make you forget all that. As the first culinary school in Benguet Province, one expected nothing less of CHETS Academy.

Never could its board of directors ever have envisioned CHETS becoming the prestigious culinary facility that it is today. “We were planning to come up with a hotel,” explains Marybeth Y. So, the current CEO. “The school, supposedly, was [opened] to shorten the training system of the incoming employees.”

CHETS was established in 2011, followed three years later in November 2014 by Newtown Plaza Hotel on C.M. Recto Street corner Leonard Wood Road. Since opening, the school has gained recognition for training skilled personnel to operate in various facets of the hotel industry, from cookery to bread and pastry production, from food and beverage services to housekeeping.

Generally, graduates are destined for jobs at Newtown Plaza Hotel. Others have been absorbed into the workforce of a number of upscale hotels and restaurants around the city, including Baguio Country Club, Hotel Elizabeth and Le Monet Hotel. The fact that they have been snapped up even before completing their on-the-job training is a testimony to the excellent training CHETS provides.

“We’re quite strict with that – with the time, with cleanliness, precision… when you come to class, you have to be in complete uniform otherwise we’ll send you home,” So says. “That’s part of discipline. You have to have discipline, especially in the kitchen.”

This is probably what sets CHETS apart from other hospitality-based institutions in Baguio, including major local universities offering culinary courses. Discipline is paramount, and quality education is definitely a priority. The mode of instruction takes into account each individual: no more than 15 hopefuls are admitted to each class.

“With four-year courses, such as Hotel and Restaurant Management or Tourism, students are not given adequate attention or training because of their sheer number,” explains So. “They end up not knowing what they’re supposed to do. Here, since I’m strict with the classes, we make sure that our graduates are trained well enough so that they can function with the least supervision when they start their careers.”

When CHETS first started, So admits they had trouble placing their graduates. Pitted against big-name universities, they had a lot to prove. Word-of-mouth referrals and So’s faith in her students helped build a reputation for excellence. “I was so sure of the students I trained. I was willing to gamble on them,” she declares.

Her courageous bet paid out enormously. In 2013, CHETS went head to head with other culinary schools in the Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio’s annual Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Weekend, winning the coveted gold in Chef Wars: New Asia (Professional Division), among other awards. They garnered more awards in 2014, and are determined to enhance this winning streak in the years to come.

So, what is next for CHETS Academy? Better culinary education for everyone who deserves it.

“So many people want to study the culinary arts, but they cannot afford it,” says So. “If I could teach those techniques while just asking for minimal tuition fee, then that will be great.

“We usually don’t advertise. I don’t like to explain [myself]. Just try us. If they don’t like it, I’m willing to return the money,” she continues. “I want people to see for themselves the magic and quality of our school.”

Having just moved from La Trinidad to a new location nearer the city, CHETS’ facilities have been enhanced with modern equipment and more spacious training rooms. Now, each student in Cookery classes enjoys his or her own station. In the Bread and Pastry production class, a granite tabletop for working on chocolates has been installed. Plans to expand the student body to embrace hearing- and speaking-impaired individuals are in the works.

So intends to learn sign language. “That’s the only way that you can communicate with them, so they can learn how to cook. I noticed that there’s an increasing number of deaf and mute in our community who show potential. Hopefully, God will answer my prayers.”

For teachers, especially to those who supervise the Cookery and Bread and Pastry Production, So requires them to undergo qualification exams for the National Certificate (NC) of these courses. An institution that confers NC is the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), which assesses the competencies for different skills. So also plans to take this requirement one step further with the recent shift to K-12, saying that obtaining an NC II is not enough for CHETS.
“I look towards the future. K-11 is NC I. The K-12 is NC II already. So, what would set the school apart again from all other institutions?,” asks So. “We are already undergoing NC III certification. We have to stand out.”

So also wants to open up CHETS as a Department of Education facility for these skills should they be certified and recognized as such.

Unfortunately, tie-ups with foreign tourism and hospitality institutions are not possible since CHETS caters to a mixture of second-coursers or out-of-school youths following its commitment to social responsibility. Most overseas facilities accept only college graduates into their programs.

Such limitations, however, have not prevented CHETS from working with the TESDA and offering TESDA-registered courses and programs, and even more than what is required. Aside from their current NC II curriculum, CHETS also offers programs such as Fundamentals of Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts and Bread Baking.

The school cultivates a close-knit group of passionate professionals with the desire to improve the lives of their students. They may claim the title as Benguet province’s pioneering culinary school, but they are proving to be more than that. They are an institution with a lot of heart.