We live in a multicultural society comprised of people with diverse and interesting background and stories. For engaging and inspiring life experiences, we don't need to look beyond our own community. It is always a pleasure to meet kababayans who are happy to share their own story which can be more interesting than a teleserye.
The initial connection could even be through discussions and postings on social media followed by an actual meet up. This was the case with getting to know Pierre Marie Lucente. He caught our interest with his exchanges with the international student couple, Rizza and Cesar Jaena, whose story we have featured here in The Australian Filipina.
Pierre is a sociologist of many years before he switched to the culinary world. Born and raised in Taguig, he is the youngest of seven. His parents migrated in the US when he was in high school and he followed them in 1995. He studied Liberal Arts, major in Sociology. While working with a non-profit organization, he had the opportunity to study in Rome during 1997 to 2001 to do Masteral Studies on Franciscan Spirituality for two years but in residence for a total of 4 years. The study was part of his NGO work. He worked with Filipino communities in Rome and Brussels, Belgium. He had also done extensive travel within the USA and Europe as part of his job as a sociologist. He switched to the culinary world in 2010. He migrated to Australia in 2017.
To get a further insight into Pierre's experiences and persona, we are glad to share his responses in a Q&A chat with him.
What inspired you to make the change from being a sociologist for 20 years to switch to the culinary world? What did you enjoy being a sociologist and what do you enjoy most in your career in the culinary world?
I have never thought in my wildest imagination that I would switch career, not to mention - to culinary. Being the youngest and the only boy, I was never allowed to work in the kitchen. Not that my parents were against it as obviously six girls can already handle all the work.
In 2009, after a long battle of being disillusioned on what I was doing, a “Eureka moment” happened. While I was eating in a fast food chain during a trip to Manila, I chanced upon a huge poster outside about a 10-day training on international cuisine. My usual spur of the moment clicked and the minute I stepped into the kitchen of that class, I knew already that I am going to enjoy the switch.
What inspired me to completely embrace my new found love for food is the art that comes with it. And since I was exposed to different cultures through social work, I discovered that food is an essential part of cultural experience and appreciation. When I returned to the US, I was fortunate to land my first ever kitchen job. And that’s how it all started. My Executive Chef at that time lured me to complete an associate degree on Culinary Arts. And as they say, the rest is history.
As a sociologist, I loved being an agent of change to the people I worked with. I enjoyed advocating for the things I value - justice, peace and care for creation. When I switched to culinary, I thought that I am going to leave social work all together but there are things that we can’t really leave behind for good. I still work for a non-profit organisation on the side as a Consultant and I still write socially relevant articles for someone in a regular basis.
Now as a chef, I tap on my creativity side. I love curating dishes that connect with the senses; eating becomes what it should be - an experience. As a Chef, I create experiences. The food becomes someone’s present moment.
What made you choose Australia after being in the USA? What else do you wish to achieve in life?
I laugh at the thought that I didn’t choose Australia, but Australia chose me. When I felt that it was time to venture into a new possibility, I had two places in mind - Dubai and Sydney, two places that I’ve never been in my previous travels. Sydney’s job offer came first and without second thought I packed up my things and flew here.
There are still so many things I would like to achieve in life. I feel like at 45, I am just about to start another meaningful journey, of perhaps another 45 years. As a single parent of two wonderful teens, I am looking forward to achieve greater things not so much for myself anymore but for my children and their future. I want them to have the same opportunities, and even more than I had growing up and use those opportunities afforded to them to forge their own paths.
What do you hold fondly in your heart as your achievements so far in life/profession?
In life, I hold fondly in my heart all the great memories of travelling - understanding cultures and appreciating diversity. I have learned so much. I have made friends from around the world. And because my travels were all part of my profession, they helped me improve my skills.
Looking back, discovering different cuisines during my travels have contributed to my decision to become a Chef later on in my professional career.
On the flip side, what major challenges or difficulties have you faced and overcome?
For someone who has done two decades of social work, the major challenge I have faced was rejection from people you worked with. There is that sting of pain when people reject the idealism you spouse.
Often times, you feel a sense of doubt whether you should continue or not. When it hits me, I always go back to the “whys” I had when I chose my career path. It makes me refocus my vision and redirect my energy to my passion, which is helping other people.
If you can change something you have done in the past, what would they be?
I often say that what happened in the past, happened for a reason and that there is nothing I would change. However, I believe that there is always one or two that if given a chance we’d rather do something differently.
I always wonder what might have happened if I remained in one place, if I chose to build my career in one place - in the Philippines or the US. What if I didn’t travel. So if there is one thing I would change that I have done in the past, it’s not taking the opportunity to take root in a single place. I would definitely change my impulsiveness.
What advice would you give kababayans who are experiencing difficulties in settling in their new home country?
As a sociologist, I have worked with Filipino migrants for so many years. I know the challenges and difficulties of living far away from home and the struggles that come along with building a new “home.” Unless you are culturally prepared, you will always find it hard to really adapt in the beginning. My advice is first acclimatise yourself with your new environment. Understand the culture, respect the traditions.
Always remind yourself that you’re no longer in the Philippines and a lot of what we are accustomed to do back home are not applicable here in your new home. Often than not, you need to break walls in order to acclimatised to your new environment. Only after you have aligned your goals and priorities to your current situation that you can adapt to the Australian way of life.
In the US, I used to mentor Filipino parents who are raising their American kids who often times experienced culture clash at home. One of the most effective way that I taught those parents was to create a “third culture,” meaning embracing a new culture without abandoning the old. It’s a process but worth it at the end. Our kababayans here can do the same.
Let us talk about COVID; how did it impact you directly in your work and other aspects of your life?
This pandemic has brought the best and worst in all of us. While my working hours did not change much, the volume of work has gone down and this impacted my momentum. I became a little bit 'slackish'. I am the Head Chef of two burger restaurants in Auburn.
On the other hand, I have had the opportunity to catch up with some readings. I have seen how many people have struggled during this crisis and I can only do little to help.
One of the local groups I belong to and follow is the Filipino Food Movement in Australia. It is good to celebrate our own cuisine which plays a major part in our culture.
What is your view on how the government is handling the COVID situation?
I would like to commend how the state of NSW and the Federal governments have handled the pandemic. We’ve seen the worst in other countries.
We’re very fortunate that the governments' response to address the crisis was timely and swiftly. No government was ever prepared for it but a quick response made a huge difference. The support they have given to small businesses have helped the food industry running.
What advice would you give as to how to avoid contracting the virus?
It is important that we follow the health protocols in placed. Stay home if you have nothing important to do outside. Invest on some new hobbies or skills that can be learned online or indoor. And most importantly, eat and drink healthy. That is your first defence against sickness.
Lastly, our favourite question - how do you define success?
Success for me is relative to one’s set of goals. It is therefore progressive process rather than an end; a journey rather than a destination.
To be successful is to allow ourselves to be open to the possibility of learning. It is growth. It is walking forward, which begins with a single step. Success is only possible when we embrace happiness as a state of contentment.