Galing Pinoy: Chef of Fortune

by Cynthia Flores/Asianjournal.com

LOS ANGELES — The February 2008 issue of Fortune Magazine featured the best three company cafeterias across America (Google, Ebay, and Factset Research Systems) and their outstanding chefs. Among the best three chefs cited by Fortune is Chef Alex Dino, the brilliant Pinoy behind the  “standout cafeteria cafe” of Factset Research Systems in Connecticut.  Born and raised in Tondo, Manila, Alex Dino is second to the eldest of 4 children.  He and his brothers Lawrence and Dennis and sister Khat have been exposed to the cafeteria business ever since they were children. What used to be hard work for such a young boy proved to be the best training ground for his career of choice.

“I remember growing up in the Philippines,” Alex related to Asian Journal. “My mother, Fe, owned a cafeteria ( Fe’s Carinderia) which sustained our family since she and my father separated when we were all very young.”

He recalled his daily routine in Manila before his mother emigrated in the early 80s.

“My daily routine as I was growing up was to wake up very early in the morning to go to Divisoria with my mom. We would shop for all the food stuff that we needed for the carinderia. As soon as we got back, I helped in preparing the viands that will be served for lunch and dinner. I would then take a little rest before I got ready for school.”

Alex stayed behind and took a course in Business in the University of Santo Tomas. After college, his passion for food influenced his choice in looking for a job. He worked in the food industry while he waited for his immigration papers to be processed. Alex was first employed at Baltimore Spice (Phils.), Inc., which is engaged in trading of food ingredients and customized blending of spices and seasonings. He also worked at Mix Plant Inc. which offers a wide range of pre-mixes for baking needs and various seasonings for poultry, other meat products and snack foods.

“The two companies are known for making food seasoning and pre-mixes. They are also into trading different flavoring & spices. These job experiences, together with my early experience in my mother’s carinderia taught me a lot and gave me so much advantage as the lessons helped me in my career,” said Alex.

Alex finally joined his family in Connecticut in 2001. He decided to further study and master culinary arts at the Art Institute of New York City. “It was hard adjusting to the new life in the States. Specially when I started going to culinary school,” admitted Alex. “But I was really so focused.  I determined to be a good student. So, every school term, I was always in the honor roll,” he added.

Alex worked full-time in a grocery and deli shop while studying full time. “I graduated 2003 and did my externship in Alta Restaurant and Le Bernardin, in New York City. There, I learned so many things about fish and seafood because both of these restaurants are known for that.”

“After my internship, Alta restaurant hired me as a line cook.  Being new, I was doing the most menial jobs like washing the pots and pans, mopping the floor, cleaning the kitchen etc. That was my initiation period,” said Alex.

From Alta restaurant, Alex later moved to Whole Foods Market as production chef. “I was in charge of catering and daily production but my work ended early because I was in the early morning shift. So, I was able to get a second job. I worked in Marriot Hotel as a banquet cook in the evening shift. Later, I was promoted to sous chef or assistant to the executive chef in Marriot.”

Two years ago, in 2006, Alex was hired as executive chef and asked to run the Cafeteria of Factset Research Systems (the top 52nd company in Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for in America). “I guess they just really needed a chef at that time and they decided to give me a shot,” said Alex humbly. “I think it has worked well for us,” he added.

Dino’s job at Factset is no mean feat. Every working day, he is tasked to prepare breakfast and lunch for employees at the cafeteria. He also personally serves around 20 top managers who dine at a separate dining room.

“My job and my name is always on the line, everyday,” states Dino. “My staff of 12 and I have to feed  800 people within two hours at breakfast and at lunch.  You can just imagine how difficult that is! And we have many different food stations at the cafeteria – there’s the pasta station, the Chinese food station, the grill and carving stations (with roasted filet mignon and other steaks), the baked goods, deli, pizza, soup and desserts stations. I am in charge of preparing food daily for all those stations,” said Alex.

“What I like about this job, is that I get to start my day very early and finish early afternoon. Then, I still have time to do my other activities,” he said. “I’m a big cycling fan and I run marathon as well. In fact, I have joined the Boston Marathon twice, finishing around 400th,out of about 10,000 participants.”

Maybe it’s because he cooks so hard at work that Alex no longer has the energy or desire to cook when he gets home. “I only cook at home for special occasions,” he admits. “But not Filipino dishes. I love French cuisine.”

His advice to his kababayans who want to achieve the American Dream – “Don’t give up. Open your eyes & ears and be a learner. If you keep continuing to learn things and skills, before you know it, you will outsmart everyone around you.”

(www.asianjournal.com)

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