Sharone Hakman’s trip to Manila was fraught with challenges, not unlike an episode of “Masterchef” where he was a first season contestant.
First, his bottles of Hak’s BBQ Sauce, which he was using to cook during his Star World Masterchef Asian tour, was held hostage by the Bureau of Customs here for a whopping $1,000. When asked about the incident, Hakman shrugged and said, “It was expected. We’ll get it, not just today. Is it because it’s Saturday?” he grins.
Then, the 30 or so celebrity guests he was supposed to cook for were unfashionably late—majority had not showed up by 8 p.m., even though the event was cued for 6 p.m.
Still, Hakman was all smiles, running around the kitchen to check the progress of the dishes he was to serve that night. No Ramsay-ish outbursts from this charming guy, only words and pats of encouragement doled out to his assistants for the day, students and instructors from Apicius Culinary Arts and Treston International College.
Super caught him in between shucking oysters and sharpening his knife to ask him about Pinoy dishes, the cuteness of calamansi and how his cooking philosophy is very Filipino.
What would you say is your most memorable catering job?
I don’t know. There’s so many to choose from. Dinners with the Kardashians, one thousand people-dinners, but honestly, my most memorable meals aren’t the catering ones, they’re the ones when I get to check out and do a lot of outdoors stuff, just living off the land. For example, I was up in the High Sierras camping, I caught fish and that was dinner. That was memorable ’cause I just took some sticks from trees, skewered my fish, grilled ’em and they were so good. No salt, no pepper, no nothing but it tasted amazing.
What local ingredients or produce from Manila did you discover and like?
You have these delicious little limes that I love—calamansi? Those were really fun, really cute, I’m going to be serving those up with an oyster dish so I made a little homemade ponzu sauce with calamansi. You’ve got some local prawns and seafood, herbs and vegetables. I love finding local things ’cause that’s the freshest. Your mangoes are amazing, too.
What was the hardest part about bottling your secret barbecue sauce for mass consumption?
Bringing it to market, dealing with the elements of a business. Manufacturing, distribution, pricing, marketing, so many different things that you have to deal with. I wear about 10 different hats with respect to Hak’s BBQ Sauce, but it’s worth it because it’s mine. It’s the coolest thing in the world to walk into a grocery store and look at the shelf, usually at the top shelf and Hak’s is there.
I love cooking for my family. The dish that’s my favorite is just whatever I feel like that day. I don’t like commitment to food, I like commitment to what’s fresh. I can decide that I wanna make something that night and if I go to the grocery store because I want to make salmon and for some reason the snapper is so beautiful and so fresh, snapper’s gonna be on the menu, not salmon. That’s how I cook, that’s how I think, freshest first, always inspiration first.
What should every pantry/fridge have to be able to come up with a flavorful dish all the time?
My barbecue sauce. I tell you, no joke. There are so many things I do with my barbecue sauce; just the other day I was in Singapore and I did a dessert with a very famous chef (Janice Wong of 2AM Lab) and we made a dessert with my barbecue sauce. We took used potato skins that the restaurant throws away, caramelized ’em with my barbecue sauce, and made a cheesecake. I make Bloody Mary’s with my barbecue sauce, it goes great on fish, it’s very versatile.
What’s your favorite thing to whip up when you only have 10 minutes?
Give me five ingredients, give me 10 minutes and I’ll make you a happy woman.
What advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
Go with your heart, find your way, find your avenue, believe in what you’re doing; if you truly love it and you’re passionate about it, that’s what you’re meant to do. Don’t waste your time, don’t waste your life doing something you don’t love.
You were very encouraging to your student assistants. Are you really like that in the kitchen?
No, I was just faking it for you. Absolutely, that’s exactly who I am out there. I left what I did (financial planner), which was a day-to-day grind. Financially, it was rewarding, but I left it to do something that I love, and seeing these kids loving it, yeah, some of them need help, some people need coaching, and I wanna help them, I wanna guide them, and I think the best way to guide somebody is instill confidence in them, absolutely. If I just shoot you down and say “You’re not doing it right,” it’s not why I got into this. I wanna expand the passion, open the door for them, help motivate them, have them feel like “Yeah, this is awesome.” They’re exhausted. They’ve been working with me now for seven hours, they did an event beforehand, and they’re only going because they’re excited, they’re happy to be working with me and would that be fun if I were yelling at them? First of all, I have no desire to yell at them, and I’m privileged to do what I do. Is it hard? Yes. You see what’s going on, this is the fifth dinner I’ve done in five days, in two different countries and I’ve got two more countries to go. But what keeps me going is that I love it. I just may pass out on you after.
Even without having joined Masterchef, do you think you’d have ended up doing this anyway?
I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason. I left my job before I joined Masterchef, just a few weeks and I had a list of things I wanted to do and a lot of them had to do with food. Did Masterchef jumpstart my career? Absolutely. Do I think eventually I’d end up in the food world? Yeah, it’s what I love to do. But everything happens for a reason and Masterchef was a wonderful gift.
What started your love for food?
Family, number one. I come from a very diverse background. I grew up in a very cultural neighborhood in Los Angeles. I think I can relate to a lot of Filipinos, that food and family go together. Very much. And that’s exactly how I grew up. Filipinos are very passionate about their food because food and family go together and that’s exactly how I cook. Food has been a part of our culture and family, and it’s impossible for me not to be passionate about it.
What Filipino dishes were you able to try during your very short stopover here?
I’ve tried a lot of different stuff, but I don’t remember the names, you’ll have to excuse me for that. I’ve had braised oxtail in peanut sauce, I had Bistek Tagalog, some different types of chicken, barbecued chicken, I’ve had salads, I haven’t had that chicken egg, though, not sure I really want to but I’ll keep an open mind.
Maybe with Hak’s BBQ Sauce.
Maybe. That’d be a cool setup.
Do you plan on coming back here?
Yeah, if you have me, for sure. I’ve got a lot of fans in Manila, maybe one day I’ll be back with a cooking show.
And this time maybe Customs will be nicer to you.
Yeah. Or maybe I’ll come over there with my chef’s knife and take care of business (laughs).
Masterchef’s 3rd season will premiere on Star World tomorrow at 8 p.m.