Jhaymar “JM” de Jesus, 24, had no desire to pursue a culinary career till his dearest grandmother passed away a few years ago. His parents separated when he was 8, and he grew up in his lola’s place in Lucena City, Quezon. He was later tagged by family and friends as “lola’s boy.”
“I got spoiled by my Lola Mabel (Limbo),” said De Jesus. “She’d prepare whatever I wanted to eat and she was an excellent cook.”
From adobo to sinigang to kare-kare, kaldereta and pinakbet, De Jesus would always get what he craved for from his lola. He’d watch her cook but he never tried his hand in cooking. He said cooking wasn’t his thing.
When he turned 16 he moved to Tokyo, Japan, to be with his mom who by then had remarried. There, he needed to survive and fend for himself.
“I cooked my own food and cleaned my own place,” said De Jesus. “From frying hot dogs and eggs, I leveled up to cooking adobo, nilaga and sinigang.”
Sometimes, he’d experiment, adding enoki mushrooms to his adobo and sinigang. He’d also add quail eggs to all his dishes.
After finishing high school in Tokyo, he worked as a bartender then as a disc jockey in a bar in Shibuya. For three years, he enjoyed playing music for bar guests who frequented the place, mostly American soldiers.
When De Jesus received the news his frail grandmother had been hospitalized, he immediately flew back home to Lucena to take care of her.
When his grandmother died, he didn’t want to go back to Japan anymore. He remembered his lola’s last words to him to finish his education.
“Because I wanted to follow the footsteps of my lola, I decided to take up culinary art. I wanted to be as good as her in the kitchen,” he said.
After searching on the Internet for credible and respected culinary schools, he enrolled with the Center for Culinary Arts-Manila.
“When I joined CCA, I told myself I needed to take this course seriously. Not only because tuition is very expensive, but because I had fallen in love with cooking,” De Jesus said.
His instructors said De Jesus was a very diligent student chef, taking notes of all the important technical and practical aspects of cooking.
His culinary passion eventually brought him to foreign countries. He was part of the CCA group that went to Australia for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and Filipino Barbie (or barbecue). Last year, he and other CCA student chefs joined the American Culinary Federation Convention in the United States.
“I was so thrilled to see thousands of chefs from all over the globe in one huge convention hall,” said De Jesus. “These chefs were also happy to see young chefs like us. Some of them already offered me jobs but I told them I was not yet a full-time chef. They really want to invest in young chefs.”
He said his recent trips have boosted his desire to do his best in his craft. He has also realized there’s no age limit in cooking.
“Even when you get older you can still whip up the best food there is,” he said. “Nothing can stop you from innovating and creating delightful dishes.”
Because of his passion for food (and his good looks), De Jesus has been chosen to be one of the hosts of the weekend culinary show on television, “Kitchen Stories.” It airs every Saturday, 4:45 p.m. on GMA News TV channel.
The show features situations that are commonly encountered in the household kitchen, such as how to prepare food for a housewarming event, easy-to-cook healthy alternatives, and what ingredients to get for cooking budget-friendly dishes.
Cooking for special someone
De Jesus is a campus figure. Girls swoon over his good looks. At first glance, he looks like actor Jake Roxas. Some say he looks like Diether Ocampo; still others, like Raffy Rodriguez.
De Jesus stands 5’7” and goes to Elorde Gym for his muay Thai classes. He’s not ashamed to admit that he’s a vain person. He puts moisturizer day and night, takes vitamin E for skin, and uses papaya soap for face and body.
“My lola told me to use papaya soap for glowing skin,” said De Jesus, who sports Japanese hannya mask tattoos on his arm and leg.
He has a 24-year-old girlfriend who’s a nurse in Lucena City. He has been with Amaibelle Oliveros for three years now. On his free time, he cooks her Filipino dishes, such as nilasing na manok, adobo, sinigang, tinola.
“She doesn’t cook so I do the cooking for her,” he said.
For this feature, De Jesus whipped up a Japanese dish for his girlfriend to impress her with his skills. In fact, this dish was submitted for his comprehensive exam in school. It is called Yakitori-stuffed Chicken, Nori and Tobikko Rice, Vegetable Tempura, and Ponzu Citrus Sauce.
He pan-seared the chicken fillet stuffed with nori and made it into a roulade drizzled with yakitori sauce. He also made vegetable tempura (green beans, squash and carrots) flavored with ponzu citrus sauce. He complemented the dishes with Japanese sushi with quail egg and fish roe on top.
De Jesus will soon graduate from school and become a full-fledged chef, in fulfillment of his lola’s dream.
“I know my lola will be proud of me,” he said.
Yakitori-stuffed Chicken, Nori and Tobiko Rice, Vegetable Tempura, and Ponzu Citrus Sauce
½ c Japanese soy sauce
¼ c sugar
¼ c mirin
1 pc chicken breast
Salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil for frying
2 tbsp fresh lemon
4 thin slice kabocha (squash)
1 c tempura flour
4 pc green beans
4 pc asparagus
1 c cold water
1 pc egg
1 pc nori
1 pc ham
½ cup sake
2 pc fresh quail eggs
¼ c tobiko (fish roe)
1 c Japanese rice
Pound chicken breast and season with salt and pepper. Over chicken breast add nori followed by strips of bacon, ham and asparagus. Roll chicken tightly using cling wrap and foil to secure the roll. Start with a rolling boil and poach the chicken for 10 minutes. Rest the chicken for 5 minutes. Pan sear the chicken till light brown. Set aside.
For teriyaki sauce or ponzu sauce, combine lemon, soy sauce, mirin, sugar and sake in a small sauce pot and cook till lightly thickened.
For tempura vegetables, mix together tempura flour, cold water and egg. Mix well. Dip the vegetables (carrots, squash and green beans) into the batter and deep fry till lightly brown not golden brown.
For nori and tobiko rice, cook rice as package instruction. Make a little ball of rice, wrap the side only with nori and top with fish roe and fresh quail egg.