THE International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) has been around since 2003, and its gift to itself is the pride it sees in producing students of a certain caliber.

Through its existence, the school has produced graduates such as Jordy Navarra and JP Cruz of the famed Toyo Eatery,and several more top chefs in top properties here and abroad, its network of alumni reaching as far as Zurich and Helsinki. If anything, it’s proof of what a sturdy faculty can do.

BusinessWorld sat down with co-founder Norbert Gandler during a press conference earlier this month at the school’s Katipunan campus. His work experience has taken him across the oceans, to Austria, Stockholm, Kuwait, Shanghai, and of course, the Philippines, where has since settled. Onboard as well is Ernie Babaran, famed for making the wedding cake of a prince of Jordan, as well as having multiple stints in various properties here and abroad. The school has a strict hiring policy of only accepting instructors who have worked, or are working, in what they consider to be the best kitchens. “They know every move in the kitchen. They know special things; they know when things go wrong. Experience makes the master,” said Mr. Gandler.

BusinessWorld took a tour among the cold and hot kitchens of the school, learning, of all things, pan-frying from chef Joey Herrera (you have to baste the fish with a little of the oil it fries in), and icing a cake from Mr. Babaran himself (you have to wait for the icing to settle on one spot before attempting to make a line).

“We have proven ourselves already for 15 years,” said Mr. Gandler. “We have been very successful, and we have students who are very successful.”

The school’s flagship offerings are the Diploma courses in Culinary Arts and Kitchen Management with Australian Certificate III in Culinary Arts and Pastry and Bakery Arts and Kitchen Management with Australian Certificate III in Patisserie. Other offerings include TESDA-certified intermediate courses such as TESDA National Certificate II in Cookery, and TESDA National Certificate II in Bread and Pastry Production.

To start them young, there’s also the Senior high school Technical-Vocational-Livelihood Track–Home Economics Strand, with an NCII in Cookery for Grade 11, and NCII in Bread and Pastry Production and NCII Food and Beverage Services for Grade 12.

There are also short lifestyle courses for those who wish to upgrade their skills in cooking and baking. These can range from two sessions (10 hours) to 12 sessions (60 hours). Some of these courses are Fundamentals in Culinary Arts, Fundamentals in Pastry Arts, Fundamentals in Bread Baking, Fundamentals in Japanese Cuisine, Savory Asia, Restaurant Concepts Entrepreneurship Program, Artisan Bread, Asian Bread, Junior Chef’s League, and Gingerbread House-Making.

While the school currently has three campuses — in Quezon City, Pampanga, and Cebu — it plans to open two or three more in the future.

“In Metro Manila, you have more exposure to quality food, when you work in restaurants and hotels,” said Mr. Gandler. “To be very straightforward, in the provinces, the food is still very low-quality. That’s why I think it’s even more important to have culinary education there. They’re building a lot of hotels and restaurants already; so it’s needed.”

Of course, there’s a certain kind of student who can endure in such an environment. While Mr. Gandler says that a lot of the students might say they are interested because they like to eat, cook, or open a restaurant, “These are all dreams which they have to find out if it’s possible.”

“This is really a unique field where you have to discover for yourself if this is really for you,” he said. “When you work in a kitchen, it can be hard, but also, at the same time, very satisfying. You have to be willing to work hard.”

While of course, it’s easy for Mr. Gandler to be proud of his former students who have made a splash in the culinary industry, it’s still the behind-the-scenes bulk who will build the school’s reputation and his pride.

“At the end of the day, it makes us proud if we see them succeed and stay in the business.

“What makes us especially proud is actually that we get good feedback from their employers,” he said. — Joseph L. Garcia