Beth Romualdez is a highly accomplished woman who has worn many hats— chef, author, restaurateur, entrepreneur. She used to own a printing press and kitchen store. She is passionate about gardening, able to call trees by name; she is a painter, art collector, and a great dancer. [Please don’t tell her I told you that she’s also a great singer.]
Ever since she was a child, she saw her father enjoy cooking for their family all the time. He exposed her to traditional cuisine and slow-food cooking. He would take her to market, show her how to look for fresh fish and vegetables, and how he puts all the ingredients together. During the fiestas, he would order baboy damo and other exotic food. This exposure widened her palate palette so that she became open to eating all kinds of flavors. But he passed away quite young at 48 years old so her informal food education was cut short.
When she got married, her father-in-law, who loved to eat, would always take the family to the best restaurants in Europe or wherever they traveled. When he would arrive from a trip, the family gatherings centered around good food starting from the breakfast table. “The food keeps coming, no one wants to get up!” Beth fondly recounts.
After her father-in-law suffered a stroke and couldn’t eat much, for almost three months, Beth cooked all kinds of soups every day to sustain him for his remaining days. “Giving sustenance to a dying loved one who was very, very, very nice to me made cooking very meaningful.”
Careerwise, Beth worked for Rustan’s in the early 90’s. She set up the Gallery of Culinary Arts, the Bon Apetit Gourmet Shop, and the Patisserie at Shangrila Plaza. She set up thirty-two food outlets in Tagaytay Highlands. She had her own cooking school.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, she didn’t work for five years. But her students kept on asking her to teach so she would agree to do some lessons on the side at her own pace and time. The encounter with breast cancer led her to donate proceeds from her two cookbooks to the Beth Romualdez Fund of the Philippine Cancer Society to fund free mammogram tests for indigent women. For two years, together with her daughter, Via R. Reyes, Beth chaired the Pink Kitchen, a non-profit organization that hosts events to raise awareness for breast cancer early detection.
After turning fifty, Beth went to take an intensive three-month Master Cooking course on Italian regional cooking at Istituto Superiore di Gastronomia, Scuola delle Cucine Regionali d’Italia in Jesi in Le Marche. It is a school for chefs studying cuisines of the eleven regions of Italy. Beth stayed for seven months to further her cultural immersion experience.
One of her mentors, the Doreen Fernandez told her, “After so many years of teaching, it would be a waste if you are not going to impart your knowledge to other people… Just put all your thoughts into writing. Don’t bother to edit your essays. I will do it. Just write in red blood and I will edit in white heat… Don’t worry when you can’t seem to produce on demand; when the fruit is ripe, it will fall off the tree.”
Finally after some time, Beth felt she had substantial content for her book. Doreen said she will just go to New York and edit after returning. Doreen passed away in New York during that trip.
Beth couldn’t write after that. She lost interest and put everything aside. But Doreen’s words came back… “When the fruit is ripe, it will fall off the tree“. One day, with thoughts of Doreen and her father-in-law (who was also a brilliant writer), Beth’s words just flowed and her first book, Cooking Lessons, was born. It is now on its sixth printing and available at National Bookstore.
And then her second, Cooking Lessons 2, edited by Linda Panlilio, followed. Both books are available in Amazon).
She was asked to rejoin Rustan’s in 2009 as as Vice-President for Food Services for Rustan’s Supermarket. Her colleagues there have this to say, “Beth began a Renaissance, a new period of the flourishing of the business… She brought class, and worked tirelessly… to propel the company back to its pre-eminence. She created one of the best Filipino restaurants, Benny’s, and helped design and build a state-of-the-art Central Kitchen and Bakery facility that paved the way for numerous innovations in food concepts.” The first Marketplace Supermarket in Rockwell was set up during her time.
Beth moved on to become a Consultant In Malaysia and Yangon for a major supermarket and an F&B Consultant. Today, she is very much enjoying traveling which is part of her continuing education. “It keeps me up to date with trends and what’s happening. I taste everything. I’m adventurous with food. I will eat everything except snake.”
Beth shares, from the wealth of her experience, entrepreneurship tips for women:
What considerations would be important for women before going into business?
Women in general, once they set their mind into it, usually have thought about the kind of business they want to engage in. It is usually a reflection of what they love to do. Women are patient, talented, and entrepreneurial and have taken into consideration balancing work and family life.
How they can equip/prepare themselves? As in any business, they should be aware that start-ups need financing, know-how, mastery of the products they are selling, understanding of the retail market, knowing the competition, filling the niche or dearth, research and development, and so many other factors to ensure the success of the business. Sustainability is the key factor. Opening a business is easy, sustaining it and making it grow is the challenge.
What mistakes to avoid? “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” I think this applies to anyone who thinks that just because she has a product or two to offer is enough to ensure the business will succeed or prosper.
Most important lessons you’ve learned? Mastery of your craft is the most important. One should know what the customers need and want and create that market. Customers are fickle-minded. Somebody will always have better ideas and products than you have. Continue to be innovative and always be ten steps ahead of competition. Read up and know the trends around the world and if need be, apply locally. Be creative. People like to see and taste new things.
What do you look for in staff? I want them to be honest, passionate, animated, and engaging to the customers. Loyalty is next but it can be only measured by time.
What inspires you to do what you do? Passion is what drives me to be creative, to be innovative, and to always keep on learning. I want to be always ahead and relevant.
What are your success secrets? I just want to be true to myself, learn and study as much as I can, and accept the fact that somebody is always better than me so I strive to be different.
Do you have other tips or anything else you would like to share? Always learn the tricks of the trade, learn from the mistakes of others, follow the success stories of others. Do not try to re-invent the wheel (Do not try to waste a great deal of time or effort in creating something that already exists).