Sharwin Tee is popularly known as a chef. But more than that, he is a storyteller and story enabler.
Tee first burst into mainstream media by winning a chef competition entitled “Clash of the Toque-en Ones” on Lifestyle Network. This led to a hosting contract with Tee helming “Curiosity Got the Chef,” a lifestyle show that ran for eight seasons. His latest one with the GMA Network, “Let’s Do Lunch,” speaks of Tee’s personal mission of how food connects people and how sharing it allows people to open up and learn from each other. Of course, aside from the excellent storioes, it doesn’t hurt that he has celebrity guests in this show.
Back to the Future
Way before being thrust into the limelight and becoming a TV chef himself, Tee recalls a very strong core memory of a profoundly iconic one. And any 80s or 90s kid would recall the famous three words of this show.
Tee reminisces, “When I watched this cooking show called Wok with Yan there was this Chinese guy cooking on TV and he held the attention of the entire studio audience. He wasn’t good looking, he wasn’t singing, he wasn’t dancing, all he did was cook. And that really opened my mind about cooking like if you can hold the attention of an entire studio audience just by cooking this might be something that I wanted to do.”
Tee was hooked and knowing now what he wanted to be, but under very traditional parenting, he had to use a bit of subterfuge to achieve his dream. Tee confesses, “I wanted to take up Culinary Arts but it was a shall we say a difficult process. I knew my parents wouldn’t agree to have me study culinary arts so I had to craft a very elaborate plan to get them to agree so what I did was I mentioned the possibility of me migrating to Canada. And for me to migrate to Canada, I should study in Canada. So I said well there’s this Culinary school in Canada and you know if I study there, work there, I might be able to migrate to Canada. And they’re like ‘Wow, good, son’ that sounds like a good decision and so they let me go.”
And Tee finished his studies with honors in the very prestigious Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver. Only to come home. Tee laughs, “Lo and behold I’m back right here cooking so it wasn’t exactly the easiest route to take to get to where I am today. But I believe I’m a better person just because of that longer route that I had to take.”
Food as Memory
As an intellectual Tee also fully believes in food as a means of sharing history. He recounts, “During one pop up in Seattle, I was working with Chef Melissa Miranda and Natalia Roxas and we needed one more dish, we needed one more soup dish. And after a really long time of brainstorming I finally without thinking, there’s a soup my grandmother used to make. It’s very simple but it’s delicious, but like no no no let’s not do that. That’s too simple. But both of them their eyes lit up they said no no no no what is that soup? Tell us what that soup is.”
It took the Filipino duo to find this gem, with Tee recalling, And so I would tell them that it my grandmother used to make this fish head and ginger soup. And then she would add lomi or udon noodles. And that’s pretty much it. That’s the only flavor you get. And they’re like that sounds awesome. They’re gonna love it.”
True enough, this simply fish head and ginger soup would be highlighted by guests from the evening, calling it one of the best things they’ve ever had.
Food as Connection
Like most Chinoy families, Tee shares that the love language is not as showy. However, that’s where a flair for cooking comes in handy, “We’re not a particular close family. We don’t hug. We don’t hang out for fun. But the one thing we do is we eat together. Like whether we go abroad or here in the Philippines, we always always eat together like pre-pandemic we would spend every Sunday as a family. I’ll be cooking lunch for the family. And attendance was not exactly mandatory but nobody was really absent.”
It is a habit that many Chinoys can relate with, “That’s how important food is to our family. Like if you have food we will come. And so food has always been a big part of my life. I just think that maybe my family was a little bit surprise when my love for food transcended just eating on Sundays. My love for food actually pushed me to to seek this career of being a chef.”
Now Tee has evolved into a celebrity chef, one who is also a published author, a well-known host and a philanthropist who raises money for public libraries.
A self-confessed book worm, Tee has this chosen advocacy because it aligns with his personal values, “I love hearing about stories. I love telling stories. And when you have food on the table I find it people are more open to talking.”
Find out more this Sunday on “Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart 1CH1NOY.” Catch it only on CNN Philippines via Free TV Channel 9, Sky Cable Channel 14, Cignal Channel 10. It will also simultaneously air on CNN Philippines’ webpage www.cnnphilippines.com.