In keeping with the #1CH1NOY campaign, CHiNOYTV, in partnership with CNN Philippines, unveils a new season that aims to spotlight modern Chinoys. Among these personalities who represent a modern take on Chinoy cultural values is renowned chef, television host, newspaper columnist and author, Sharwin Tee.
Sharwin Tee has become known for his quirky and innovative twists on traditional Filipino and Chinese Filipino cuisine. He graduated with honors from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts in Vancouver, Canada and has cooked at the prestigious Tower Club in Makati City, Philippines. Sharwin owned and operated his own restaurant, The Quirky Bacon which was located in San Juan, Philippines. He has worked with several brands, including Hunt’s, the United States Potato Board, McAsia, Ayala Land, Nutri Asia, Spam, Mini Stop and the wine company Casillero del Diablo, creating recipes, conducting seminars and doing cooking demonstrations.
Chinese by Blood
“I think the old phrase Chinese by Blood and Filipino by heart is a pretty good description of what I am. I’m a proud son of both cultures. And in anything that I do whether it’s cooking food or you know writing my columns and writing my books I try to showcase the best of both of my heritages.”
Sharwin really wanted to talk about the true Chinoy identity because in his own childhood, he felt the tremendous pull between three opposing forces: growing up in a household that spoke Chinese at home and ate Chinoy food, but studying in a Jesuit school with an American educational system.
“And then you know I had all these Filipino friends who were teaching me all about Filipino culture so growing up I always felt like I was being pulled in three different directions and it was not fun.”
Because of this intersection, he was a different person depending who he was with. If he was at home, he would be speaking Chinese and wouldn’t be talking about American TV shows or stuff related to America. When he hangs out with his friends he tries to hide his being a Chinoy. Sharwin tried to speak Filipino and tried to avoid that slight Chinoy accent.
“So everytime that I’m hanging out with a different group of people I am actually shutting off part of myself. Just so I could please you know that group of people. So yeah it was not fun. It was not fun to try to hide yourself or at least part of yourself (laughs). It’s not fun to be half of what you are everytime you hang out with people. So you know it took a while until I realized that I am Chinoy. I am a Chinese by blood Filipino by heart. And I can be both when I hang out with people.”
Sherwin’s family is not a super traditional Chinese family but most Chinese families have what he calls the Big 5 professions: Businessman, Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer or Architect.
Sharwin shared that while growing up, they were encouraged to look into which of these five fields. He just assumed that those were the 5 things that you could do. He never even thought about other professions.
The Journey as a Chef
Source: Sharwin Tee’s Facebook Profile
It started with watching a cooking show called “Wok with Yan” . The Chinese guy was cooking on TV and 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 opened Sharwin’s mind about cooking. “If you can hold the attention of an entire studio audience just by cooking this might be something that I wanted to do.”
That’s when he started his love for cooking. Sharwin wanted to take up Culinary Arts but it was a difficult process. From there he knew that his parents wouldn’t agree to have him study culinary arts so he had to do something and that is to mention to his parents the possibility of me migrating to Canada. But for him to be able to migrate to Canada, he should study there, so he 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.” Surprisingly, Sharwin’s family realized that it was a good decision. That’s when his career started.
“I like kitchens because apart from you know the chef being a dictator everything else is a democratic society right. You get promoted based on your skills uhm you know as long as you’re good with the knife, you can always travel, and you’re free to create the food that you want to create.”
Food has always been an important part of Sharwin’s life. Sharwin is not particularly close with his family but one thing they do is they eat together. That’s how important food is to his family that’s why Sharwin’s love for food pushed him to seek this career of being a chef.
Back in his younger days, he thought being a chef was a blue collar job. There was no clear career path. Most of the people that work in the kitchens are either ex-convicts or people who couldn’t see a future for themselves. And so he thinks that was the image of the culinary career that they had when he first broached the idea of working as a chef.
Sharwin has worked with the Embassy of Canada, cooking dinner for the Ambassador of Canada to the Philippines, Christopher Thornley and heading “A Glimpse of Canada,” a food festival highlighting Canadian ingredients at the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao City, Philippines. He’s also worked with Canada Beef and Canadian Ambassador John Holmes at his official residence during his official functions. He has also become guest chef for Discovery Shores in Boracay, the Marco Polo Hotel in Davao and the Holiday Inn Makati.
Sharwin also works as a restaurant consultant, doing research, staff training and development and menu composition. He has done work for restaurants including Scott Burger in BGC.
To date, he has held over 20 successful pop up dinners in the Philippines and abroad, including sold out stops in San Francisco, Detroit, St Louis, Seattle and Chicago and was one of the vendors at the Kultura Festival in Chicago from 2016-18. He also was a TedX speaker for TedX Xavier 2016 and TedX UERM in 2019.
As a Television Host, Newspaper Columnist and Author
Sharwin is the host of “Let’s Do Lunch” a cooking talk show which airs on GMA News TV. He was also the host of the groundbreaking cooking and travel show “Curiosity Got the Chef,” and web shows like “Not Safe for the Hungry,” and, “Straight Guy K Drama Reviews,” which can be viewed on his Youtube channel, @chefsharwintee.
Sharwin has authored 3 books, “Curiosity Got the Chef the Cookbook,” which features the beloved recipes from the show. He also authored “So, You Want to be Chef?” a memoir detailing his journey from a 6 year old kid mesmerized by a cooking show to becoming a chef and cooking show host himself. With the book, Sharwin aims to give aspiring chefs a real glimpse into the food industry. His 3rd book, “The Gospel of Food,” features all of the things he learned about cooking just by eating other people’s food around the world. His latest book will be available in bookstores and online beginning May 2021.
Not just that, Sharwin is also a columnist in the Food and Leisure section of the Philippine Star. His column, entitled “The Baconman Cometh” features his food and travel experiences plus his cooking adventures.
His love for the Chinoy Community
For the erstwhile Chinoy, Sharwin has this piece of advice. “So as Chinoys we have to first accept that we are Chinoys. That we are Chinese by blood, Filipino by heart. We have to embrace both cultural identities first. Once you have that then you can build harmonious relationships with others because you would be able to draw the line. You would be able to tell them that okay this is my culture, this is also my culture so you have to accept me for all of this right.”
Not hiding a part of yourself when dealing with other people is what Sharwin thinks of the true meaning of harmony.
The modern Chinoy for Sharwin is someone who’s proud of their Chinese heritage and proud of being a Filipino citizen.Chinoys have to be proud of both cultures because it only makes them more unique so for Sharwin, Chinoy is someone that embraces both cultures and then finds ways to showcase both cultures. And to represent both cultures honorably.
“I’m proud to be Chinoy because just take a look at the history of our country. Whatever it is that I may have achieved in my life uhm that is built on the backs and shoulders of all of the Chinoys in history you know. I stand in the history of hard work. I stand in the history of heroism and ingenuity. Uhm and that makes me proud you know. I’m proud to be just another cog of a long line of heroes.”
Sharwin loved being a part of the Chinoy campaign because he thinks that the only way to move forward is to let people know. It is to let people see the beauty of Chinoy culture.” This culture is something I’m so proud of, so beautiful, so rich, and it’s such a waste if we do not show it to others right.”