Cooking has always been Stevie Villacin’s passion. He can trace it back to his childhood and his hometown, Negros Occidental. “From what I recall, when I was still a toddler, my yaya would always take me to the kitchen to eat. I assume from that experience, the kitchen became a comfortable and happy place for me in our home in Bacolod,” he shares.
Despite his enthusiasm for food, Stevie didn’t begin Stevie’s Hainanese Chicken with a business in mind. He just wanted to create really good Hainanese Chicken Rice to feed his family and friends. In fact, when he took cooking classes in Singapore, it was just because he needed something to do while job hunting. Little did he know it would change his life.
Making his heart happy
“After moving back [to Manila] from NYC, I decided that I wanted to work in a similar environment but closer to home, so I decided on trying it out in Singapore,” says Stevie. “My friend, Myra Moñozca, was kind enough to host me while looking for a job. This went on for close to a year. During that time, I wanted to switch careers from finance and accounting to marketing; however, the Singapore job market is highly specialized and I couldn’t land the job I wanted.”
While looking for a job, Stevie decided to do something to make his heart happy. “I would take cooking classes,” he explains. “I took several classes which featured Singaporean food, Hainanese Chicken being one of them.” The recipe he is doing now is a combination of all the recipes from the different classes he took, plus, the food samplings he did from all the best Hainanese Chicken Rice outlets in Singapore. “Tweaked a little for the Pinoy palate,” he adds.
Spreading like wildfire
At first, Stevie was just cooking the dish for family and friends in his home. Then one day, all that changed.
“My cousin, Claudette Vitug, knew I made Hainanese Chicken from the dinner parties she attended at home,” explains Stevie. “Then one Christmas season, she insisted that I make her a set to give to our friend, Ingrid Go, who is the person behind the blog, The Baghag Diaries. Ingrid enjoyed the dish and blogged about it the following day. From then on, it spread like wildfire. Other bloggers and food writers thankfully featured me as well, which further spread the word.”
What sets Stevie’s Chicken apart isn’t just the party of flavors in your mouth that comes with each bite, but the fact that in the beginning, he only served one dish. It intrigued people and made for a good story as word continued to spread. “With the thousands of food sellers and restaurants in Manila, having a specialty is always a plus,” explains Stevie.
“Eventually, I added the other dishes to complement the Hainanese Chicken Rice because most of my customers were demanding a one-stop shop for their party food needs.” The new dishes Stevie offers are products of his travels and local cooking classes. He has been learning a lot from Chef Reggie Aspiras who he claims, “has been a mentor for me.”
It doesn’t feel like a job
Fortunately for Stevie, his customers aren’t just enthusiastic about his food but about sharing the news with their friends. “I haven’t joined any food bazaars,” he says. “Promotion has been done through word of mouth, social media posts by bloggers and satisfied customers, newspaper features, and a few Facebook paid promotions that I do once in a while.”
The great thing about following your passion, according to Stevie, is that “it makes your job not feel like ‘a job.’ Of course, I’m not saying that the business is all easy going, you still have a lot of lessons to learn to get into the rhythm of things. But it’s easier to manage and diversify when it’s your passion because ideas and solutions are second nature.”
And when your food is excellent, it’s easy to get people passionate about your passion as well, the way Stevie has with his Hainanese Chicken Rice.
Stevie’s Chicken can be ordered at: 896-8940 or 0906-508-4155
21 Libra Street, Bel Air 3, Makati City
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