rants, raves and randomness
Please note that this is a reconstruction of the post!! I deem it too important to just delete. I am switching to a cheaper host and have to say good bye to my old one. I have decided to use a more user friendly blog like WordPress and manually copy and paste the posts one by one for future reference. THE OLD BLOG WILL NO LONGER BE ACCESSIBLE FROM JULY 5. The screen caps of the original post are down below
Last year, I decided to go back to Manila to take up culinary arts. The biggest question of course, is which school? Well, after talking to various schools over the phone, and looking over at the internet, I decided, very much to my regret later on, to put my money into American Hospitality Academy Philippines. This is one of the bad choices I have ever made in my life. I’ve kept silent until the day I got my Diploma, and of course, my refund. Now I am speaking up because other people deserve to know. Consider this the insider notes on AHA Philippines (Student April 2011-2012)
Be careful of AHA. If you ever try to make a phone inquiry regarding enrollment, you will be passed on to the Sales / Marketing lady, Mrs. Cordova who will try to sweet-talk you into the merits of their school. She will tell you that AHA is the only trusted school in culinary arts, how much AHA is cheaper than all the other existing culinary schools in Manila (a big b*llshit), how AHa is certified in blah-blah-blah while other schools are not, how lucky I am if I choose to enroll since a certain chef from the US will be coming to visit and teach for a couple of days THIS COMING SCHOOL YEAR for no additional fee! Talk about bonus! She will also ask for your phone number and call you a couple of times regarding the next class start. Don’t ever leave your phone number to her or anyone for a callback. (In my case, she kept calling my mom)
1. The Deception and Hidden Information
When you are baited (and you tend to be, because they are the only ones quite receptive of inquiries, and she just sounds so friendly) and inquire again, she will tell you that the next class starts in three weeks and that actually, when you pay your Php300,000 everything is included (for diploma of culinary Entrepreneurship + Culinary arts). IT DOES NOT. I asked her a couple of times if the equipment is included, and she said yes, at the same time handing me a flyer that basically only said, “Tuition + Knife kit + Books/handouts + Uniform”. Plus, as a bonus, there will a visiting chef from the US this year for no additional fee. (No such thing, in my case. No Chef from the US came.)
Taking the flyer from her, I searched for phrases like “All equipment included” to no avail, so I asked again to confirm. She said, “Yes, yes, everything is included. No need to buy anything else.” I thought I was the only one who misunderstood her, but it turned out that this misunderstanding is a strategy – I talked to my classmates and schoolmates later on, who were led to believe the same thing as I have : that everything else that we would need (tuition + knife kit + books/handouts + uniform) is already included in the 300,000 package while the rest is to be provided for the school. It turned out that we would need a lot of other things (A LOT of other things indeed!) not provided for by the school . And no, on top of the Php300,000 you have to deposit a Php2500 for the potential damages you might incur. You might say it is only reasonable, right? But why didn’t she mention it from the very beginning? It’s like all these hidden charges waiting to leap the moment you swiped your credit card – except, of course, you only find out by the next billing statement. By then, it’s too late.
Another reason why I decided to go to AHA was because of the internship. I know how difficult it is to find internship, with competition from all the other schools. I believed them when they told me they will fix you up with the local establishments they have tie-ups with. I can’t help believe it. There are even logos of famous hotel and restaurant chains printed at the first page of our manual.
It was a lie.
We all had to apply for internship individually. Of course they can help you look for internship abroad (they do have tie-ups abroad, for all those who have the money). For the rest, we are left to our means.
A lot of things told to me before I paid turned out to be lies (Schedule + Equipment + Chef from the USA + Internship). But if if it is only a case of misunderstanding for my part, why is it that, talking to my classmates and schoolmates later on, I found out we had the same “misunderstanding”? This misunderstanding is too systemic and organized, I am led to believe they are nothing but intentional deceptions. False marketing, anyone?
2. The perpetual schedule changes
Our classes started April 2011 until March 2012. This is supposedly an 8 month course only – but why, oh why, did it take so long?
Because AHA is notorious to change schedule last minute. Last year my schedule went like this :
April 25 – Mid-July : Classes
July – August :Break (Back in Tokyo)
August – Mid September : Classes / Classes end for Culinary Arts
Mid September – December : Break (Back in Tokyo, internship)
January – March : Classes, Exams and final requirement (for culinary Entrepreneurship)
They change schedule indiscriminately without regards to anybody simply because they can. Some of my classmates chose AHA over other schools for the schedule they proposed. This is important for those who hold full-time or part-time jobs. After all, many diploma students are already Degree holders, with obligations to fulfill. Definitely not full-time students, fresh out of high school, who can drop everything in an instant to do the school’s bidding. But once a student has paid, AHA will screw you up big time. Why? Because they want to minimize expenses and efforts on their part. So we, April 2011 Entrepreneurship, ended up taking Entrepreneurship with September 2011 batch. (Saves them time and effort and money!)
But to tell the truth, my problems with their indiscriminate schedule change was a problem I have had from the very start. It should have been an omen – I know. But by that time, I have already paid.
This is my letter to Chef Gene Cordova, dated April 19, 2011 regarding the start of classes.
Dear Chef Gene Cordova :
I have just been informed by Ms. Cordova regarding the postponement of our start date from April 25 2011 to May 2, 2011 with reasons that you are away to Italy. As of our orientation on April 15, 2011 with Chef Mike, it has already been mentioned to us that you are flying to Italy in order to prepare for your students’ European Cuisine course in Italy. Why then, are we suddenly being informed one week before the start date, that the start of classes will be moved yet again, to give way to your Italy trip when this has been planned ahead?
Personally, I am very unhappy and disappointed with the way AHA has been managing our time. Back in Tokyo, I called the school three times prior to buying a ticket, just to confirm the start date in order to maximize my time here in the Philippines. I have been told and reassured that the next class start would be on April 4. I made it to the Philippines on April 1, fast tracking my loan and buying last minute ticket just to make it on the supposedly April 4 start of classes. Please note that prior to my arrival, my mom, Dr. **, phoned AHA several times to inform you of my arrival as well as to secure a meeting with Ms. Cordova. My mother was never told, in any of the conversations with AHA, that the start date was already moved. I was told only on April 2, 2010, during the interview with Ms Cordova, that the start date had been moved to April 25 to give way to the holy week. And then now, I get informed that the start date was moved, yet again, to May. In consideration to us, why didn’t you tell us ahead of time? During our orientation, Chef Mike told us about the importance AHA gives to punctuality and time management. I know your time is very precious : but what about ours? I would really have appreciated it -as a common courtesy, not just to a paying student, but to a fellow human being – if we were told of the school schedule way ahead of time . I would have been able to save money had I known. But most of all, I would have been able to spend more time with my husband. Each day here in the Philippines is a day spent without my husband. By now, I am almost 3 weeks away from him – spent waiting for the classes to start. And this time cannot be turned back.
AHA disrespects our time. For a school that allegedly gives importance to punctuality, this is really disappointing, and reflects badly on you. I can only come up with several negative conclusions : either this school is disorganized with no fixed schedule, open to last minute ad-hoc changes with no consideration to others, or that AHA is a school with bad organization and time management system.. or you just don’t respect us at all.
Even with make-up classes, I am very unhappy with these postponements. We didn’t do anything to deserve this. Had we been told ahead, our decisions to enroll in AHA would have been different. It’s unfair to us because we’ve already paid, and given no choice but to wait. My husband said, “That is never going to happen in Japan!” How sad, but true. With all due respect, Chef Gene, but whatever your activities are that caused this delay is no problem of ours. We’re not on unlimited time and budget here in the Philippines. We have lives too.
3. The consequence of an absolutist chef : disorganization, inconsistency, inconsideration
AHA Philippines is a family-ran corporation. As such, changing rules is as easy as buying a soda from 7-11. Student’s schedules and rules are at the mercy of the family, specifically, Chef Gene. When I got into AHA, we have had several class overlaps with the Associates. In the last remaining few weeks of the Associate-4 students, the school suddenly started having quizzes to determine one’s worth to do internship at the school-ran Upper East across the street. Assoc-4 students who don’t make 5/5 in the quizzes were barred from doing internship. (Likewise : Assoc 3 should get 4/5, Assoc-2 should get 3/5, Assoc-1 should get 2/5) . You can imagine how empty the restaurant was – more than half of the those supposedly on duty were barred from the kitchen. And of course, you can’t say, “I didn’t sign up for this!” It’s not democracy in AHA.
Although this did not affect us Diploma students directly, indirectly it did. I have no problem coming in on-time. I live in Japan where a 30-second delay might mean missed train. But I have problem when AHA would make us come on certain times then make us wait for 2 hours. 2 Hours? Seriously? So here is how it went : Student Assistants have had to come over for preparation of the demo lessons (cutting vegetables up, portioning etc) a day or so ahead of the said lesson. This was supposed to be a fixed schedule for us (usually tomorrow’s preparation happens after- class today) but there were days when the kitchen was full, the ingredients were unavailable etc, then we’d have to come back some other time. When is that, we would ask, and they’d tell us that they’d contact us. The school then would text us (take note – sometimes they don’t even call) to come over say by 11am on Wednesday. Once you get there, they’d tell you, for one reason or another, that you couldn’t start the prep just yet. Could you wait 2 more hours to let Assoc-X finish their prep? Disorganization, inconsistency, inconsideration.
The same thing happened when I wanted to refund my Php2500. In principle, the deposit should be refunded two months after completion. By the third month, I got no notice from them of forfeitures of any kind. At the same time, no initiative from their part to refund you the money. Their policy goes like , “If you want it, go get it. But we’ll make it hard for you to do so, so you just give up.” Anyway, weeks prior to my flight to Manila, I called the school several times to negotiate my refund. I was told a couple of times that they were already “processing it”. In Manila, I dropped by immediately on Monday. They asked me for the deposit slip (which was never mentioned in the conversations I had weeks prior) as a proof that I indeed paid them money. I told them I didn’t have any deposit slip with me, but it must be with our batch head who made the collective deposit. Unfortunately, I have had no contact with him for the last half year, I told them. Anyway they told me to come back the following Wednesday. I contacted my classmates who confirmed to me that the deposit slip was taken by one of the chefs as a pre-requisite for attendance (No deposit slip = no entry). I went back to school Wednesday and explained to them the situation. This time, they told me to come back on Friday 11 am with a copy of my plane ticket to “fast track” my request. (Fast track? It had been 3 months!) I arrived on time. I was told to wait for an hour as they call Chef Gene to get his approval for the check. What? You would think that after all the “processing” from a month prior, the check was ready for pick-up. But no, AHA has a system that reminds you each and every time why the Philippines remains a third world country. Disorganization, inconsistency, inconsideration.
4. Bullying and its consequences
I never burst into tears in any of my classes although there was more than one case where I was reprimanded by Chef Gene in front of everyone with the intent of humiliating me (Even my classmate asked me once, “Why is he picking on you all the time??). Fortunately, I am just too tough (and old) to be daunted. Some people are not, of course. Imagine the trauma for a 16-year old girl fresh out of high school being yelled at in front of everyone! Our emotionally unstable male classmate actually broke down in the kitchen once, after being barred from attending the class more than once. (Good news for the boys : he favors pretty boys a lot, so it works in your favor!). AHA wants to instill in everyone that a real kitchen is a war-zone, the Chef is the commander and you, students, are the good-for-nothing dispensable foot soldiers. Although the intent is probably good from the beginning, such as to train students to follow instructions from the Chef, every verbal abuse, “pamamahiya” (attempts to humiliate you) and unreasonable demands are supposed to justify this military-like training. But it has gone overboard. I find it so detrimental to the training of future chefs. Why?
1. Loss of self-confidence while becoming more and more timid
2. Reduction of self-reliance in favor of blind obedience
3. Importance given to what the chef might want over common sense and logic
4. Fear of committing mistakes
5. Loss of enjoyment of the things we should be enjoying the most (cooking)
I did my internship here in Japan under a finalist of Top Chef (tv series) and among his comments was that I just so timid. Why? Well, it is because of my training. Any littlest wrong thing you do is a ground for verbal abuse. I learned not to rely so much on common sense or logic, and instead tried to feel what the chef wanted (which is not always logical or along the lines of common sense). Now I learned, that trusting yourself and your senses are important as important as following directions. I learned that even great chefs make mistakes. In fact, we shouldn’t fear making mistakes – it is a part of the process. No one works in the kitchen without getting cut at least once. And yes, things do get spilled in the kitchen!
5. Money money money
The truth is AHA is just another commercial institution. They will skimp on you one way or another. Once you’ve paid the full money down, they have you by the balls. They will change your schedule accordingly to fit their budget. They will skimp on ingredients (Tilapia forever. I don’t even eat tilapia). You will have to bow down to all their unreasonable demands in the name of your diploma. My classmates who went to Italy were asked to cater to the Italian Embassy (out of their own pockets). AHA will eventually change the rules so they can make the most out of you. They will tell you that they no longer accept make-do knife covers for safety reasons, you need a real one(they happen to be selling). They will tell you that they changed their mind regarding absence limits, so actually you just failed by one day and you have to retake the course again ( fees should be settled first).
6. Maltreatment of staff
Tenure doesn’t just speak for a staff’s perseverance – it speaks volumes about the management style of an establishment. AHA seems to have revolving door for policy staffs – except they don’t. No one can stand the oppressive management, and everyone eventually quits, even the chef instructors. The longest staying security guard lasted for only 6 months. Some quit after three weeks. (To be precise, they don’t quit, they just ask to be reassigned somewhere). Why ? Because AHA treats people horribly – staffs and students alike. Except we students paid, so we have to hold out longer..
During my first few months, my classmate saw a staff (Nori) being jabbed on with a ball pen. (One day I went back, and Nori was gone. Whether he got sacked or he quit, I will never know). We have had a series of new chefs who come and go after several weeks. Like the students, staff and chef instructors can get sent home for the littlest mistakes during the course of the day (no pay of course). Not very conducive for learning. Not very encouraging for student chefs. Verbal abuse, bullying, humiliation – these strategies don’t bring out the best in us. Do we want to support an institution that resorts to these strategies?
7. Unreasonable Demands
Some people would argue that this is for the better of us who want to work in the kitchen. But I beg to differ, not because of the effort, but because of the cost! One of the first requirements we had to do was to tourné 300 potatoes overnight. I wouldn’t mind tourné-ying potatoes (or whatever you want to tourné)had they provided the ingredients. But of course that is not the case – I had to buy a lot of potatoes myself. The next day, they hardly looked at our efforts and asked us to re-do it, to be submitted the following week. Just like that. I ended up buying a total of 11kg of potatoes to accomplish this homework. Talk about waste!
Second they require that your uniform be neat and ironed. Bad uniform = no entry. (AHA governs with its x = no entry formula) But several arguments about this :
1. How can one have a neat and ironed uniform after duty in the kitchen? (They eventually started excusing people who had duties. I am not sure if this is consistently being enforced.)
2. The cloth used for the uniforms (of other batches) is the type that gets easily crumpled. My schoolmates resorted to bringing an iron to school and ironing on place (Yes, you heard that right. Ironing in school premises!). But still once they put it on, it starts to crumple. Result : they are still barred from entering.
Also, AHA tends to make you sign an announcement to make sure you have read it. Then they will change something, print out an announcement and make you sign again. Then they issue another and make you sign again (Warning that nothing is ever final the first time around! Repeat this cycle at least 6x at a time for every announcement they make for a conservative estimate.). You forget which one is the current deal. Or let’s say they hand out a calendar of activities. After 2 days, they change it again and hand you another one. Next week, they hand another one and ask you to turn in the previous 2. If you don’t turn in the older calendars, no entry. What if you lost it? Why do the older calendars matter when there’s a new one? The answer is : because they can.
Have your cake and eat it too
I have finally received my Diploma this year. I also passed the TESDA and ServSafe. I am now working in the kitchen. I made good friends in AHA – I am lucky to have met the people I did- my classmates for making everything else bearable. Without them, I don’t think I would have lasted. But personally, this kind of school would have long been bankrupt if it were in Japan. Why? Because professionalism is non-existent. There is no respect for time (very important over here). There was an intentional misunderstanding bordering if not an outright case of false marketing. There are a lot of unreasonable demands. I wish I looked harder and inquired more. But alas, it is too late to cry over spilled milk. I just didn’t find enough information in the net or anywhere – anything else I found was just too belated. So I decided the best way I can do is to speak up, write about my experience to let others make more informed decisions. For me, everyone who is going to pay a lot of money deserves to know the kind of school they are getting into, what they are signing up for. Unless you are willing to forfeit your hard earned money, enrolling in AHA is a consent for you to waive any sort of consideration and respect due you as a human being. Everything works in favor of them, with main consideration given to the convenience of Chef Gene and the school. Yes, at your expense – time and money-wise. Why subscribe to an institution that shows absolutely no consideration to you by f*cking up your schedule, humiliating you and treating you like a piece of sh*t, all in the name of culinary arts? Why can’t you just go to another school where you can have both – that is respect to you and your time WHILE undergoing culinary training? On top of that, you can enjoy while learning! Have your cake and eat it too.
TIP : For all those people who still want to consider AHA Philippines, I strongly recommend you do an on-site location visit. You don’t need an appointment to sit outside by the student lounge. Talk to students. Observe. See for yourself what kind of school it is. Be informed before paying. Ultimately, the decision is yours. By writing this, I did my part to paint you an accurate picture of the kind of school AHA is. Goodluck.