For a Physical Therapy graduate to go into the culinary school business may seem unlikely, but as proven by Maggie Uy, it’s not impossible—if you believe in what you are doing and are willing to learn.
Maggie and husband Jan have successfully turned their Monster Kitchen Academy (MKA) from a kitchen studio within a retail baking store back in 2008 into one of today’s leading culinary and pastry schools in Northern Mindanao.
MKA may have been initially established to create a market for their existing Monster Kitchen Store, a retail outlet for baking supplies, but MKA’s eventual growth was driven more by a mission to improve lives.
“We noticed that the home bakers in Cagayan de Oro were so few and there was a need to develop a new breed of bakers,” Maggie explains.
Over the years, MKA has produced thousands of students and changed the landscape for the baking industry in CDO and in nearby towns.
“You will see how home-based baking businesses have evolved—there are pastry shops opening in every corner not just in the city but in nearby cities too and even as far as Davao, Zamboanga, and Tawi-Tawi. We also have students from Manila flying to Cagayan de Oro to study our baking and pastry arts programs,” shares Maggie.
Monster Kitchen Academy has two studio kitchens in CDO, one for baking and one for culinary, and in December 2016, it opened a new branch in Davao City.
Lessons and Challenges
Maggie, who handles the finance and course planning side of the business, admits she has had to learn along the way.
“With little background in handling a school, I was faced with so many challenges like handling the day-to-day nitty-gritty to dealing with different kinds of personalities,” she says.
Initially, company standards and systems were not yet set, making the learning curve very long, she continues. “It was only in the last few years that we started seeking help and hired consultants to guide us in systematizing things and up until now, we are still continuing to innovate and upgrade our standards so that our institution will be far advanced than the rest.”
Her lack of background in baking and cooking also posed challenges which she later overcame. “I had a hard time understanding the system flow of the school. I was familiar with ingredients but I didn’t have any idea about the school’s functions and all.”
To equip herself with enough knowledge, she enrolled with the first batch of their culinary school’s Baking & Cooking Program.
“It was then that I realized three things—what it’s like to be in this kind of industry, how the kitchen dynamics flows, and that there are a lot of things needed to be analyzed and given priority to in the operations,” says Maggie. “With all these, I decided to further enhance my skills and knowledge abroad to better equip me with the things I needed to sustain the business.”
Maggie enrolled in the Wilton Master Course in Chicago and had her Wilton Instructors training in Korea in 2015 and is now a Wilton-certified instructor, a distinction held by only a few in the Philippines.
Over the years, Monster Kitchen Academy has had its share of ups and downs. According to Maggie, growing the business requires being focused on what they’re doing and aligning their operations with the mission, vision, and values of the company. This enables MKA to continuously produce quality graduates, among them some of the biggest names in the country’s food industry.
Partners in Life and Business
Maggie shares the achievements of MKA with husband Jan, who oversees the academy’s direction and growth. “He is the brains behind the academy. He is the one that gives direction to the company. His insights are endless,” she says.
Having your life partner as your business partner has advantages and disadvantages, she states. “We can easily resolve business concerns by quickly addressing the problem without having to get the approval of any party. I can count on him anytime, especially when I encounter difficulty in handling a situation such as manpower and employee concerns.”
As for the downside, Maggie points to the tendency to bring work home and discuss it, which can be very draining and can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and arguments.
According to Maggie, their partnership works because they complement each other. “My weakness is his strength and vice versa.”
She also acknowledges Jan’s steadfast support. “He would always encourage me to attend trainings that are related to the business. He brainstorms with me on how to go about things, like bringing them to the next level.”
In the next five years, MKA is looking to continue expanding in order to “monsterize” more people and live up to its mission to improve lives.
Its core products are the Fundamentals in Baking and Pastry Arts and the Fundamentals in Culinary Arts. Also offered are the 12-day baking intensive program, the 12-day culinary intensive program, and a wide array of one-day or half-day lifestyle classes for hobbyists and first-time bakers.
At the helm of these programs are 16 chef instructors who Maggie says were mostly trained by international mentors and who are getting awards in various competitions.
“Running a school is an ongoing process. I give credit to our staff, instructors, and heads who have been working tremendously hard to pursue our mission. Hiring the right people and aligning them with our direction is the key factor in managing a culinary school,” says Maggie.
Asked for her advice to culinary arts students who plan to enter the food business, Maggie shares five tips that could well be the very guidelines she follows—love your craft, be ready to embrace failure, stay hungry for learning, stay grounded, and dare to explore.