Chef Myke “Tatung” Sarthou may be one of the most popular and successful professional chefs in the metro today, but things did not come easy for him. Yes, he has his own restaurant called Pandan Asian Café, he produces his own cookbooks with his Vertikal Kreatives team, his YouTube channel Simpol commands a following of almost two million across all platforms, and he has begun to do private dinners again in his beautiful home in Antipolo, Rizal.
But before he was able to achieve all of these and made them run smoothly in his harried life, he had to face — and overcome — challenges that came his way as a small-scale business entrepreneur.
Truth is, challenges come time and again. They do not completely go away. Sometimes you triumph over them, and sometimes you fail. You just have to learn to deal with it and rise again.
“As an entrepreneur, you really have to be steadfast and persistent. It’s not easy, but you just have to want to make it work. You need the ability to be creative and think out of the box,” says Chef Tatung.
He adds: “But failures also lead you to opportunities. Sometimes you become so obsessed with your vision that you hammer on the wrong nail. You also have to be open-minded and flexible. Through that, I have managed to evolve my businesses as I maneuvered through failures. What is important is that you keep your integrity intact and you take care of your brand.”
Becoming a chef
Becoming a chef was not part of his plans at all, although he has always loved to cook since he was a kid — and when he began his career at age 18, it was not as a chef but as a multimedia writer and, later on, as an events personnel before he moved on to serve the music industry. This was his life for more than a decade. Cooking and food were always in the background, though, because he lived in what he called a “high-pressure environment” and cooking was the refuge that he sought whenever he needed a break.
“It calmed and grounded me,” says chef Tatung.
Then it came, the feeling of being completely burnt out, that he even asked himself what would truly make him happy and fulfilled if he were to leave his former job and change careers. The answer, which he found deep within him, was cooking. And so he followed his heart and did just that.
He started cooking. He started small. He was, after all, feeling his way around and assessing whether there was a place for him in the food industry with the kind of cooking that he was doing.
He opened his home in Quezon City, first to friends and family, cooking for them in more of a private dining setting than a full-fledged restaurant. Unique and private, his dining concept clicked with food lovers. So did his food. He built a strong following, which grew by the day until it became a thriving business.
Along with it, chef Tatung started getting recognized as a chef, and one of the first people who recognized his talent was the late Gina Lopez. She had chef Tatung cater for her private events with VIPs as well as for get-togethers that she organized for the Lopez family.
Going into business
From that initial foray into the food business, chef Tatung went on to open a number of other restaurants, mostly with partners.
“I was doing well on my own. I started all by myself, but the urge to expand and grow the business made me seek partners. When you get into business with partners, you need to get your dynamics right. Values, too, have to be aligned. Unfortunately, things did not work out as envisioned,” chef Tatung points out.
He assures, though, that “today, I have a good partnership going and I really think you learn to work within different groups by experience.”
He is talking about Pandan Asian Café, which he co-owns, specializing in Asian cuisine. Despite the pandemic, which kept restaurants on their toes at all times as dining restrictions kept shifting from “open” to “closed” to “open” again, Pandan remained standing. But, yes, there have been challenges. There will always be challenges, whatever business it may be.
“One of the challenges of running a restaurant is getting the right people to work for you. You need their expertise. You need to hire competent people. It can be costly on operations when you hire the wrong people. Raising capital for operations can also be challenging, but if you scale up, it can become profitable,” says chef Tatung, who decided to reinvent himself to scale up his worth as a professional chef.
First, he got his own YouTube channel, Simpol, where he uploads videos showing how easy it can be to cook delicious dishes. From easy homecooked meals to a little more upscale recipes, chef Tatung simplifies the cooking process for his viewers and shows how much fun they can have preparing good food for their own family. For Simpol, he hit a benchmark of almost two million followers, and the number is growing by the day, making him one of few professional chefs to become a YouTube star.
The Simpol videos have also spawned a series of Simpol cookbooks, which Chef Tatung himself produces and distributes online. He formed his own production team, called Vertikal Kreatives, to oversee his cookbook production, from inception to writing, shooting, layout, editing, printing and even online selling and distribution. Vertikal Books has so far produced three major cookbooks — Simpol the Cookbook, Simpol Kitchen Secrets, and Baking Simpol. More cookbooks are in the offing. As his own publisher, he encounters challenges, too, but he bounces back by being resourceful and creative, and making things work out.
Just recently, chef Tatung started yet another business venture. He opened his house in Antipolo, Rizal to private dining. He had some parts of the sprawling property converted into cozy dining areas and prepared a menu for those who wanted to sample his brand of cooking. It's destination dining in the East, with a 10-course Filipino gastronomic tasting menu that incorporates regional specialties from around the country, including Cebu’s Dry Adobo served over a centuries-old recipe of fermented camote mash; a pako salad with Baguio’s kiniing (smoked pork) and burong mangga (beer-cured mangoes dressed in Pinoy suka); the Tausug dish Chicken Piyanggang translated into a stuffed squid version with burnt coconut served with Maranao kyuning (yellow rice cooked in a clay pot); and a dessert of sweet Antipolo mangoes and cashew nuts.
What makes chef Tatung shine as a professional chef is that, apart from his undeniably creative cooking style and innate talent, he naturally gravitates towards local flavors. He appreciates foreign cuisines and can whip up mean foreign dishes, but his heart beats for truly Pinoy flavors, which he highlights in every gastronomic celebration he hosts or every opportunity he gets to serve and promote Pinoy specialty dishes to the world. Zeroing in on local dishes for his tasting menu is his way of elevating it to world-class standards.
Opening his home in Antipolo to private dining is like coming full circle for chef Tatung, because his culinary career did begin with private dining at Tatung’s in Quezon City. As a small-scale entrepreneur who ventures into different cooking avenues to create plates upon plates of gastronomic delights, he knows there will always be challenges to overcome and battles to win. What he does best is making people happy with what he can create with his hands. He dares to dream and has the courage to see it through.