Portraits of a Chef: Christine Zarandin
From working in the kitchen with Wolfgang Puck to the demanding diners of Las Vegas, there is hardly anything that has fazed Christine Zarandin. Lately, you can find her in her new home, Wantusawa, where she takes the lead even out of the kitchen.
Christine Zarandin is the kind of chef that can part a sea of cooks. In her former profession of working the hotels, her tough exterior and no-nonsense attitude earned her a few cries of, “wow, what a bitch,” which she tells us about in the same no-nonsense tone. “That’s how it is. You want to stay in the kitchen, you can’t cry. Or, if you want to cry, go cry inside your car or when you get home.”
“I want [my guests] to have something that makes them think: ‘Tomorrow, I wanna eat that again.’ Food should really be like that: comfortable. Not aloof and not intimidating. I make food that way and we add more experience to it; it’s ambience, we’ll match it.”
Even now in the dining area of her first and latest restaurant venture, Wantusawa, as she sits on a chair, out of the chef’s uniform, she commands attention. “I’m not a chef chef anymore,” is one of the first things she tells us, even as she directs the kitchen staff.” A chef heads a team. A chef is a leader in the kitchen.” Christine claims she’s much more relaxed now that she’s primarily stayed out of the kitchen, focusing on running her oyster and wine bar, a hit in the neighborhood of Poblacion.
“I used to drink cans of Red Bull when I was in Vegas. Crazy. Before, I could do three cans a night with six shots of espresso. I would wake up at four in the morning, practice for competition at five in the morning; we’d practice ’til, like, eight and then I’d go to work, I’d sleep a little bit again, I’d sleep in my car in the parking lot, and then by ten or eleven, I’d be in the kitchen.
I didn’t see anything else other than the kitchen. Well, the bars. At the end of the night. I worked in Vegas for eight years. Never in a casino, but all the restaurants were fine dining and they were all by celebrity chefs. It is the craziest environment, to live in Vegas where at the end of the night all the chefs are driving me to the strip club and I was the only girl—I was always the only girl. The kitchen is [comprised of] maybe 95% boys. I always push the girls and I take care of them a little bit more. I always tell them: If you want to stay in the kitchen, you have to deal with this. When I was growing up in the kitchen, it was always all-boys. Even in my first years here in Manila—my entire staff was all-boys. Some were in their 50s, I had to deal with that. Imagine, they’re that old and they’re thinking: ‘Sino ba ‘tong babae na ‘to?’ So, I worked harder than them. That’s how I get their respect: I work harder than them, I stay super late nights, I do everything that they all do and more—because I can.”