Bettina Santos Yap would have wowed her grandmother with her final presentation to culminate her Baking and Pastry studies at the City College of San Francisco Culinary Arts & Hospitality Program. She touted a triple-deck masterpiece fashioned from fondant on faux cake to celebrate her Philippine heritage. The top is encrusted in capiz “shells” reminiscent of the rich marine life sustaining the archipelago. The bottom replicates the “banig” or mat woven from palm fronds, for the land’s lush vegetation.
Perched majestically at the center layer is the piece de resistance, a Sarimanok, the legendary bird of the Maranao people of Mindanao that has become emblematic of pre-colonial Philippines, its bold colors and graceful curls evoking both the strength and whimsy of the culture. Dangling from its beak is a fish, symbolizing resourcefulness and abundance.
“We were assigned to pick a motif for a ‘celebration cake’ to showcase our competency with fondant,” Santos Yap told Positively Filipino of the final test utilizing icing made of sugar, water, gelatin, butter, and glycerol. “I felt at home with the medium because as a child I loved working with clay.”
Her theme choice embodies the persona of an artist who is also a community advocate, whose Tagalog proficiency remains undiminished because of her frequent visits to the Philippines with her mother Mila “Baby” Gozum-Santos and bonding with her former classmates from St. Scholastica in Marikina City and the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
“I looked at photos of previous fondant designs and noticed that a majority was floral,” she said. Most striking to her was that though many of her predecessors were Filipino, no Philippine images were depicted, informing her next move.
“I really wanted to do something Filipino,” she stressed, finding the three-layer assignment perfectly suited to represent Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. She calls her sculpture “Pinoy Pride” and offered it to the Philippine consulate as a gift for the 120th anniversary of Philippine Independence. Consul Carlyn Monasterial expressed excitement at featuring the cake at the June 9 gala reception.
This June auspiciously opens Santos Yap’s Act 2 when she dons the toque at the renowned San Francisco Baking Institute established by French boulanger Michael Suas, ex-pastry chef of a Michelin three-starred restaurant in Tours, France, and consultant for Acme, La Brea, Grace Baking Co., and Boudin in the Bay Area.
The oven fired up Santos Yap a little later than her “Lola Ata” would have preferred. In school she was more enamored of theater, and contemplated broadcast news. Later she discovered the computer as the convenient tool to concretize her ideas after graduating from Golden Gate University in 1989. Ironically her new profession demands pure human effort in each production.
“Driven” is how the seasoned marketing professional described herself once.
The trait emerges wherever she commits herself. It shows at Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church, where the longtime parish council member produced and co-emceed a series of Christmas concerts to raise funds for church repairs. It surfaces at meetings and especially nearing major free public events of ALLICE or Alliance for a Community Empowerment, the 15-year-old volunteer group she co-founded to prevent intimate partner and elder abuse.
Her peregrine focus marked the 25 years she rose from freelance consultant for mostly tech companies to full-time senior marketing manager of a telecommunications firm that jetted her around the world to stage events she conceived.
That resolve arose when she decided time had come for change.
This time last year Santos Yap gave up her lucrative day job to earn a certificate of completion of studies in the science of cooking in prolonged heat.
You could say cooking is in her DNA. Her aunt Annabel Santos Wisniewski with her husband and sons own Raintree Hospitality, a network of several restaurants in Manila including M cafe at the Ayala Museum. A cousin, Geraldine Fajardo, was a manager at the Starbucks San Francisco corporate office.
As a child, Santos Yap reveled in visits at her grandmother’s dining palaces, cocooning herself in the air-conditioned comfort of the cake shop, marveling as the sheets of sponge and chiffon transformed into eye-popping edible art, watching customers line up to collect their orders.
As a techie, she found creative refuge in the kitchen, making confections for co-workers and friends. A colleague noticed her more-than-passing enthusiasm to concoct goodies and proposed that she produce the favors for one of their company events.
She accepted the challenge, whipping up sweets of nuts and fudge that earned compliments, further fueling her desire to elevate her baking skills.
Easily she found one-day classes on the internet that led to the 9-month CCSF program under Chef Betsy Riehle.
Her husband Voltaire Yap, a marketing director at Oracle, their son Justin, an analyst at Amazon, and daughter Monica, a consumer service rep at Academy of Art University, encouraged her to follow her dream.
“I wanted formal education and got to learn valuable techniques,” she explained her motivation to enroll in August. The course was free but not without intangible cost.
“I woke up at 4:30 every morning five days a week to be in class by 6 a.m.,” said the South San Francisco resident. She had homework and toiled in math while learning costing.
Not once did she miss a meeting of her volunteer commitments despite having to make dinner and turn in early to rise before dawn the following school day. In fact she relishes sharing her products with fellow volunteers.
She surprises friends with a baguette one day, lemon mousse or strawberry banana loaf at another. She has impressed her aunt Annabel with her version of langues de chat or lengua de gato, as the buttery fingers are known to Europhiles in Manila.
Fans may have to wait in line for their sweet treats when she unveils her bakery named Baby & Boy after her parents. Should be soon, given her proven determination. And when that happens, she will surely topbill pastries popular in the Philippines, keeping her grandmother’s spirit alive.
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is a Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging and executive director of nonprofit ALLICE Alliance for Community Empowerment. She is editor at large of Philippine News, columnist for Philippines Today USA and contributor toRappler and GMA News Online.