Chef Miko Aspiras: What Does it Take to Succeed in Sydney and the World?

Watch in Youtube: 🔴 The Kitchen Story of Chef Miko Aspiras From Manila to Sydney

Key Learnings:

✅ Filipinos have what it takes to succeed globally because of our hard working culture, innate creativity and desire to be the best we can be.

✅ Good quality ingredients and understanding your consumers are key to winning in the culinary industry. (Don’t focus on doing the next best thing, or just the next fad.)

✅ Be forever grateful and pay homage to your mentors, business partners, and the people who helped you in your career.


[00:00:00] Chef Miko Aspiras Introduction

Chef Miko: I’ve been in the industry,  specifically the pastry kitchen industry for, I think around 14 years now.  I started working in the restaurant scene in 2007.  My first mentor, I guess I can call him men tor even though he’s not in the pastry department was Chef Sau del Rosario.  Most Filipinos know him for being famous for his very avant-garde type of approach in food.  So  I guess I inherited that kind of I can call it Style in terms of my approach in pastry.   I know it’s a very far from pastry and hot kitchen, medjo magka layo but I was able to find a way to merge that kind of like a braveness  when it comes to mixing flavors. And that’s where it all started.

Then I joined several hotels like the Shangri-La, Resorts World  Manila and dami na. And then after that I continued on opening several restaurants where  I think I met you. I think  we often see each ot her sa Magnum cafe noon.

That was one of one of my biggest breaks throughs to be coming household name in the Philippines and when it comes to pastry. So but even before that, I was already competing helping the   Philippine pastry scene get some medals from competition all over. I was able to do that successfully and I’m really proud of that. 

One of  my most memorable move that I had to do was to partner with a restaurant group called Tasteless Food Group.  From then on tuloy tuloy na, we opened so many restaurants together. And that was a lot of challenge.  I’ve met so many wonderful people  that helped me sustain  my creativity and allowing me to  be as creative as possible. And then now I’m here in Sydney, Australia because I just want to continue. Me and my husband JV, we really just wanted to explore a different environment .

I guess moving here, we thought it was going to be a smooth transition, but no,  it was, I’ll tell you more about it in awhile, but  it was a totally different environment, but I guess it was necessary for me to learn more and to grow more.


[00:02:14] How did you start in Sydney?

Chef Miko: So in Sydney, as soon as I moved here, 2019 that was June.  But actually that was delayed by a year ,  I had to tie up  some loose strings with the restaurant group. It wasn’t an easy transition because siyempre a lot of our restaurants were based on desserts and based on our management skills.

Of course we had to help the the team that were going to leave in the Philippines before  I was able to move. And I really did my best. And then eventually we moved to Australia right away. Right off the bat. I got here on a Saturday may interview na ako for work na on mon day.

I wasn’t really actually expecting much. I wasn’t expecting I will get a job right away, not even that, but I went to worked for Hilton Sydney. After the interview, the chef told me you  got the job.  He was looking for, I guess, like a fresh outlook or a point of view. So maybe that’s why  he got me to  lead the pastry  kit ch en there. So that was an awesome experience for me. So the first six months it was amazing!

I guess I just like everywhere else in the world, the first few months were really a shock for everyone. So  all of the establishments here in Sydney, just like everywhere else, were to stop  because of the restrictions that were imposed.  We all have different perspectives, but I can’t help, but compare it to how the Philippines has gone through this experience, this unfortunate experience. Cause here, I think the local governments were very quick to  resolve, and prevent further damage. After a few weeks , I guess like at most a month, na naka lock down slowly nag open up  na rin talaga kaagad.  Now I can say that we only have, as of today six cases and it’s all controlled. Nasa  hotel quarantine or home quarantine sila and it’s being controlled.

I feel like the way the restrictions or  the government is handling this as if there were hundreds of thousands of cases. So they’re very strict and  most people are following them.  Simple lang you wear a mask on public transportation. We never reached a point na may face mask, may protective gear that wasn’t the case here. So I guess like, that’s why I was able to do what I’m doing right now. And I was able to explore more options,  I also accepted more projects from around the world since nagclose yung hotel namin Hilton  for a while. I got a little bit of time in my hands and that  was an amazing experience for me as a pastry chef and as a person.


[00:05:04] What does it take to succeed in Sydney compared to the Philippines?

Chef Miko: Well, that’s kind of tricky cause for me, if you go here as a tourist, you’ll say na parang wow, there’s so much here in Australia that people here like to eat desserts and pastries. Yes they do. But  it’s not that difficult. Like when you think about it, because when I was about to go here I need to have an edge. I have to have this, I had so much ideas.

But actually here in Australia, I guess the difference between the Philippines and here is it’s very simple here. Sobrang simple nang wants and needs nila when it comes to pastry. If you’re making something good, you  definitely succeed or you’ll definitely sell out.

In the Philippines kasi we’re always looking for what’s new, what’s the best what’s the most perfect pastry. And  there’s  so much options and they’re all very different from each other.  Very complex ang ating variety. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s just, I think, just to point out the difference here. If it’s a, let’s say a cliche,  Lamington, so there’s so  many Laminton shops, but they’re all the same. I guess there is just  one here right now na they found their edge to create  more variety of Lavington. But apart from that, It’s all the same. Even like parang may small group,  na  may small changes , but you can’t really say, oh, that’s so like mind-blowingly great Lamington. 

Everything’s okay like standard wise, maganda yung products everywhere. Cause I guess it they also rely on their amazing ingredients. They’re amazing produce. They’re amazing dairy industry. So  no matter where you go, though, the products are kind of neck in neck. Unlike in the Philippines, if you want something that’s more flavorful or you’re looking for a better quality dessert or a version of the dessert that you want, you have to pay a premium price tag for that.  But here it’s just ok siya pantay pantay.

Pros and cons, I  guess here you can’t really escape from that  standard. It’s really hard to stand out because people are expecting like a certain quality standard. In the Philippines, once you use a better brand of butter stand out kana kaagad. In here you don’t have to really stand out so much for people to appreciate what you have.


[00:07:38] In terms of Career, is it harder to stand out in Australia?

Chef Miko: I guess I can say this now because I have a better understanding of how things work here. I’m speaking for ,in my career alone, you don’t really have to stand out here. So in the Philippines,  we were trained to stand out. Our parents, our families are expecting us to do really well in what we do. Parang Asian  stereotypical, Asians were very competitive.

Here in Australia, believe on me saying that Australians are very relaxed and very chill and laid back. And it really depends on how you look at it. But in my career, and  as a chef,  you don’t really need to stand out that much. You just have to be good that you just have to do good. And that’s enough for you to, not necessarily recognized, but more of to get a good job. Yeah, you don’t need to do so much.

But for me, I’m not saying  that’s what I’m doing right now because you guys probably know me already.  I can’t really change that quality of mine. I can’t really sit down and relax as well. I am trying my best to keep myself that way , that’s amazing. I’m going to stay the same  Miko that you met years back.  I’m still striving to stay the same. So yeah,


[00:08:53] Can you talk about career opportunities in the Culinary Industry in Sydney for Filipinos?

Chef Miko: I guess I don’t know. I, I’m not the best person to  say something about this. But I guess I’m going to base it on my experience as an executive pastry chef in hotels and fine dining restaurants here. I was in the management position already but I wasn’t in any way, part of the  human resource. With that said,  before the pandemic happened  the whole of Australia was actually very accepting of migrants.

One of the best ways to get here is through work. I have friends and family that lives here that I know that they entered here  through work or by being hired by a company. So I think, if the pandemic did not happen, that will still continue. I guess  I still have friends in the Philippines and other countries who are applying for jobs here. Yun lang talaga nadelay because of the closure nang borders. But other than that, I think you can still apply for jobs, whether it’s regional or in in the main cities.  There’s several visa types , again, I’m not the expert, so I don’t know the codes.

I entered here on a very different manner as a skilled worker,  that was my visa . If you are a skilled worker, you’re not dependent on the job that you will get. It’s more of like  your skills got you through. I qualified yung skills ko  here is parang a standard nila . So, but the other options are available, I guess.

So to work as  in a region where it’s not exactly a city is a possibility and also in the city. But it really depends on how difficult it is to get the papers running. But definitely nagaaccept siya and hindi siya close at all. I’m sure there are just delays because of COVID and also the closure of the borders. I think that’s the only challenge that people who are thinking of  getting a job or migrating here. They will definitely face that.


[00:10:56] Can you tell us the story of your new project in Sydney?

@dontdoughnuts

Chef Miko:  It has always been my goal to open restaurants here in Sydney. So restaurants, may s talaga, but it’s always been my goal and my dream to open  the brands that I have in the Philippines if I had my way.  In the end, nag start na.  The process started two and a half months ago when I was talking to my friends. Because we’ve been talking about opening something for a long while now, since 2013, but I said I don’t think I’m ready yet. I wanted to experience working here first. I want to gain more confidence. And then they said two and a half months ago, you are ready na- you’ve always been ready. And then I said, really, okay, let’s do something. Let’s start it. Let’s talk about it. So we did, and then these are Pinoy friends so mabilis rin trumabaho. And then they told me, yeah, we’re all very  plugged in and switch on.

We opened last Friday a doughnut concept. So it’s very similar to our concept in the Philippines called Poison. So same idea of promoting a better version of a doughnut and more quirky and different flavors, but it’s still very simple. But this one has a more I guess like it has more of me,  from the branding to how it speaks to its customers. It’s very me and very inside my head. It’s very strong when it comes to like the  brand aspect of it. And of course the flavors are going to be very creative, but based on a classic. 

It’s called Don’t Doughnuts so, yeah.  One day I thought,  I needed to think of a name that’s really different and also very catchy. So, yeah, so as I said, don’t, I Don’t Doughnuts . And I pitched it to my partners and they said, yeah,  that’s a name that is definitely catchy. So we registered it.  Although it was two and a half months that long,  it’s not that long,  especially here in Australia and also  if you consider  the pandemic like what’s happening. Yeah, it was definitely quick, but it was a lot of hard work.


[00:13:10] What do consumers expect in Sydney vs. in Manila?

Yeah, I guess it’s the same, like what I mentioned earlier it’s pretty basic here. So basic is fine cause they’re basic is quite good because they use amazing ingredients. But again, there’s nothing much that really stands out. That’s why I thought of donuts. Because there’s so much room for this type of donut.

So yeah, very handcrafted and artisanal yeah it’s kind of the same.  Because in the Philippines, if you look at Instagram and Facebook, there’s so much so many different varieties, so many different approach and flavors in different tiers. From the cheapest ones to the expensive ones, we in the Philippines, we have everything.

I guess when I was thinking of Don’t Doughnuts, I was thinking, as a Filipino, and at the same time as an Australian that I need to stand out enough. Stand out because every time I think of my next move, I think about what would the Pinoys say, what would my  dessertarians say? But at the same time I need to cater to the Australians, who are a very again, laid back and they’re very simple minded. They  really like- if it’s good, it’s good. For Filipinos, let’s check again, let’s have like  more decoration,  and let’s look at the story behind that.

Again, nothing wrong with that. It’s just two totally different way of thinking, way of bringing. But again,  I’m still Filipino, they call it Filo here, so I’m still Filo. I guess, like I have to divide my brain, like my pinoy side and the Australian side already and merge that. I guess, like every time I’m able to find that balance it’s  quite special. So I ended up with something really special.


[00:15:03] What was the hardest part in opening a restaurant in Sydney?

Chef Miko: Okay. Just to tell you, because you know, me and Charles and Christine,  my business partners in the Philippines. So  you know us like we already have a certain set of –not framework. I wouldn’t say framework, but when we open a restaurant: Okay, Miko may space tayo this space. And then,ano yung nasa brain mo, let’s pick it? And then Christine will do the fine operation side. So I guess I wanted to channel that way of thinking here.  Oh my gosh. Because in the Philippines we have a big team already because that’s understandable.  I think Tasteless now has like 34- 40 restaurants. I’m not sure anymore. But yeah, so we have a big team here.

Main mean difference is it’s just me and my two business partners,  Michelin (shoutout) but kami lang. All aspects of opening the business, like from getting, looking for the space. Cause it’s not like going to the mall and nandun na lahat ng space or you talk to an agent of SM or Glorietta and then they will give you like  all your options then take care of  everything

Here you have to go to the agent, there’s a possibility they won’t come back to you. So you will be hunting the space. For the concept. I already have that down in my head, that was the first thing, which benefited our company to a certain extent. I knew personally, what the donut shop has to look like, which neighborhood we should open it in. So which clientele or demographic we’re targeting. So here very individual.  People don’t necessarily  yung term na dumadayo. For  us, we always Brave that traffic in Edsa just to get to that dinner or to just to try that. Especially, I guess like you, you experience that every single time when there’s a  restaurant opening, parang oh my gosh, ang layo. But here people  not necessarily do that. Like if they do parang special , if they go for, they call it a destination restaurant. That alone, it means sasadyain  mo talaga .So every person, every suburb has their own market, different attitudes of people, different wants and need. So we had to look for the perfect spot for that because it’s their first branch. Of course we’re looking at expanding the brand but the first one has to be the perfect example.

Yeah. ang dami talaga down to the council. Yung council here parang  barangay permit, so everything you have kami talaga nag-asikaso. So we had to deal and face that. Maybe you’ll think that, oh, maybe because it’s your first one. Yes. Maybe you’re right. But I don’t think there’s another way . If you ask someone to do that for you, it’s going to be a really expensive.

So it’s not like in the Philippines, you have people to help you do that. Here, it’s a lot of legwork talaga . I only started my role like the proper role na baking two days before we opened, which was like Wednesday. I was so excited because I’ve been dealing with electricians with fitters, plumbers. But until two days before the opening, that was the time that I said, I really need to stop. I really need to  make the donuts already.


[00:18:47] What are your favorite restaurants in Sydney?

I guess one of my favorites is where we ate last night lang because  the restaurants here in Australia are very focused on ingredients, very focused, driven on  the ingredients that  they get. It’s unlike  where we’ve eaten in the past in Europe and in Spain, it’s more concept driven.

So it really depends on how… I can’t really say that’s my favorite, that’s amazing. It has  different expectations at that moment, different approaches yung restaurant when it comes to delivering  good food. So, but the one that stood out to me was the one where we ate yesterday.

It’s a modern like fast casual, but fine dining style service. That’s a very big trend here in Sydney. It’s called Chako it’s a Japanese restaurant more yakitori type. But  I think the star of the dinner was their appetizing mousse. I don’t know what the term for charcuterie, in Japanese, but it’s their charcuterie because it was a carpaccio of wagyu beef and then on top there’s uni. So  it’s sashimi carpaccio na wagyu  and then on top there was uni  then parmiggiano, and then there was a 90 degree egg yolk. And then what else was it? And black truffles. So it was conceptually  going to be amazing, but it was the way it was presented and the way it teases  was simple.

And it really stands out because of the freshness of it and also the richness of it. So I’ve haven’t had that type of meal here in Sydney. Because I eat a lot. I eat so many restaurants we both have really high standards when it comes to good food. So eaten in the craziest concept wise restaurants and also the most simple, but properly prepared restaurants.

So I know what I’m talking about, you know what you’re talking about.  So yeah when it comes to good restaurants here in Sydney, you have to kind of set your expectations. If you’re expecting mind blowing concept  there are some restaurants, but it’s not always the case.


[00:20:56] What are your learnings on how can Filipinos elevate our game in the global level?

@chefmikoaspiras

Chef Miko: Thank you for asking that because that’s something that , as much as I can, I would like to communicate with Filipinos. I think  what we were doing is enough, what we’re doing is I know we’re always thinking what’s next, what’s better.  Filipinos  are really hardworking and we’re very switched on. We have dreams and I think that’s enough. We don’t really need to  drive ourselves crazy because our hard work alone is what sets us apart.

If there’s something that we really need to embrace and we’ve already done that the past I guess five, six years is to fall in love with our culture and our food again. So we just have to continue doing that and never be ashamed of what our food is because food now is very diverse. And as long as we’re doing our food justice, we just have to continue doing that. And there’s nothing wrong with that. And we just have to find a balance between perfecting things and also enjoying what we do.

So yeah, they could just to find the joy and  the craft  that’s that’s my best advice for Filipinos. Because for me moving here the best thing that I’ve learned is to appreciate hard work a little bit more because in the Philippines, I was just like work, work, work, work, work,  and also I drive my staff crazy.  When I was at work, there was nothing else, but work like that was the mindset. So here, I learned how to appreciate the hard works of the Pinoys .


[00:22:29] Where can they contact or follow your adventures?

You can follow me on my Instagram page, it’s at @chefmikoaspiras. If you want to see more pictures of my dog,  and my husband, you can check out our Facebook page and also on Tik tok @chefmikoaspiras. I always update my Instagram, my latest things that I do, where I go. You can watch my stories and yeah, more things like this. More opportunities to talk to the audience.


[00:22:55] Can you tell us more about your pandemic project?

@select_kuwait

Chef Miko: If you’re in Kuwait. So this is, I think the one more thing, do we still have time? So during the pandemic one thing that I did. I forgot to mention to you during that time that I had  a little bit of time to do a lot of  like internet stuff like endorsements online. Besides the endorsements that I was able to capture besides those the most unexpected thing happened.

There was a company in the middle east in Kuwait, specifically that asked me if I can help them with their restaurant and their cafe. And then I said, is this going to be a dessert cafe? Cause I’m a dessert chef . And they said yeah,  it’s up to you.  We know what you do. We know exactly your style.

So I said, who is this? Like, who could possibly could give me their trust. Their resources at this time, like during the pandemic . So it’s very risky to  ask somebody who’s from the other side of the world  to help you create desserts for you.  And then, I ended up creating 56 desserts for them.

I’m not really sure if they’ve used all of it already or they’re just still pacing it, but I’ve thought them through  online videos and it’s not like food shows lalabas mo bake na. It was like live and then you record it every single step, because the team that was helping executing my desserts in Kuwait, I haven’t met them. So I’d have to be like, step-by-step. Imagine 56 recipes in my desserts. You know, my desserts are quite very tricky and stylized. So yeah, they were able to achieve all of it. So  I think it was February when they opened.

The name is Select Kuwait, there on Instagram as well. The desserts are stunning, so the place is stunning and I’m not exactly sure how they’re handling the situation there, but it looks like people are going out. I think they have 10,000 followers on Instagram already since they opened.

So it’s such an amazing thing to be part of. I’m really proud of that as well. So that’s S E L E C T Select Kuwait. So yeah,  it’s kind of amazing. So yeah, that’s them.  I didn’t do the burgers and the the savory stuff, but the desserts and a few of the drinks. 

It was an amazing thing to do . How can you teach people from the other side of the world, your desserts so difficult and online lang kayo. You don’t know that the ingredients that they get, I’m sure they have amazing ingredients, we were able to pull it off.  I mean, anything is possible. You just have to grab it, I guess, because I could have easily said I can’t because your brain has to be wired a different way. Cause I’m so used to enforcing my own style and quality, but now I’ve learned to  because of this, we worked on it for three months now. So imagine JV,  my husband was taking care of the camera. Tapos  lahat ng ingredients we have to buy at the store. And then  oven ko lang sa bahay ang ginagamit ko. It was so fun, but wow.

They contacted me in Sydney already,  the owners sent me photos of my desserts. I think, from when I was in college it’s all weird. He really did his research and he really liked my desserts.  But he contacted me when I was here now during this  pandemic,  cause I was able to go back to Manila 2020 last year in March.  I did an event at the grid in Rockwell. So that was my, my homecoming event.  And then they contacted me in May so March, April, may. So yeah. And then we finished the project June, July, August, September, around September. We finished. Yeah. Yeah, that was very different, very different experience.

But if you think that  you don’t have any more choice or are you going to have any more opportunity? Look at that. So if the other side of the world. I think they contacted me on LinkedIn. So parang, hello, ganyan lang so very casually. And then and on Instagram then they contacted me. Yeah.  The world works in the most unexpected ways.


[00:27:22] Any Final thoughts, Chef Miko?

I’m just really happy that I was able to do this with you, Anton because I guess like, you’re one of the people that saw  my career from when I was starting to where I am now. So yeah, I’m just grateful that I’m able to do this and I hope this won’t be the last. And yeah, I hope I was able to inspire someone today.

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