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Philip Herrera topping off the finished product of Southwest eggs benedict.

Philip Herrera topping off the finished product of Southwest eggs benedict.

Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz

Philip Herrera topping off the finished product of Southwest eggs benedict.

By Alison Hernandez, Cerritos College

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For Philip Herrera, being a chef means creating food for all types of customers as well as making something that is both healthy and delicious — and appealing to the eye.

As an active student at Cerritos College, Herrera dreams of opening his own restaurant and catering to people of all sorts of restrictions, preferences and trends. It’s something he knows he can and will do.

Herrera stays busy with the culinary arts program, running his own private bartending service, working part-time at a food truck and being a student senator at Cerritos College.

As well as being an active member in Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan and Go Green task force club. Being busy is part of the college experience and Herrera is making sure he makes the most of his time while gaining more experience.

Graduating in 2003 from La Habra High School, Herrera never felt like school was for him, at least, in his younger years when he didn’t know where life was leading him.

Herrera attended Mt. San Antonio College right after high school, but that route quickly came to an end.

Focusing on his athletic career, rather than his studies, he found that this was a common problem of his.

After a few failed attempts at college, Herrera moved to what he calls the Bay area, specifically Richmond, California, with his aunt, Mary Dominguez.

Herrera’s aunt, Dominguez, felt he was an artist and making the move to Northern California would be ideal for him to explore and figure himself out.

Living in Northern California for six years, Herrera says most of it was a “blur,” the reason for that being that he wasn’t doing anything productive with his life.

Besides being a professional bartender, Herrera didn’t have much going at that point in his life.

Dominguez says, “He (Herrera) was intrigued by the cooking part…as well as presenting the food and the controlling aspect.”

As well as being intrigued by the cultural and political atmosphere, Dominguez feels that Herrera enjoyed his time in Northern California. Explaining that there “are more cultures in a smaller area, laid back and better traffic,” she said with a laugh.

“Once he gets an idea, he’s impassioned, he finds a way to do it. He is always really into whatever he’s studying, throwing himself fully into it.”

Upon reflecting, he says those were the best years because he found his love for culinary.

“It wouldn’t have been possible to find that passion had I not had the life experience I had,” Herrera said.

Now, fast forward a few years, Herrera is taking his studies seriously and making the most of his time.

“I credit a lot of my reasoning of going back to school and being actually successful to my awakening and what I’m passionate about. Which is cooking and having my own restaurant one day,” says Herrera.

Currently in the culinary program at Cerritos College, Herrera says he fell into the program, not fully knowing what he got himself into.

Nonetheless, he came out successful and three semesters later he says, “I am a certified pastry chef, certified chef, and I’ll be a certified hospitality manager by the end of this semester and [I’m] three units away from my associate degree.”

Hovering over a stove in culinary arts’ kitchen, Herrera shows off his skills, making a southwest eggs benedict plate.

TM Carlos Ruiz
Philip Herrera preparing his twist on eggs benedict.

Making breakfast items comes easy to Herrera since he has had previous experience at a breakfast restaurant.

He’s also said that his preferred cooking theme is California cuisine because it’s healthier, focused on locally-sourced or homegrown organic ingredients. His second go to theme is Latin cuisine, which helped inspire the changes he made to his eggs benedict.

Herrera made what he calls “A twist on classic eggs benedict. Poached egg on top of roasted pasilla pepper, chicken chorizo sausage patty, on a whole wheat english muffin. It’s topped off with Tapatio hollandaise sauce and black bean roasted salsa.”

TM Carlos Ruiz
Philip Herrera the final placement of his twist on eggs benedict. Herrera is currently in the culinary arts program.

Herrera has also stated that he likes to do test runs for the dishes he prepares to make sure things will go smoothly. He likes to take people’s dietary restrictions into account when he cooks as well, something not many chefs are willing to do.

He believes that accommodating for these restrictions challenges one’s creativity, especially when you have to think of ways to work around them and people’s tastes when creating a certain dish.

Chef Michael Pierini was Herrera’s instructor when he took part in the Culinary Arts Department two years ago.

Pierini described Herrera as being a very good student. He said that he was always prompt, focused and driven to learn.

He also said that Herrera is an experienced cook that shows a lot of leadership qualities in the kitchen. He has a very “family-oriented” personality, always looking out for other students and working with them, assisting them and protecting them.

Pierini described Herrera’s character as kind, caring, motivated and driven. He believes his former student cares about the overall big picture of learning and the campus itself. In addition to being in the culinary arts program, Herrera runs his own private bartender side business.

He says, “I’d say I’m very entrepreneurial. I stay very busy. I attribute that to having a lot of life experience.” As far as his private bartender gig goes? He started it up through Craigslist and books home events and parties.

As well as running most of a food truck, the Cheddr Wheel, Herrera is constantly pushing himself to do more and on April 5, he was elected as Cerritos College’s new student trustee.

Having previous experience, Herrera felt he was a prominent choice.

“The funny thing is I’m not a politician. I’m very aware of politics. I read the news, but I’ve never been one to be very politically active. But I got convinced to join the cabinet in the Associated Students of Cerritos College the beginning of last year.”

But Herrera feels being a bystander isn’t enough, so running for student trustee allowed him to be the change he wants to see on campus.

With many things playing a role in Herrera’s life, he ultimate goal is to open his own restaurant in the next year or so.

Adding, “The people that I serve, whether it be people close to me, or people that come into my future restaurant, they won’t feel like, ‘Oh this was an afterthought.’”

He says, “I’ve always had goals in my life but now actually accomplishing those goals that are within my reach and I want to keep moving forward because I feel like I have a lot more to learn.”

Although it took some time, Herrera is on the right mindset and track to fulfilling everything he couldn’t before.

“That’s what I learned about myself. I really enjoy making people happy, and for me, food seems to do the trick.”

This story was originally published on Cerritos College on August 14, 2018.

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