Take an accountant, a housewife cum businesswoman, a call center supervisor, and a nurse, put them all together, and you get an interesting mix of finalists for Pinoy Masterchef.
But it was former call center supervisor JR Royol who rose to the occasion and came out on top when he bagged the first ever Pinoy Masterchef title.
The talented 29-year old was the final four's only guy left standing, proving he was the champion, thanks to his multi-regional dish.
His dishes throughout the contest duration have started putting Bigorot cuisine, a blend of Bicolano and Igorot influences, on the Filipino food radar.
"Winning," he says during the show's press conference for the winners on Valentine's Day, "feels good and I could get used to it," with a big grin shining through. "Sarap, ang sarap-sarap. Bago, and this is something nasa rurok, pinakataas na accomplishment, and it's a very good experience."
He says that what got him into cooking was life itself. Life as it happened literally pushed him into the kitchen.
His mom, a devout attendee of El Shaddai prayer meetings and gatherings, would leave JR at home, in-charge of caring for himself and his nieces and nephews.
JR remembers, "Siyempre, walang magluluto, so pag nagutom kami, gagawa ako ng diskarte at kung ano ang nasa fridge, luto. Adobo is the first dish na na-perfect ko talaga."
He says the reason adobo was the perfect dish to get right was because it just involved "suka, toyo, buhos mo lang."
A drawback is at that young age, "bawal ka pa mag-experiment, foundations muna."
When he got into college, his family transferred to La Union. He recalls, "We really had nothing, financially, wala kami. So, pag may gatherings kaming magbabarkada, ako yung walang pang-ambag, so imbes na magiging pabigat ako sa outing or inuman namin, nagprisenta ako magluto."
What started as necessity became a hobby. "Naging diskarte ko siya, at nung nagtratrabaho na ako at afford ko na bumili ng ingredients, siya naman ginagamit ko pang-impress sa nililigawan ko, or when I'm trying to make friends in the office I bring them food."
JR smiles at the thought that cooking actually became his go-to-skill as he calls it, especially when he tries to make a good impression or when he introduces himself.
His cooking style is hugely influenced by celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Pierre White. "I have always been fascinated by Ramsay and White, sobrang galing. Lalo kay Pierre White, doon ako natuto sa kanya, sa University of YouTube! Ang galing niya when he explains kung bakit, yung bigay niya sa details. Sila yung nag-guide sa akin."
White, a British and the first to be called a celebrity chef, known for his take on contemporary international cuisine and rebel feel, seems to be a fitting inspiration for JR, who has another side to him, a rocking musical side, in fact.
He is part of a band called Israfel, which for now, tends to perform more for free as they are building up their music credentials.
During the competition, JR admits that the biggest thing to overcome was actually the camera, not the fact of having to cook within a limited budget. "Hanggang ngayon, di pa rin ako sanay, until now, na-intimidate pa rin ako. Pag may naka-focus sa aking camera, nawawala pa rin ako sa sarili. I don't know kung ano yung trick ma-overcome siya, yung to be natural," he reveals.
JR also shares his favorite dish from his competitors, the Pinoy shawarma by Reggie Apolinario made in an invention test. "Nung pinagawa sa kanya ulit, naiwan sa bahay 'tapos walang gumagalaw. Tinikman ko, patulog na ako, 'tapos bumaba ulit ako para ubusin, ganoon kasarap!"
FINAL FOUR. As an added treat, JR is game as he dishes out some thoughts on his fellow top four Masterchef finalists, "Kay ate Carla, I've always had respect kasi, sa lahat ng contestants, sa kanya ako pinakamaraming natutunan. She would take time to teach me."
He was ecstatic when it was him and 40-year old housewife Carla Marcaida who ended up as the final two.
"Siyempre, may kanya-kanyang bet kung sino gusto mo makasama sa finale, siya talaga yung gusto ko. Kahit siya one, ako two, maluwang sa loob ko, kasi master ko siya."
Of fourth placer Myra Santos, the accountant, JR says, "Tingin ko sa kanya competitor talaga, sa silver apron, sa fast forward, lagi kami nagkikita."
Third placer Ivory Yat, according to JR: "From the start, pagpasok ko pa lang sa bahay, stand-out na siya. I think wala na ako kailangan ibuking, kasi she is an open book."
LIFE AFTER THE CONTEST. What's in store for the Pinoy Masterchef winner? He has a Fujidenzo kitchen showcase, a culinary scholarship from Center of Asian Culinary Studies, one-million-peso cash prize, and a one-year contract with ABS-CBN.
Even before the contest ended, JR already planned to leave his call center job. "Kung ano man magiging result, manalo or matalo, I was really planning to pursue this path. Sabi ko noon, sa mga kasama kong chef, after the competition, mag-aaply ako maging steward, start from the very bottom para I can really learn the ins and outs of this craft."
Indeed with all humility, he realizes that, "Mahirap naman you walk into a kitchen and you wear your Masterchef jacket, and then may swag ka na parang I know everything, mahirap naman yun."
Moving forward, he says, involves one very important aspect, "Puso pa rin. Throughout the competition, I can say, I have always been proud of where I came from. I always try to introduce at ipakita na 'eto ang mga pagkain na natikman ko." He explains, it is not necessarily the specific dish but more the tastes and flavors that he grew up with.
"What I want to do is, Filipino dishes in general on a worldwide stage," because he feels that until now, "Filipino dishes natin is still underrated and hindi pa rin kilala, while ironically ang daming magagaling na Pinoy chef na nasa ibang bansa."
He advocates more of a "boost, exposure, someone really stepping forward, someone saying this is where I came from."
His strategy is to employ and exhaust all forms of media in this endeavor.
On top of that, he has already received various offers to write a cookbook, with the idea of traveling the Philippines and making dishes out of the flavors from the different regions. This theme is something close to his heart because as early as December 2012, JR already envisioned himself in the finale, sharing with a friend that he wants to present the flavors that he grew up with for his finale dish.
For this free-spirited yet very locally-grounded chef, the world scene is indeed his stage. He muses, "Ang stigma lagi kapag nanalo ka, paano mo hihigitan. Kasi you have done your best. I am just really looking forward to the worldwide stage, like why not introduce our dishes to Ramsay, to my idol Pierre White, ganoon level. Long-term 'yan.
"Short-term, music is something na hindi puwede tanggalin sa akin, pinagbiyak na bunga 'yan.
"Sa araw, I'm gonna cook. Sa gabi, I'm gonna rock my heart out."