01811: Chef PJ - Both Friend And Idol

New Year 2014

This is the last photo that I took of the three of us - Tobie, PJ and me. This is how I want to remember him - all smiles, adorable as a button with a thumbs-up to show that everything is going to be okay. Just looking at this one photo and writing out that first sentence already has me in tears, but I have a long way to go with this post. When you talk about a man who is as amazing as PJ, it's totally worth the effort. And the tears.

I've always seen my photography as less about art and more about history. I've often jokingly referred to myself as a photo documentarian who tries to capture our lives in stolen moments. And am both thankful and burdened by the many photos that I have. Going through them all now is quite the emotional experience.

Thanks to the wonders of social media, I know that Tobie first met PJ sometime in February 2010. A mutual friend had introduced them to one another during one of Tobie's mid-week O Bar runs at the then-struggling Ortigas branch and the two became fast friends. PJ became the guy that Tobie could drag over to O Bar at a moment's notice while I was busy at work. Based on Tobie's stsories, he struck me as a young man who had it together - he had a dream of becoming a world-class chef and was still a student at CCA. It wouldn't be until March that I'd finally get to meet him in person during a weekend run at O Bar. My first impressions were that he was adorable, charming but ultimately one of the sweetest, kindest guys I had ever met.

And he could go totally nuts on the dance floor.

April 2010

April 2010

These are among the first pictures of PJ that I had ever taken - and this was during Tobie's birthday in April 2010. He wasn't too proud of the second photo since it showed him pretty intoxicated, but I didn't see any issues with it. He was a man who loved and truly lived life. And our O Bar nights were never quite the same once he entered the picture. He'd crash at the Sietch a few times to shake off the worst of the alcohol, but he never really stayed long. He never wanted to be a bother and quickly slipped away when the timing felt right
to him.

As a professional chef, PJ was one of our inspirations to learn how to cook. He always encouraged Tobie and me in our efforts and would shower praises for our creations, albeit over Facebook. But as crazy as it sounds, his compliments felt pretty genuine despite never really having eaten most of our experiments. But he was just that kind of a guy. He made you feel good about yourself and the world at large. He would be the first to crack a big smile - the sort that gets you smiling in turn.

August 2010

PJ has always been one of the most optimistic people that I've ever met, and yet not at all delusional or unrealistic. He was very driven when it came to things that he was passionate about, and naturally cooking was on top of that list. He long struggled with the decision of whether or not to stay in the Philippines, considering that he had offers in Singapore, London and the US.

Halloween 2010
As 2010 drew to a close, it was clear that PJ was more than just a casual bar friend. You know what I'm talking about - the kind of friends that you only see at social events but not really think about beyond that context. As much as we mostly saw PJ only at O Bar, he was always actively engaged with us. We had lots of conversations at the bar, during the long drives home or even just online about his hopes, dreams and loves. And he really loved that Iron Man costume that he had managed to put together for Halloween that year. You have to admit, it was pretty awesome.

School kept PJ pretty busy, and later on his job at Barcino. He really poured himself into his work - clearly cooking was and always will be his greatest passion. And quite frankly, the man is an artist. For someone so young to have such interesting vision when it comes to food, it's a small wonder that some big restaurant abroad didn't snatch him up sooner.

By 2011 PJ has gotten a little scarce. He had gone back to Davao for a time and was reconnecting with his family. That's the one thing that kept him in the Philippines, I think - his love for his family. He didn't share too much about them, but there was no doubt that he loved them a lot - especially his mom. During his sadder moments he'd have status updates talking about wanting to go home and wanting to be taken cared of. He lived a challenging independent life but never wanted to inconvenience anyone. We missed him a lot during this period.

In September 2011, PJ reached out to us for help. He had a big job interview in Manila for a really great post - what he could only term as the dream job - and needed a place to stay. We didn't even think about and opened the Sietch to him during this period. There were a series of interviews and practical demonstrations of his cooking skills so this lasted about a week. In the meantime, he created amazing things in our modest chicken with the very same ingredients. Amazing.

PJ's Chicken Dory Roulade
Long story short, he got the job. He was actually hired as the youngest chef at MalacaƱan Palace! It seemed almost surreal that such a young chef could get a good posting there, but that's PJ for you. He was humble, but also had no doubt in his abilities. And man could he dream big. We were so proud of his achievement, and we were honored to be a part of the effort to get him that job.

September 2011 - Photo by PJ

Ironically celebrated by ordering take-out from North Park. We certainly didn't want PJ to cook for his own special day.

Halloween 2011
Halloween 2011 - Photo by Fritz Valle
The new job kept him pretty busy - what else could you expect from someone who helped cook for the President, right? But he'd still make time to celebrate the big events with us at O Bar, or otherwise he'd arrange for mid-week escapes with Tobie just to de-stress. 2011 was certainly a year of fitness for him and he worked on staying healthy and active in a number of sports including ultimate (frisbee), swimming and running. He was looking really great, quite frankly.

The dream job was pretty demanding of PJ's time though and it got a little trickier trying to get him to join us. If the President had some trip elsewhere in the country, there was a big chance that he'd get dragged along as part of the retinue. But we any chance we could get, we'd have PJ with us at O Bar - even if he arrived late and left early at times.
December 2011

January 2012

January 2012

Between PJ's work demands and our own more personal changes during the first half of 2012, we didn't see much of one another. However the times we would meet up, PJ would be his usual self - all smiles, laughs and crazy dances. But at the same time he was a man looking for love and he wasn't shy about showing someone that he had feelings for the person. He wore his heart on his sleeve and had enough confidence to put himself forward every time. And while he struck out a lot, he just kept on going and would try and try again. The boy had heart, you have to give him that.



2012 was a turbulent year for Tobie and me. And during this time, PJ made himself a little scare - as did other friends. In hindsight, I guess we should have taken that as some sort of a warning sign that not everything was as it should have been.


Then the big break-up happened and PJ was moving behind the scenes. He'd talk to both Tobie and myself from time to time, and he'd always assure us that there was one logical conclusion in his mind - that we were going to get back together. At first he was a lot more sure of this than either of us were. But in the end he was right - PJ typically got his way when he pushed hard enough.

Caught at BED - October 2012
The road back to Tobie was a long and winding one and I had to figure out some things during this "single period" of sorts. But in the end Tobie and I did get back together - and I suppose one of the clearest signs of this was the dinner that Tobie and I had at Las Flores, which was the new restaurant where PJ had transferred to after his job at the Palace. He practically treated us to an amazing dinner just to show us a good time. However, I think he was just setting us up so we'd get back together sooner.

November 2012

November 2012

November 2012
And the rest, they say, his history. Tobie and I got back together. PJ's career was stellar and it was around this time that I started to jokingly call him "idol". But let's face it, there was a lot to admire about his life thus far. He had managed to pursue his dream of becoming a chef and had cooked for the President of the country himself. He went on to lead the Las Flores kitchen for the most part and he continued to celebrate life to the fullest. I honestly and truly respected this young man and I was never shy in letting him know.

Whenever he'd be feeling down, both Tobie and I would send him words of encouragement. When he had problems (assuming he was willing to share them, which was rare), we'd do our best to be there for him. Or sometimes I'd just message him to say that we missed him and hoped that he could make time to see us soon.

He always wanted us to go visit his home in Davao sometime. He had all these plans of what he was going to show us once there and all the different things we'd do. I feel really bad that we never got to take him up on that offer.

As I look at the our friendship over the past 4+ years, I'm rather astounded at all that has happened. There's another hole in my heart where another dear friend has been taken from my life and I now need to find a way to continue to move forward. I know I will, but it won't be easy. After Jayson died, a vulnerability opened up inside me - one that allows my emotions to gush out more than I ever though possible. I've been struggling to stay strong and rein things in as best as possible since I wanted to give his family a chance to grieve in earnest and also to support Tobie as best as I can.

In many respects, PJ is to Tobie what Jayson is to me. As much as I also feel close to PJ, I know that he and Tobie bonded a lot more and that kind of loss is always going to hurt and the pain will never truly go away. I can't take that pain away from Tobie - I will never be able to fully silence the voices in his head that ask whether or not he had done enough as a friend. I hear those same voices in those quiet times when I'm alone at the Sietch or when I'm in the middle of the O Bar dance floor when I hear "Shining Star" play.

But for both PJ and Jayson, the knew how to celebrate life. Both had struggles and challenges that they were facing and both didn't want to burden others with their problems. Both spread joy in this life and yet kept sound heads on their shoulders. The loss of both leave me feeling that much more diminished as I mourn the loss of so much potential for greatness for both of them. I cry now because I miss them and I just want things to be like before when I could expect to catch them at the bar where we could swap funny stories, toast a drink to the good times ahead and dance without care what other people think.

Photo by PJ - Febraury 2014

This is the last photo that either of us have of PJ. He had someone take it after he and Tobie and enjoyed another night out a O Bar. He was pretty stressed because of challenges at work and he asked if he could hang out with Tobie for the night. He never actually needed to ask for my "permission" to go out - either of us would give the world for him. And thus this is how I will remember him - a brilliant, kind, wonderful young man who was just grateful that we were his friends. And I really do hope that we did our best to be the truest possible friends to him as he was to us.

No drama. No complications. Just honest friendship and love. That's who Chef PJ is - our idol. He will be most dearly missed. The world is diminished greatly by his passing.

Paul John Gorieza DasmariƱas was only 23.