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Socoro’s journey to become a chef in Western Australia


    With a long time passion for cooking, Socoro Pagayon swapped her mathematics degree for a career in the kitchen. She completed three courses – SIT30816 Certificate III in Commercial Cookery and SIT40516 Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery and a SIT50416 Diploma of Hospitality Management – at South Metropolitan TAFE’s Bentley campus in order to follow her dream.

    We spoke to Socoro all about her decision to pursue her passion for food, her job creating delicious dishes as a sous chef at the Hilton Garden Inn Albany(opens in a new tab), and how TAFE International Western Australia (TIWA) helped her get to where she is today.

    Learning to cook

    Socoro grew up in the province of Iloilo in the Philippines, where she and her two siblings were raised by a single mum and taught to cook from a young age.

    “My mum raised three of us by herself.” says Socoro. “I was only six years old when I learned how to cook. I started by helping my mum cut vegetables, lighting the wood and picking fresh vegetables from the farm.”

    Pursuing a passion

    Socoro’s mum had always encouraged Socoro and her siblings to study at university. When she finished high school, Socoro studied a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science at Iloilo Science and Technology University in the Philippines.

    After graduating from university, Soroco found a job in a government office in her local municipality. But she quickly discovered that she didn’t enjoy the work she was doing.

    “I decided to quit and started working in the kitchen as a part time job.” she says. “I needed more income, so I worked in a business processing role at the same time. I was doing an excellent job in both professions but cooking outweighed most of my interests.” 

    Realising that cooking was her biggest passion in life, Socoro decided to pursue a career in the hospitality industry and get a qualification in the subject. 

    “I was interested in learning different cuisines, different manners of cooking and different types of ingredients.” she says. “Cooking is all about a curiosity of how food is produced out of those beautiful ingredients.”

    Moving to Western Australia

    With an interest in learning about different cuisines, Socoro decided to study hospitality overseas.

    “I chose Perth because of its perfect weather and demand for skilled migrants, as I knew this would help my career path in the future.” she says. “TIWA also offered a good set of learning programs that could lead to a pathway to employment opportunities in Australia.”

    When Socoro arrived in Perth, she knew that she had made the right decision. “Perth is the perfect city to live in. There’s easy access to everything, from medical purposes to social purposes, and there’s beautiful beaches and scenery. One of my favourite things to do in Perth is to visit the different wineries around the city.”

    Studying with TIWA

    Having been drawn to TIWA for its renowned education programs and career pathways, Socoro was pleased to find that South Metropolitan TAFE lived up to its reputation as a quality training institution.

    “The lecturers were very professional and they helped guide you through your studies.” she says. “There was also a large diversity of students and cultures at TAFE.”

    Socoro enjoyed all of her subjects at TAFE but she particularly appreciated having the opportunity to build on her work experience and develop her skills in an Australian work environment. While work experience is valuable, for Socoro; it also led to her first job in the Australian hospitality industry.

    “TAFE has this work placement program that you have to complete, where they send you to an affiliated workplace to do your training program.” she says. “After my workplace program at The Peninsula Bar and Restaurant, they offered me my first contract as a commis chef (an assistant to a senior chef). TAFE gave me the opportunity to get work experience and a good head start in my career.”

    Working as a sous chef

    These days, Socoro is enjoying life in beautiful Albany(opens in a new tab), located a five-hour drive south of Perth, working as a sous chef at the Hilton Garden Inn Albany(opens in a new tab). While Socoro loves her position, she’s also had her fair share of challenges along the way. For example; when Socoro’s former head chef left, it was up to Socoro to keep the kitchen running smoothly.

    “Keeping up the menu and managing the team with all the COVID-19 restrictions and short staff was quite challenging.” she says. “There are seven days a week of breakfast and food for the bar that need to operate, along with four days of restaurant operations.”

    While the role hasn’t come without its challenges, it’s also given Socoro the opportunity to develop her skills and interact with different people in the hospitality industry.

    “What I enjoy the most about my role is having this opportunity to interact with different business people and expand my connections within the industry.”

    Future plans

    In the future, Socoro hopes to use her hospitality experience to find more exciting opportunities in the industry and travel further afield.

    “I would like to work at a fine dining restaurant or winery and work on a private yacht where I could use my experience to travel the world and cook for different people.” she says. “I hope to be a remarkable chef in the future and develop as an entrepreneur.”

    Advice for future hospitality students

    Socoro advises future hospitality students to consider studying with TIWA.

    “If they want the industry to see them right away, then choose TAFE. TAFE offers hands on training with a remarkable training industry standard that could enhance your educational background and skills, and provide a good head start for your future plans.”

    If you’re interested in finding out more, you can contact TIWA for advice(opens in a new tab) on how to navigate your study and career journey.

    Last updated on August 31, 2023