Chef And Mom Waya Araos-Wijangco Cooks, Teaches, And Makes A Difference In The Lives Of Those With Special Needs
Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco
“I started by teaching cooking classes and a mother with an autistic child approached me if I could take her son in,” recalls Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco of how a seed of an idea planted way back in 2011 blossomed into an advocacy. “We tried out for one summer and it evolved to a year-round program with more students with special needs joining the program as word got around. It was eye-opening for me to see how interested they were in cooking and how it made a difference in their lives.”
Chef Waya with Open Hand students
Chef Waya plays multiple roles as a wife and mother, as the chef-owner of the lovely Gourmet Gypsy Art Café in Quezon City, and as the co-founder of the Open Hand School for Applied Arts. The school prepares teenagers and young adults with special needs towards gaining independence in the workplace to ultimately develop the skills needed to secure employment. Aside from classes and workshops, the vocational school also helps the students transition from formal education to paid employment through on-the-job experiences. “I saw that teaching cooking alone was not enough to get them to a point where they could work, so I put up Open Hand School to address their other needs in a holistic setting and train them for employment or entrepreneurship,” she continues. Her restaurant, Gourmet Gypsy Art Café, serves as a training ground for many of her students, as their first exposure to a work environment.
Gourmet Gypsy Art Café
Gourmet Gypsy Art Café
A mother of three, Chef Waya knows how important it is to raise children who are well-equipped to deal with life’s daily challenges. “My children are now adults, or at least adulting. So to nurture and nourish them I try to make sure that they are equipped for the different challenges they are facing now that they are at the beginning of their careers,” she shares. Just like any mom, she’s their number one supporter, encouraging them when they are down, “and push them when they are lazy!” she adds.
Chef Waya with husband Ernie and kids Sam, Nina, and Victor
Her own philosophy on motherhood carries over to how she runs Open Hand and how she deals with their students as well. “I think it’s the little things we take for granted that make a difference in their lives and in their family situations,” says Chef Waya. She explains further, “For example, with our behavior modification program, our students are able to join their families on trips, outings to the mall, family get-togethers and parties with less meltdowns and tears. Our life-skills training program allows for more independence at home, allowing parents and siblings more time for other things than one-on-one care.”
She places much value in self-reliance not just in her own children but also with the students of Open Hand, and seeing them gain autonomy and self-sufficiency is precious for Chef Waya. “Getting them to work and seeing them earn their own money and dream of a life with dignity and independence while holding their own at the workplace may not be significant to society as a whole, but we do our work with one person and one family at a time and hope that somehow some societal impact will happen with that,” she affirms.
Trio of Mediterranean dips
With every dish that Chef Waya and her students at Open Hand prep, cook, plate, and serve at Gourmet Gypsy Art Café, the students’ lives are changed and the future looks ever bright and promising. For Mother’s Day, Chef Waya and her kitchen team prepare a special menu starting with an appetizer buffet of international dishes like Kaffir Lime and Chili Chicken Wings, Toasted Ravioli, and Ubod Nori Spring Rolls, among other delights. The main course is a choice of Sous-vide Wagyu Steak with Blue Cheese Butter, Miso-glazed Halibut, or Porchetta with Salsa Tartufata, served with a choice of sides. Dessert is a choice of Dark Chocolate Flourless Cake or Mango Ice Cream with Miso-Butterscotch Sauce and Strawberries. Chef Waya also offers a special keto plated dessert for health-conscious moms (and dads).
Gourmet Gypsy Art Café, 25-A Roces Avenue, Quezon City, (02) 662-0880, gourmetgypsyartcaf.wixsite.com/gourmetgypsyartcafe
Open Hand School for Applied Arts, RCS Building, Matatag near corner Matulungin Streets, Barangay Central, Diliman, Quezon City, (02) 400-4772, firstname.lastname@example.org