Geraldine De Leon - The Overseas Fabulous Pinay Chef

Updated: Oct 6

Donna Kuenzler, Switzerland


In celebration of Sisters Day this year, I would like to dedicate this article to my sister, Geraldine Avellana De Leon. A clinical scientist, loving wife and mother of 3, is now also a chef. Based overseas since the year 2000, she has lived in Yokusuka in Japan and Great Lakes, Illinois and San Diego, California in the USA. Winchester, California is now her home.


My sister has always loved baking and cooking for as long as I can remember. So, I was pleasantly surprised when she told me that she has finally decided to pursue a degree in culinary arts.


From the cassava cake fiasco in the 1990’s -she tried so many times to get the perfect formula and our family had to endure the agony of tasting each deceptive yummy-looking but super hard or chewy cakes; to being entrepreneurial with sharing the profits of blueberry bread that she baked and I then sold to my classmates when I was in university; to being a pro when she became a certified Wilton cake decorator and instructor; and finally completing her bucket list of being a chef and winning in competitions, she has really come a long way and I’m super proud of her.


Pursuing her dream


So why would a mother of three and a clinical scientist by profession, in her golden years (I know, she does not even look older than 35 years old!), suddenly want to get a degree in culinary arts?


Geraldine responds, “After raising 3 children and going back and forth to my clinical science profession, I realized that there is always one thing that is a constant source of happiness for me - making food- be it baking or cooking. To become a chef has been my long-time dream. I then decided to finally become a chef, learn more about the food industry, and hopefully someday even teach culinary arts.”


So, pursue her dream she did. She enrolled in the culinary arts degree program of the Los Angeles Trade Technical College (LATTC) in 2020. Despite the pandemic, classes were held online and when the situation got better, Geraldine had to wake up at 4am in the morning and drive 91 miles one way to get to school. She studied full-time for two years while keeping up a family of 5 and 2 dogs.


And how did her family react? Geraldine recounts, “They were super supportive. They were happy to see me learn different cuisines. And of course, they were also proud as they know that becoming a chef is my dream.”


After two years, Geraldine obtained her culinary arts degree from LATTC with flying colors: the President’s honors list and Full-time dean’s honors list.


Geraldine De Leon with her family on her graduation day


Winning in competitions


Being the star student of her batch, Geraldine’s instructors motivated her to participate in the American Culinary Federation’s West Coast Sanctioned Culinary competition in the fall of 2021. With so much faith in her, they encouraged her to participate in three professional, instead of amateur level categories. Geraldine recounts, “I was so nervous but also excited. At the end of the competition, I was so happy when they called my name three times on stage to receive my certificates and award medals.” She won the following awards: Bronze medal for her salt dough “Udon noodles” sculpture, Bronze medal for her hot dessert, “Ginataang Mais”, and Silver medal for celebration cake decorating. Not bad for a first timer!


Geraldine De Leon at the American Culinary Federation's West Coast Culinary Competition


Geraldine and her schoolmates also participated in the recent 2022 LACCD Cup in the tablescape category and won third place.


Geraldine De Leon's Culinary Competition Medals


Looking ahead


Geraldine plans to be a chef in a restaurant and hopes to be a culinary arts instructor in community college. She also looks forward to joining more culinary competitions. MasterChef, watch out!


As a bonus, Chef Geraldine has generously shared the recipe of her award-winning Ginataang Mais. Enjoy!