Louis Eguaras: A Pinoy Chef’s Journey to the White House

By Loraine Balita

Chef Louis Eguaras worked his way to the White House kitchen and served many a famous palates like that of Former President George Bush, Sr., First Lady Barbara Bush, Former President Bill Clinton, Armold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Nelson Mandela just to name a few. He now shares with Illustrado the culinary journey that took him from cooking spaghetti in his Mom’s kitchen in Alabang to preparing gourmet dishes for dignitaries in the US capital.


White House Chef in the Making


Born and raised in Manila Chef Louis remembers how as a kid his Mom who was then working for the Intercontinental Hotel would take him to her workplace in Makati. He would spend his time in the hotel kitchen listening to the clanking sounds of the pots and pans and savoring the aroma of the meals crafted by the chef. “I enjoyed going to The Jeepney Grille (Intercon’s restaurant by the lobby) and going into the kitchen watching the cooks and chef. This, I believe was my introduction to the hussle and bussle of the organized chaos of the culinary world,” he shares. He warmed the kind of world he saw in the kitchen — “I loved the uniforms, the language, the terminology and having the chef let me try little morsels of whatever they were preparing,” he explains.

But it was not until he turned 13 when he became absolutely hooked to cooking — just after his mother taught him how to cook spaghetti with meatballs. “I really enjoyed the “mise en place” or the preparation of the meal. I enjoyed the sounds the food made on the sauté pan or when people commented “this is delicious!” He even remembers how he would open his mother’s cookbook and try out recipes.

The Beginning of a Long Journey

“I started working as a dishwasher at a restaurant down the street from me and worked there all throughout high school,” he shares. Right after high school the then 20-year-old Louis enlisted in the US Navy as a culinary specialist. Soon after, he joined the Camp David Presidential Retreat culinary team under the White House Military Office. There he had the honor of cooking for President George Bush, Sr., First Lady Barbara Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle, Second Lady Marilyn Quayle and other presidential guests like Prime Minister John Majors of Great Britain, Prime Minister and Mulroney of Canada.

“When President Bill Clinton won the election, he started downsizing the US Navy and hardly used Camp David because he had allergies,” Chef Louis narrates. And it was around this time when he was given the opportunity of a lifetime.

In 1993, he was offered a job in the White House. Chef Louis grabbed the chance and within a week he was on his way to the White House Staff Mess – “a fine dining restaurant in the West Wing that served the President, First Lady and Senior Staff members like David Gergen, Leon Panetta, Sandy Berger, George Stephanoupolis and Dee Dee Myers,” he shares. During his two years there, he also served many foreign dignitaries like Nelson Mandela and celebrities like Tom Hanks, Jimmy Buffett, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Oliver Stone, James Woods, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.

In 1995 he was offered an opportunity to work in Hawaii as a personal chef for a Four-Star Admiral. He recalls how one of the Filipino Master Chefs in the White House advised him to take his culinary adventure to other places aside from Camp David and the White House to further his career so he said yes to the post in Hawaii. There he would start work by 5am to cook breakfast for the admiral and stayed till a little after lunch. “By 2pm I would be done with my day and by 2:30pm, if I was not at the residence by then, I was at Waikiki Beach or Haunama Bay!”

In 1997 he decided to take his culinary journey to California. There he started his own catering company which he called Presidential Culinary Service and catered for small events. Then one day while teaching his wife Agnes how to cook, the latter noticed how Chef Louis has talent not just in cooking but in teaching. Agnes who has been teaching for more than 15 years encouraged Chef Louis to try his hand at sharing his knowledge to the next generation of chefs.

Teacher Chef Louis

Chef Louis went back to culinary school to finally finish his degree in 2005 before applying for teaching posts in culinary schools. “I started teaching actually at a local college in 2005 and enjoyed it so much.” He then decided to teach at Le Cordon Bleu in 2006 which made him fall in love with the profession even more.

“I am currently teaching at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Hart District ROP Culinary Arts Program and Los Angeles Mission College Culinary Arts Institute.” Chef Louis who has been teaching in Le Cordon Bleu for four years and Hart District ROP for two years is so excited about his new teaching post at the Los Angeles Mission College. He loves sharing his passion for cooking and extensive experience that he even wrote a book entitled 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School. The book is for people who are interested in the culinary arts or for students who are just starting out.

Do Something That You Love

The amicable chef who is currently working on another book advises those who would like to follow his footsteps to ask themselves if this is something that they really love. “The most important factor is doing this because you love what you do when you cook,” he says. He reminds would be chefs to not do it for fame or fortune or to make money right away. “Like any industry, it takes time and it [success] does not happen overnight. Be patient, work hard, play hard and have fun!” he shares.