In Conversation with Pauline Benzon-Tana – Our Head of Creatives who loves cheeseburgers

ICCA Dubai Creatives

A dorky Asian as she calls herself, Pauline heads the creative team and digital marketing at ICCA Dubai. She’s a design enthusiast, who hails her cousin Roland and her grandmother Trinidad as her inspiration for anything creative. She’s a trained classical pianist too, currently finishing her specialise online course in Classical Music and Composition with Yale School of Music and she’s known to go around the school on her headset listening from anything pop to classical Bach.

When she is not working, you will find Pauline in a lot of places all over Dubai. She spends most of her time with her nephew, whom she frequently posts on her Instagram account or she’s at Kite Beach eating her favourite ice cream at the famed restaurant, Salt.

A cosy chat with her to know more about what goes on behind the scenes and in her life when the show ends for the day at ICCA.

Me: You began your career in the Philippines. What brought you to Dubai?
My nephew.  He’s the primary reason why after over a decade of work in the Philippines, I decided to just uproot myself from the comforts of home to the very desert of Dubai. I felt like I was missing too much about him and although technology was a great help, nothing beats the moments when you see them actually laugh in their own way, at times when life doesn’t make sense, just talk to a kid, everything will be alright after that.

Me: What is about the food industry that appeals to you given that you started as an IT professional?
Pauline:  I am a big fan of food. Anyone who came from the Philippines is a big fan of food. That’s all we love to do, eat. We’re a big eater.

So transitioning from IT to Food Industry is not much of a big challenge because I was working as a Marketing Head, where food tasting before an event is one of the perks. I have been blessed to have been able to taste the food and visit world’s best restaurants and meet chefs even before I started with ICCA.  So the knowledge is there, it just needs to be fine tuned. it’s always a great pleasure to learn new things!

Me: How different were things for you when you began at ICCA?
Not much really. Just bigger space. But the goal was the same… to teach, impart knowledge and make sure when they finish the course, the school gave an impact to their life and they have learnt what they need to start the journey of their culinary career. And I’ve seen the changes in them, which I believe is the ultimate gift you can give back to your mentors. The idea of knowing that their life has changed for the better because of what they learned from you.

Me: We know how much you love cheese burgers…
Pauline:  I do. It’s a comfort food I would never strike out of my life ever. Like ice cream, popcorn and cotton candy. And we all need that, what’s life without comfort food?

Me: The part of your job that you would not even trade for a cheeseburger?
My job itself. I love working. I learned early on in life that my dedication to learning a craft I want to excel in, is a magical journey. You cannot make it about other people when you fail, you fail on your own, and you don’t bring other people down. Let them have their own realisation, their own journey and own stories to tell. That’s what working is all about, it is a lot of sacrifices. And for me, it was my time away from my handsome nephew. Although it pained me not to be there always, I was doing something I want to do, and until such a time that I know I’ve learned everything I can learn from it… only then I decided, it was time for another great adventure.

It’s important to value what you can do. Other people will not find it for you, it is a responsibility you have for yourself. Know your limits. Don’t over-promise something you cannot deliver, I have learned that from working with a lot of brilliant IT CEO’s and CTO’s in my previous job that when you can’t do it, say it… then learn it. That would be more an admirable trait to have with one employee. Know your strengths. Once you find all of this, you’re halfway through the battle.

Me: You also love to travel. Share with us some of your travel anecdotes.
Traveling was a perk of the job before. I have reached literally from point A to point B in the 7,100 islands of the Philippines. And it was a great adventure I shared with my previous marketing team.

For me, when you can do it, do it. Travel. Learn the culture of the world, meet people, take pictures, have an ice cream, get into a train ride, ride the ferry, ride the bus, get lost in a new city, pray in a church, in a mosque, in a temple, read a book and appreciate where you are. There’s so much to see with so little time.

I love traveling alone, my favourite travel destination will always be home. A quiet place in El Nido, Palawan called Small Lagoon, you stay in your kayak, bask in the sun and be thankful for the silence and the beauty around you. My favourite food destination is and will always be my second home – Hong Kong. I love Asian food, I can eat egg tarts forever and the street food in Mong Kok will be heaven on earth for me.

Me: A student-chef from ICCA who inspires you and why?
There’s a lot to mention. Most of them who inspire me are the ones who changed their life to be where their passion is. Because you can always make excuses as to not follow what you want in life, but there’s always something great in the beauty of allowing yourself to fulfill it.

I also find it admirable how selfless people are when they tell me that what made them decide to do the course is to help their family back home. So they sell everything they have and to have that responsibility in such a young age, is unimaginable. I feel blessed to not have that kind of plate on my shoulder, it takes strength of will, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually to set your life on that road and I truly admire them for that.

Me: You also have a pet cat. I know that from our conversations at the breakfast table in the cafeteria. Would you like to tell us about your pet or pets?
Yes. We like adopting stray cats back home. My first set of stray cats were named Walis and Dustpan (Walis is the Tagalog term of broom), I think I was about 8, I also had a dog named Fishball. Then we had loads of dogs, cats, rabbits and hamsters in between.

In Dubai my sister was given a pet cat named Yuna, then I adopted one myself and named him Lord Voldemort cos he’s a black Siberian cat and looks like a thug who can rule the world. He was very scary and sweet. When he died recently, I was quite heartbroken. But that is the reality of adoption, you don’t really know their history until you need to take them to the vet when they are vomiting all over your apartment. Then one day, a friend of mine showed me a photo of an abandoned cat in International City during the rainy days in Dubai and I was like… Oh my God! Let me go get him! So I contacted a Charity Group, went there and took him home with me. He’s the sweetest looking cat ever, like Puss in the Boots when he’s doing his eye thing. And to true Harry Potter pet-naming fashion, I called him George Weasley.

Adopting cats or pets for that matter is hard work. It is a lifelong commitment and you don’t just change your mind when you’re done with your life in Dubai or anywhere else. They need more love and care because these pets have had it rough sometimes. They will reciprocate your love with such loyalty you never know possible.

Me: Your dreams and aspirations?
I always aspire to be a better human being if possible than what I was a year ago… it’s still a work in progress, might get back to you on that in 2020.

I will always dream of world peace and free education to all. For myself, I don’t have really. I just want to work, eat, sleep and watch Harry Potter and Star Wars and have enough money to buy great books to read and toys to collect. Simple dreams. Realistically speaking it is somehow doable.

Me: Pauline is…..?
Crazy. Don’t be like Pauline. #fact:P


Shagufta Patel

With an academic background in Marketing, Shagufta is also an Image Advisor, Life-Skill Coach and a NLP practitioner with a penchant for writing. She intends to add value as part of the marketing team at ICCA and grow through new experiences. As passionate about food as she is about people, she believes that cultures though diverse across the globe; the one thing that holds common for nations and its folks, is that everyone loves a hearty meal prepared with love and care. Food according to her is the melting pot where all differences just vaporise and she is happy to be part of a culinary potpourri.

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