Donita Rose for Mesa and Bar
Donita Rose for Mesa and Bar | Foto: Donita Rose for Mesa and Bar

Donita Rose: Adapting Sideways

Por: Karen Limón

30, November, 2021 en Luxury Trending

Whether she’s in the limelight or working behind the scenes developing her sumptuous concoctions, Donita Rose Cavett expresses her creativity with passion, grace, and joy embracing each season with love, hope, and positivity.

As a child, Donita’s mother emphasized the value of education to prepare them for a better future. “I wanted to be an astronaut or marine biologist, but my mom who is still a teacher at 74 years old, hoped I would be a doctor. A library with various books, including a vast collection of National Geographic and an entire Medical Encyclopedia was displayed at the center of our home. Therefore, I spent my spare time devouring those books,” she shares.

Raised in a culturally diverse home by a Filipino mother and American father, Donita who is the eldest of four children was born in Utah but moved to Clark Air Base when she was 5 years old and after her third sibling was born. “My parents met while my dad was in the Air Force, stationed on Clark Air Base as my mom chaperoned her best friend on a date. After my parents married, they relocated to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. In Clark, we lived off-base where my mom built a compound for her entire clan to reside with us. I grew up with my aunts, uncles, and cousins living next door. We were all very close, playing together almost every day after school until Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, forcing the military to vacate immediately. I was in the middle of filming a movie called Anak ng Dagat which I jokingly tell people roughly translates as Son of a Beach. Upon returning to Manila, my parents allowed me to stay behind with my relatives for a year to try things out, which eventually led to a 30-year long stint in showbiz,” she informs.

In 1989, the budding teenager joined the entertainment industry by accident when her mother scheduled a trip to Manila to visit the dentist and do some Christmas shopping. While her mom was at the dental clinic, the dentist suggested that Donita and her friend lounge at a TV studio across the street. Little did Donita know this was her ticket to stardom. “We ended up sitting with the audience who were watching a live noon-time variety show called, Lunch Date. Our presence caught the attention of the crowd and the host noticed the commotion. On cue, he made an impromptu, witty remark that his ‘two girlfriends had arrived.’ The cameras shifted toward our direction, and while my blonde classmate waived, I cringed in embarrassment, trying to hide as the audience exploded in laughter.” She smiles.

Donita Rose for Mesa and Bar
Donita Rose for Mesa and Bar

When Donita’s mother arrived, the cameraman invited them to come back later that evening to view another variety show called, That’s Entertainment. “In the middle of the presentation, one of their most popular young stars emerged from behind the bleachers, the spotlight on him while he serenaded my friend and me. After the song, he presided over a short interview with us and asked me if I wanted to audition for the show. I glanced at my mom and she gave me two thumbs up. I was so thrilled to join the Friday edition where I sang, danced, acted, and hosted every week. A competition ensued every Saturday to vie for the performance of the week. We took our role very seriously since That’s Entertainment was recognized to be one of the most sought-after shows in the entire nation. Many of today’s brightest stars including myself were catapulted to fame on this show,” she conveys.

Donita’s claim to fame would be of a quasi-comedian, since every Friday, they had to participate in a segment named, That’s Acting where they were given a short excerpt from a famous Filipino movie during the commercial break and instructed to memorize and reenact it right away. “I could not speak a word of Tagalog/Filipino, nor could I act to save my life, so I became the laughing stock of the audience, and quite frankly, I embraced and enjoyed this immense challenge. The greater the mistake, the more endearing it was for the audience to witness how I never gave up. Sometimes, I would cry or get slapped in the face while being extremely nervous and butchering famous Filipino lines from movies. The audience loved it,” she confides.

Shortly after, this remarkably beautiful woman embarked on her first film entitled, Katabi Ko’y Mamaw, known to be an amusing spin-off of Demi Moore’s movie, Ghost. Donita struck a chord with her viewers and fans which forged her path to engage in 36 more films. Her latest family comedy film, Seven Sundays is featured on Netflix. Donita is fondly known for her naive and sweet role as Barbie Doll Dinero on the five-year comedic sitcom, Ober da Bakod. She also played the counterpart of David Hasselhoff in her first international film called Legacy.

“My favorite roles are playing a deep-sea pearl diver in Anak ng Dagat (Son of a Beach), Barbie Doll on the sitcom Ober Da Bakod, and the villain, Cecille Carreon in Let the Love Begin. There was a stark contrast in the way fans received my persona after that show aired. People seemed afraid of me and I loved it! I told them not to worry because I don’t bite in person, only on TV.” She winks.

After filming Legacy, Donita’s career blossomed and she moved to Singapore and worked as a Video Jockey at MTV Asia. Her talent, exposure, and experience opened wider doors for her. “These were the best five years of my life where I traveled around the world, interviewed the biggest Hollywood celebrities and recording artists, landed on the cover of many of the top fashion magazines like Cosmopolitan, Teen, and even made it to the cover of Time. I shuttled back and forth every week between Manila and Singapore and also had many side gigs in between doing hosting events and concerts, commercial modeling, shooting films, and holding TV appearances,” she narrates. Donita won the Asian Television Award for Best Light Entertainer for her performance on MTV. “This award meant a lot to me because I am a frustrated comedian and felt like I did something right. When I gave my acceptance speech, I seriously blurted out while shaking in disbelief, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting an award and also getting paid to do something I would do for free!’ Upon returning to work, they jokingly announced that I would no longer be receiving a salary. I never repeated that speech,” she laughs.

Donita Rose chef for Mesa and Bar
Donita Rose chef for Mesa and Bar

During the summer of 2000, Donita reconnected with an old friend from Clark―her brother’s best friend and a romance emerged. Six months later, they got engaged, then tied the knot a year and a half later. “Our wedding was a special feature that aired on the TV network that launched my career. I gave birth to a baby boy a year later. After a two-year hiatus from show business, I received an offer to be a TV host of a morning show named, Umagang Kay Ganda which compelled us to move back to the Philippines from Singapore where we were based,” she reports.

Succeeding her stint as a morning show host, this multi-faceted woman felt this was the best time to explore, entertain, and pursue her other passion—food. “One of my best friends called me up one day to inform me that her husband surprised her by enrolling her in culinary school. She wanted me to join her, but at that time, the TV show occupied my schedule. She invited me as her guest during her restaurant stimulation day, and the minute I stepped inside the premises, my heart started beating so fast, like the school was calling out to me. Following the dinner, she introduced me to the owners and expressed my desire to enroll. They offered a sponsorship for me and my assistant and we completed the entire one-year course with flying colors. As difficult as it was, and even if I ventured into this career a little later in life, I never regret making this dream of mine a reality,” she notes.

Donita only realized years later that she had followed the footsteps of her paternal and maternal grandmothers who played an instrumental role in her appreciation and fondness for food. “I was named Donita after my paternal grandmother and Rose after my maternal grandmother. Grandma Donita (who went by her second name Ramona) was the town cook and Rose was the family comedian. Grandma Ramona never lived to see me become a chef but she and my dad had a very big part to play in my passion for cooking. Every summer, our family would split half of our summers between Oklahoma with Grandma Ramona and the other half with Grandma Rose in Daly City, CA. Most of the cooking I ever did was in the kitchen was with Grandma Ramona making meals with her while we could see the boys outside in the backyard being supervised by Grandpa Marion in his denim overalls literally standing with a pitchfork in hand as they tended the garden,” she quips.

“She taught me how to make Zucchini Bread, Squash Bread, Cherry or Peach Cobblers, Roast Turkey, and all the yummy sidings like Mac and Cheese, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy, and Buttered Veggies. As I grew older, I kept the tradition of helping my dad prepare our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals every year. Cooking something exceptional for my family during special occasions became my way of showing love for them. I would save up my allowance to buy pre-made stuff like Mac and Cheese, Pillsbury cakes, and cupcakes and eventually tried creating more elaborate stuff. One day my younger sister tried to return the favor and made ramen for my birthday. She placed it on my belly while I was still sleeping and when I sat up, it spilled all over my leg. I still have a huge burn scar from that incident but I always tell my sister its purpose is to remind me that her love for me burns so deeply.” She smiles.

After Donita completed her externship, she bid farewell to her stint in the morning show and migrated with her family to the US to live with her mom and extended family in Las Vegas. However, since she had difficulty finding a place to conclude her externship, Donita returned to the Philippines and through the help of her manager, they closed a deal with the Crowne Plaza Hotel for her to reside for six months until she consummated her remaining 400 hours while also doing TV appearances on the side before moving back to Las Vegas.

When Donita returned to Las Vegas in 2013, she got to taste the fruits of her labor when she acquired her first job and was the only female chef among a team of 29 male chefs working for Kumi, a Japanese restaurant in Mandalay Bay. “I was so proud of my new job and being surrounded by seasoned chefs from around the world. After a month of training, I shared my excitement in an interview, informing them how amazed I was to witness the art behind everyone’s craft, and how sometimes, before starting work, I would stand in the middle of this 10,000 square foot modern restaurant and just watch the various ways these different chefs would sharpen their very expensive knives, from steel, to two knives, to a leather strap and a whetstone. It was one of the most breathtaking moments of my culinary journey. Sadly, the day after my interview aired, I received word that they were letting me go. I was utterly and completely crushed as the Executive Sous Chef had mentioned that he was so impressed with my eagerness to learn that he was going to mentor me for three months before deciding if it was a fit, which, obviously was unexpectedly cut short,” she reveals.

Eager to develop her culinary passion and hone her craft, during her hiking trip, Donita met a chef that worked for Eurest Catering Services, a division of Compass Group which is the world’s largest foodservice company at the new headquarters of Zappos. “I was offered the position of Prep Chef at The Bistro wherein my responsibilities involved prepping with the rest of the team in the morning before I worked on my station, which was one of 3 sections on the line, the Deli Station. Since one of the benefits of working for the company was partially subsidies meals, (the charge for each station was an incredible price of $4 only) I created a new special every day of my choosing. The sky was the limit for my ingredients and I could produce whatever I wanted as long as I ran it by the Executive Chef, Daniel Concepcion,” she says.

Aside from being an amazing mentor, Daniel gave Donita the freedom to use her imagination with no limitations. While coaching her on the side, he provided insight and inspiration which empowered Donita to maximize her full potential. “He would pop in twice a day to check on me and provide tips or a quick demo on how to improve the food which always left me flabbergasted. I was proudly able to incorporate several Filipino-inspired meals like the Adobo Wraps in the menu which were a huge success. I could not have asked for a better and more encouraging mentor, especially since I was facing challenges in my marriage,” she expresses.

Donita rose wearing pink for Mesa and Bar
Donita rose wearing pink for Mesa and Bar

Making headway after 9 months of working at Zappos, Donita entertained an offer from Manila to be a TV host of a morning cooking show called, Basta Every Day, Happy. Aside from receiving a higher compensation, Donita utilized this opportunity to showcase the whole nine yards of the knowledge, expertise, and experience she garnered since graduating from culinary school. “A few months before the show ended, we came up with a cooking contest for kids ages 9-12 allowing the winner to bag a ton of prizes including an all-expense-paid culinary course. I was one of three judges and it was one of the most fulfilling shows for me. I so loved high-fiving the contestants, learning about their stories and encouraging them on their culinary journey, which I felt made an even greater impact on the people watching the show. This is where I felt most significant in my element as a host, chef, and inspirational speaker,” she discloses.

When she completed the final season of the show, Donita continued to push the envelope and obtained an offer to play her first villain role in a prime-time romantic comedy soap opera entitled, Let the Love Begin. “I was absolutely petrified and facing depression because my marriage was falling apart. I also didn’t fully master speaking in Tagalog. Surprisingly, it was a season in time where networks provided acting coaches on set. I completely latched on to my coach for support on and off the set through her workshops to better understand acting. Through her teachings, I utilized my first true experience with depression, anxiety, insecurity, and the likes for the character I had to portray,” she uncovers.

“As someone who was raised to always be kind to others, I encountered difficulty figuring out how to channel this supposed alter ego. Anne Villegas, a veteran actress and also a Christian like myself helped me tremendously, not only to play the antagonist but also assisted me to heal by expressing these suppressed feelings through acting. I studied my lines to save my life and Anne taught me how to interpret each line, moment by moment, not very scripted and mechanical, but almost like a symphony orchestra where you feel each of the many notes as you go along,” she adds.

While battling depression, Donita acknowledged God’s presence during her painful season. God transported Donita to greater heights of her journey. “I discovered a whole new incredibly ugly and beautiful, humane side of me and had never been prouder of myself. I felt like this was one of the greatest breakthroughs of my life to embrace the, I dare say, almost pretentious side of me, who always felt it was a sin to have bad feelings. The epiphany showed me that it wasn’t awful to possess negative emotions, but how we handled them defines who we are. This initiated my love and appreciation for acting which served as a useful outlet for that season of my life,” she voices out.

Moving forward, Donita appeared in another soap opera called, That’s My Amboy. She also launched her YouTube Channel Vlog entitled, Ingredients for Life which captured the attention of a canola oil company and hired Donita to be their brand ambassador. “I developed 50 recipes for them in 4 years to elevate Filipino cuisine with a modern flair. The name of the show was revised to Dash of Donita with 8 episodes featuring some of my closest friends from show business as I recreated their favorite Filipino dish with a twist,” she states.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world, Donita worked hard and dabbled around various social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram conducting live cooking demos but this wasn’t enough to sustain her living expenses. “I decided to pack my bags, along with my son, and move back to the US. My brother and his wife offered to take us in until I found a job. An old friend of mine informed me that one of her closest friends in the US happened to come across an article about me migrating to the US. She read about my goal of finding a job related to the Filipino community where I could utilize my platform in showbiz to promote modern Filipino cuisine. We worked on a trial project for the Island Pacific Private Label spice mix packets with my modern version recipe displayed on the bottom half on the back of each packet and they loved it. Shortly after, they asked me to come onboard full-time as a Corporate Chef. I am now based in Santa Clarita and currently the R&D Chef of Island Pacific Seafood Market which currently has 17 branches across California and Nevada,” she imparts.

Being the dynamic, outstanding, and impressive woman that she has established herself to be, Donita fuels her inspiration and passion by searching for the latest food, gardening, design, and fashion trends on Pinterest and Netflix and also listens to Christian podcasts and songs. Upon starting her job at Island Pacific Seafood Market, Donita’s first responsibility involved relaunching Chirp and Oink, a Filipino-inspired Chicken and Pork based fast-food menu. “The Santa Clarita branch is the only branch where Island Pacific Seafood Market houses 5 pop-up test restaurants. We retained its best-sellers like the Chicken and Pork Empanadas, the classic Filipino Sweet Spaghetti with Hotdogs and Cheese, and the Crispy Fried Chicken, then I had the honor of injecting my concept: Rice bowls from around the world topped with your choice of Chicken or Pork Cutlet and sauce. I added one or two bowls at a time that I felt were uncommon, like the Hainanese Bowl, to which strategically, my goal was to get Filipinos to open their minds to slight changes in their favorite Filipino dishes like the Adobong Condensada and Binagoongan which incidentally are the best-sellers.” she shares.

Donita Rose wearing a red dress for Mesa and Bar mag
Donita Rose wearing a red dress for Mesa and Bar mag

“I am incredibly grateful that Island Pacific Seafood Market has welcomed me into their family and made me feel so at ease. More importantly, I feel that this job is a culmination of all my travels and food experiences which the bosses are very supportive of. The menu which I am currently working on now called Halo-Halo, which has 9 various dessert choices with 16 different flavors. This is a little farfetched from the previous menu and when I convinced my boss to buy a Korean Snow Ice Machine, I heard he was a little irate that it was too pricey, yet he did not hesitate for one second.” She grins. “When I explained in hindsight that I needed a soft-serve Ice Cream machine to balance all the flavors, dead silence greeted me for about a month and a half, while I shed a few tears and prayed hard for an answer. Lo and behold, my wish was granted and the machine is now on its way. Adrenalin rushes through my veins when I can push the boundaries in expressing creativity, especially during this pandemic,” she adds.

Blazing a trail with two careers under her belt, Donita has always given a 100% in everything she does combined with integrity, kindness, and gratitude. “In the entertainment world, they say that you’re only as good as your last project. In the culinary world, you’re supposedly only as good as your last dish. If this was the case, I would be a B grade film about a crispy pork cutlet named Oink, which, in my opinion, doesn’t give justice to my career for the last few years. I have been so blessed to have lived my life many times over enriched by the most interesting experiences, both in the Philippine entertainment and culinary scene. I don’t think either side has truly embraced me as the best of either, but for the most part, Filipinos have been stupendous cheerleaders.” She smiles.

Donita obtained a one-year contract with a series of infomercial ads that air on the Filipino Channel and just snagged an endorsement deal for a Medical Spa which enables her to obtain free regular beauty treatments. Her hard work, versatility, and perseverance have cemented the path to overcoming challenges and seizing victory. Through her positivity and strength, Donita continues to live her purpose which is to glorify God in everything she does and enjoy His presence on Earth as practice for eternity. “God is the greatest thing that ever happened to me, and therefore, I win. I may not be the finest actress or an outstanding chef but I am living my best life. No matter what season I am in my life, I am incredibly grateful,” she concludes.

She has lived her life with a relentless spirit, a gracious heart, and an eternal flame to grow, inspire, and influence mankind. Donita Rose Cavett is a true survivor who embraces all the possibilities and has chosen to adapt sideways.

Donita endorses her creative concoctions.

Chinese Orange Rice Bowl
Our simplest bowl is a combination of a zesty Orange Sauce drizzled over Japanese Rice, topped with a Crispy Cutlet, Orange Segments, and a Sweet Chili Sauce.

Japanese Teriyaki Rice Bowl
Our second simplest bowl is a bowl of Japanese Rice drizzled with Teriyaki Sauce, topped with a Crispy Cutlet & sprinkled with Furikake or Japanese Seaweed with Sesame Seeds & Wasabi and topped with Pickled Ginger.

Hainanese Rice Bowl
Probably our most complex bowl on the menu. The bowl has Chicken Rice made from Chicken Stock and Ginger, topped with our Crispy Cutlet and garnished with cucumber. It is drizzled with 4 different sauces, namely fresh Ginger w Sesame, Sweet Chili, Dark Soy and Chimichurri (an Argentinian sauce made with Parsley and Cilantro).

Filipino Binagoongan Rice Bowl
This proudly Filipino comfort food is served with Japanese Rice and a generous smearing of Bagoong or Shrimp Paste with a bed of Ensalada or Tomato Salsa then drizzled with Wild Honey, and topped with a Crispy Cutlet before drizzling with our freshly made Chimichurri sauce. It is served with a citrus wedge, sprinkled with Black Sesame Seeds, and topped with Slivered Onions.

Tonkatsu Omurice Bowl
Similar to our Teriyaki bowl, this bowl consists of Japanese Rice drizzled with Tonkatsu Sauce then topped with a caramelized Onion Omelette and Broccoli Slaw with a Mayo-Sesame Dressing. A cutlet is added and drizzled again with Tonkatsu Sauce before topping with Pickled Ginger and Slivered Green Onions then finished with Furikake and Black Sesame Seeds.

Photographer: VINCENT GOTTI @vinniegotti