Norerriz Labrador was at the height of his career in 2016 when a sense of fear overcame him.

“My career was doing well, I had good prospects and good money, but I noticed the feeling of insecurity,” he said.

Mr Labrador had been a pastry chef for a year at The Star in Sydney, Australia’s second-largest casino, when the thought of returning to the Philippines started to surface.

“If [I lost my] job and wasn’t able to find another job I would have to [go] back,” he said.

Afraid of losing his job — and the life he was trying to create for him and his partner — he sought permanent residency with his employer.

Norerriz Labrador trained as a pastry chef in his hometown of Manila.(

ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham


When that did not happen, he turned to regional Australia.

After five years in Mount Gambier on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, Mr Labrador struggles to see himself anywhere else.

While he may have predicted some of the changes, like going from luxury hotel kitchens to a country bakery, he did not anticipate how much he would connect with the region’s landscape.

It is a steep curve from the bustling streets of Manila to the quiet mornings in deep forests, old volcanoes and along the rugged coastline he has fallen in love with.

Cape Northumberland is one of Mr Labrador’s favourite places to photograph in the Limestone Coast.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


Baking since childhood

Mr Labrador was destined to be a pastry chef.

“When I was a kid, we used to have a bakery and I grew up with flour and butter,” he said.

His father, uncles and brother are all pastry chefs.

Mr Labrador said if someone in his family was not a pastry chef, they were a darn good cook instead.

“In our clan, we are a clan of chefs,” he said.

Some of Norerriz Labrador’s photos of his own pastry creations.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


Each weekend, Mr Labrador said his father would bring him small patisseries to try.

“Every time I tasted it [it] was like heaven,” he said.

One day Mr Labrador’s father took him to one of the luxury hotels where he worked.

“The moment I entered the chocolate room was like, ‘Wow’,” he said.

While his family is full of them, Mr Labrador says pastry chefs are a rare breed.

“It takes hard work and your artistic side,” he said.

“If you really like to call yourself a pastry chef, you should know how to make bread, chocolate, ice cream, celebration cakes.”

Norerriz Labrador with entries in live sugar art (left) and chocolate sculpture (right) competitions in the Philippines.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


Working his way up in big kitchens

Thanks to his dad’s connections, Mr Labrador was able to enter the luxury hotel industry after school.

He started out as a laundry attendant, worked his way into the kitchen and learned under top French pastry chefs.

At Makati Shangri-La, a luxury hotel in Manila, he was assigned his own assistants in the kitchen.

One of them, a woman named Mary Jane Valenzuela, went on to become his wife.

Norerriz Labrador met his partner Mary Jane Valenzuela in the kitchen.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


“It’s funny because at first she really hated me,” Mr Labrador said.

“Because I’m very eager and very passionate at times, most of the time I’m a bit cranky and hard to work with.

‘Lucky’ move to Australia

For Mr Labrador, his plan was always to work overseas.

“In the Philippines, you spend a lot of time honing your skills and improving your attitude just for the reason to leave the country … to seek greener pastures,” he said.

After a year of knockbacks, he “got lucky” and landed an opening in Australia in 2015.

But it was by no means a free ride and cost him $16,000 to get himself to Sydney.

“It was very stressful,” Mr Labrador said.

He only worked with his first employer for three months before moving to The Star.

Norerriz Labrador photographed his partner Mary Jane Valenzuela in the Limestone Coast.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


It was not until a year after he moved to Australia that he could bring Ms Valenzuela over from the Philippines to be with him.

“I had never cried that hard in my whole lifetime,” he said.

Moving from Sydney to the country

When Sydney could not offer him permanent residency, Mr Labrador responded to a Filipino friend in Mount Gambier.

The owner of Metro Bakery & Cafe — a large cafe and catering business — offered him a management position and employment for Ms Valenzuela in the same kitchen.

Norerriz Labrador is the head pastry chef at Metro Bakery & Cafe in Mount Gambier.(

ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham


Having never heard of Mount Gambier or the Limestone Coast, he viewed the move with optimism.

“I’d been working in big cities forever,” Mr Labrador said.

“Thinking now, it was a good decision because I rediscovered my love of nature, especially here.

Mount Gambier’s Valley and Leg of Mutton Lakes under fog one morning.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


Falling in love with the Limestone Coast

The days Mr Labrador is not in the kitchen he is still up before the sun but instead of making pastries, he is taking photos.

Sometimes the light works in his favour, other times not.

Norerriz Labrador would love to be a full-time landscape photographer if he had the chance.(

ABC South East SA: Bec Whetham


He had his first camera in Manila but did not really connect with photography until discovering the Limestone Coast landscape.

A big difference is being able to jump in the car and go anywhere.

“For me, to create a good image you have to attach your spirit to the land,” Mr Labrador said.

A collage of Norerriz Labrador’s work in recent years.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


After five years in Mount Gambier that is what the couple are preparing to do; leave.

Mr Labrador said the couple had an agreement that, after spending five years on the Limestone Coast, Ms Valenzuela could decide where they would move next.

While they are not sure where they will go, Mr Labrador plans to eventually run his own bakery in Australia.

Mr Labrador especially loves Leg of Mutton Lake in autumn “because of the beautiful colours of the leaves”.(

Supplied: Norerriz Labrador


“I would want to do a garage bakery thing [where] you bake your bread in the garage and sell it,” he said.

But for now, he is enjoying every sunrise he has left in Mount Gambier.

“I’m really going to miss this place — every day, every hour,” he said.