Humans of Harker: Tailoring each spoonful to perfection

Phil Han (12) forges his own lifestyle through tremendous motivation and dedication


Esha Gohil

“Cooking [is] something I just love doing. Everything I do stems from one basic belief I have in my life: YOLO. Do whatever you love. You don’t want to feel regret over not trying harder, over not being better at something you actually love. So, trust me, give your absolute all in everything you do because if you give it 100 percent, then there won’t be anything to regret when you look back at it,” Phil Han (12) said.

His hands grip the knives tightly. After a long deep exhale, Phil Han (12) moves his hands at an almost imperceptible blur, sliding the knives, one on top of another, to sharpen them. As his chill music playlist begins to play another song, Phil’s shoulders ease up, and his head bops to the beat of Bazzi’s “IFLY,” while his face breaks into a grin stretching from one ear to the other. He refocuses: his eyes suddenly dart to the verdant green celery bunch that rests atop a chopping board, the knives come down with a satisfying crunch, releasing the celery’s fresh and distinct odor.

Fast forward a few minutes and Phil deftly tosses the freshly chopped vegetables into his aromatic home-made Bolognese sauce. As he patiently stands by the stove, watching the sauce simmer, Phil checks on the garlic bread which is slowly roasting in his conventional oven. He gently caresses the toast as if it were the cheek of a newborn, then yanks his burnt finger back after a second. 

After tasting a spoonful of the sauce, Phil takes a pinch of seasoning and flamboyantly sprinkles it into the sauce. When the sauce has reached Phil’s level of perfection and has been added to the spaghetti, he takes a fork, swirls it around in the potful of spaghetti, brings it over the plate and with his other free hand grabs a spoon and twirls the fork on it. 

After the spaghetti is substantially twirled, Phil brings the fork to a stop and gracefully plates the spaghetti onto a minimalistic china dish. Not yet finished with his plating, Phil adds a pesto purée circle around the plate and finally tops off the tower of spaghetti with a parsley leaf. He sets the picturesque platter down and playfully dusts off his hands, a grin spread across his face.

Phil has loved the art of crafting culinary delights since his freshman year, but Phil would not have realized his passion for cooking were it not for his own health concerns. After his doctor revealed that he was clinically obese and needed to shed considerable weight to prevent his health from failing, Phil realized the problem. With his mother away on frequent work trips to China, he, his father and brother often went on fast food runs. But he refused to sit idly by — instead, Phil was determined to change this lifestyle to become heartier and more sustainable which would not only enable to become healthier but also to improve his confidence.

“Being obese absolutely ruined my confidence. I used to have trouble with the smallest things like I’d get so scared about even asking a waiter for a glass of ice water. Then, in sophomore year of high school, I was like ‘Why am I so dissatisfied with life? This is my time!’ So from then on, I started intensively dieting, weight training and heading to the gym five times a week. And two months later, I had a normal BMI again,” Phil said.

Phil’s determination to take control of his health shone through and his friends were quick to discern the motivation and dedication he applies to anything he sets his mind to.

“Phil’s extremely driven. When he sets his mind on anything, he’ll complete it no matter what. I remember one time when we were hanging out at the beach later than we expected, so Phil ended up doing [his] daily ab routine on the beach instead of joining us in the water,” longtime friend Sidharth Dudyala (12) said. 

But Phil refused to stop there. Despite his vigorous work out sessions, Phil also worked to bolster and replace his diet from fast food runs to homemade food – something he taught himself by experimenting with different ingredients and watching videos online. Since he started cooking, he realized that it is not just something that he does from necessity; instead, cooking is something he does because it comes from the joy and love that he achieves from cooking for his family and himself.

“Cooking [is] something I just love doing,” Phil said. “Everything I do stems from one basic belief I have in my life: YOLO. Do whatever you love. You don’t want to feel regret over not trying harder, over not being better at something you actually love. So, trust me, give your absolute all in everything you do because if you give it 100 percent, then there won’t be anything to regret when you look back at it.”

Phil carries the same mindset over to football, a sport he initially began playing in freshman year. At first, he decided to try it out because his size would provide him the opportunity to be dominant on the field; after he began working out and cooking, Phil grew to love the sport, becoming stronger both physically and as a player. In the end, the mental grit and determination Phil dedicated to his craft all paid off with his captainship this year.

“I enjoy the sport so much more now than I did in freshman year because I [strove] every day to become better as a teammate and a player,” Phil said. “But that’s not why football is so huge to me. I love how close it brings you to your teammates. In football, you’re essentially on the field going to war together, battling the other team and getting hurt together. It’s a brotherhood; it’s a bond that comes only from football.”

Outside of cooking, working out and playing football, Phil also takes great joy in representing and leading his club, Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA). In fact, he credits DECA with his transformation from a once shy and under-confident student to a more extraverted and confident leader as the club’s CEO.

“The first thing that struck me about [Phil] was that he was a very shy person. But as I grew to know him better as a friend, I realized how caring he was about the people around him … I’ve been fortunate enough to see him change from a bit of an introvert to a caring club officer to now an amazing DECA CEO,” friend Ishaan Chandra (12) said.

At the end of the day, Phil’s friends can all testify to the incredible transformation that Phil underwent. Once a self-proclaimed “meatball,” Phil works every day to be the authentic friend he hopes to be remembered as after his high school journey ends.

Phil has … gained a confidence that has become a central part of who he is through his hard work in all of his pursuits and as a result he has become the top dog in each of them. But what stayed the same is how much care he has for his friends. When you’re around Phil, you get so much authenticity. And I’ve always loved that about him the most,” close friend Max Lee (12) said.