Bold and sharp
Wax on, wax off: Chef Nicco Santos of Hey Handsome and his new apprentice Kit Gerona
Bold and sharp
Jam Pascual (The Philippine Star) - April 6, 2018 - 12:00am

For the first installment of Axe’s Project You campaign, Chef Nicco Santos holds a cooking masterclass like no other.

MANILA, Philippines — No matter your field of specialization or the industry you work in, the highest virtue is innovation. Talent and diligence are important traits, but you really know you’re doing good work when you bring something new to the table. That’s especially true for creatives, for people who make a living by striving to be original.

This is a truth that Axe espouses with their Project You campaign, a series of masterclasses conducted by special Axe ambassadors known for being experts in their respective fields. For the first installment, we saw Hey Handsome chef Nicco Santos conduct a masterclass and competition for promising cooks who hope to make their mark in the culinary world. The winner of this competition would be rewarded a paid internship with Chef Nicco at his restaurants. These are real stakes, my dudes, and it isn’t surprising that Axe — a fragrance reputed for being incredibly bold and strong — knew how to set them.

The masterclass, which was held last March 17 at the Moderne Culinaire Academy in Taguig, began with Chef Nicco demonstrating how cook his version of the classic Singaporean dish beef rendang — the kind of dish whose unique flavor and texture requirements would make an amateur chef quiver in fear — with his own modern twist. It was a dish he learned to cook while in Singapore being educated by home cooks. After the demo, Chef Nicco called on the gathered contestants and set the terms of the challenge — to make their own dishes incorporating ingredients typical to Singaporean cuisine: chili, coconut and kaffir lime.

Cook off: Kit's version of chicken binakol involved playing with herbs and dressing the dish with lime juice.

Imagine an episode of MasterChef — there was a timer, a pantry stocked with ingredients, the busy clatter of pots and pans and cutlery, high tension. Keep in mind that the point of this challenge was not just to make something good, but to put a twist on a classic dish. The cook that came out on top though was Kit Gerona, who served his version of chicken binakol, a dish comparable to tinola, save for its inclusion of the ingredient of gata.

Kit’s story is one for the books. Upon graduating culinary, Kit would apply to various restaurants only to be met with rejection. And although he’d spend some time working corporate to make a living, he kept grinding on the low-key, nurturing his original passion. “I’d still cook, I’d still eat, travel, try new flavors,” he says. “My love for food was still there.”

Pretty freaking magical then that he’d find himself winning a challenge of innovation by returning to a dish that formed his culinary roots. “My mom used to always cook tinola. It’s my comfort food.”

Kit’s twist involved playing with herbs and dressing the dish with lime juice, and while those changes might seem minor, a good dish is very often more than the sum of its ingredients. Chef Nicco praised the dish, saying that he tasted history and heritage. “There was a lot of soul,” he says of the dish. “Sometimes I eat good food but there’s really no connection.” That’s a real feeling, rooted in a culinary principle that should be obvious but a lot of people forget: good food isn’t made to make you drool or fill you up. It has to tell a story. Kit and Chef Nicco both are compelling cases for how to come to innovation — you gotta have soul.

This is just the first installment of Axe’s Project You campaign, and already what we get is a solid example for how to aspire to the new and elevate your game in one’s chosen field. The campaign will continue with three more master classes from some pretty classy Axe ambassadors — rapper Curtismith for music, artist Jappy Agoncillo for street art, and director Gino Santos for filmmaking. No doubt each class-competition hybrid is going to be a trip.

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Learn more about Axe’s Project You and sign up for upcoming masterclasses at www.facebook.com/AxePhilippines.  

AXE’S PROJECT YOU NICCO SANTOS
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