Before the success of his restaurants Your Local and Hey, Handsome, chef Nicco Santos, as an early twenty-something, was, like many other young people, still figuring things out. He liked cooking but struggled with the idea that he would have to work in a “military-style” kitchen to earn his stripes. He dabbled in photography and filmmaking, and sort of enjoyed those pursuits. With some financial help from his now-father-in-law, he even opened a food cart to test his business acumen.
Working in a huge kitchen never happened. His interest in capturing images became more of a hobby. The food cart was eventually shut down.
Years passed until a trip to Singapore and a fateful encounter with the Lion City's national dish, chicken rice, gave him something new and exciting to pursue. Suffice it to say that the trip and that meal changed his life. He decided to stay and, like a man on a mission, begged random Singaporean aunties to let him into their kitchens so he could learn how to cook the dish. After some hustling and negotiation, he was eventually able to get cooking lessons in exchange for his cleaning services.
It paid off. Santos returned to the Philippines reinvigorated and with an exciting concept to share. Along with other business partners, he opened Your Local and, two years later, Hey, Handsome. The restaurants are known for serving unique, no-frills food that everyone in the family can enjoy. That last bit is particularly important for Santos, who considers his kitchen team as his family. And even though he and his associates slave away for hours in the kitchen, he makes it a point to cultivate a working environment where everyone can flourish and enjoy what they do.
Santos's path to success was unorthodox at best; the lack of formal culinary schooling doesn't look good on paper, after all. But he is proof that sometimes, it doesn't take much to realize that you might just have an untapped skill or talent that can be developed—all you need is to experience or taste something different to spark the flame of innovation.
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