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How “Tinola” inspired this chef to become the next Asian Food Hero

A couple of months ago, I posted a story  hoping that a Pinoy would win this year’s Asian Food Hero (click for link). Little did I know that I was actually going to be able to interview one of the four Finalists in the regional competition.

His name is Chef Anton Amoncio and you’ve probably seen him on TV as he’s been previously part of a morning program besides making several appearances on other TV shows. It probably explains why he looked quite at ease when he sent over his challenge video that earned him a spot in the finals.

The 27-year old chef says he’s still in shock that he was chosen to be one of the finalists as there were probably hundreds of people who joined the competition.img_6583

It was his friend, who suggested him to join in the contest by sending a video, through the show’s app, showing him whipping up his entry dish. Without any expectations, the 27-year-old chef submitted his version of Chicken Tinola wherein he used native chicken, malunggay leaves and slices of watermelon (instead of papaya) as ingredients. His entry was chosen among the hundreds of entries during the first round. Only 10 contestants succeeded to compete in the second round.

He then recalled that it was actually Tinola that started his love for cooking.

“When I was a kid, you know being malikot, I rode a bike, fell off and hit a metal bar so I was rushed to the hospital and got a six-inch stitch. To make him feel better, my lola started making me Tinola –every day Tinola yan, she used native chicken with malunggay so that’s my very first food memory.

Anton’s constant exposure to his grandmother’s cooking started his love affair with food. As an only child, his grand mom, aunts and uncles took over in taking care of whenever his parents were away.

“I started cooking when I was about eight. I’m the only kid so I spent most of my afternoons with my grandmother who looked after me since my mom was working in Singapore. Instead of playing outside, I watched my grandma cooking for the entire family. She eventually let me help her out and from then I began to develop my love for food.

“So I guess it was just fitting that I started this entire journey with the dish that made me fell in love with cooking in the first place.”

Chef Anton has a lot of respect for other chefs and cooks all over the world, mentioning the names of Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsay, Ferran Adrea and Bobby Flay. But when it comes to his ultimate Food Hero, he quickly answers—My Grandma.

So, when his grand mom learned that he is part of the Final 4 in the Asian Food Hero contest, she was very happy.  His lola watches his shows whenever she gets the chance to. Chef Anton hopes that he can make his grandma proud.

If he will be compared to a kitchen tool, he said it would be a chef’s knife.

“My mom had two rules in the kitchen, (1) “You like to cook; you cook, but don’t mess it up.” (2) “You make mistakes; you live with it and do better.” There was also one extra rule, do not touch the knives! But that was when I was still young. Now my kitchen knife is like an extension of myself and it’s one of the first skills that I’ve worked on.

“In order for the knives to be of great use, you have to constantly sharpen and maintain them for them to be in tiptop shape, just as we need  to constantly improve ourselves and be better. Learning should be constant,” he says. You always need to improve constantly or you get dull—like a knife.”

The content of his refrigerator varies but he will always have chicken because according to him it is very versatile. And there would always be tomatoes, garlic and onions too. “They are my trinity,” he says.

A graduate of the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) after a two year music production schooling at La Salle Benilde, Chef Anton learned about teamwork and communication while working in the kitchen. He says, “You can have a group of extremely talented chefs working together but if they don’t communicate and basically don’t operate as one unit, they will fail.”

He’s not sure how he differs from other chefs, but he says that he is playful when it comes to food. He loves building relationships with other people through food as well. He wants to be remembered as someone who touched other people’s lives not just in his dishes but also as a person.

Chef Anton is used to cooking under pressure since he graduated at the Center for Culinary Arts (CCA) in 2009. He was 25 when he put up his own restaurant called Antojos Manila in San Juan. He has also worked at Purple Feet and Lolo Dad’s under the tutelage of Chef Ariel Manuel.img_6560

On TV, Chef Anton had a stint with UFC on [email protected] in 2009. He also appeared on GMA 7’s Unang Hirit for its segment Kitchen Hirit and other shows like Pinoy M.D. and Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho.

Asked what it means to be a chef, Chef Anton explains, “Chef is a title given to cooks that have paid their dues in the kitchen.”

And if everything goes well, he might just add Asian Food Hero to his title

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