Since winning ‘Food Hero Asia’ in 2016, Chef Anton Amoncio has gone on to host various programmes on Asian Food Channel and The Food Network, where he has traversed the globe to hone his tastes and skills in front of the camera. Now he has a new upcoming show with TLC entitled ‘Cruise the World’, where he travels with Taiwanese celebrity Patty Lee to show us the enriching qualities of travelling with a “stranger.” We managed to catch Chef Anton amidst his travels for a quick conversation.
1. Hope you had a wonderful Christmas. How did you celebrate the festive season this year?
I did. Christmas in the Philippines is as festive as usual. I celebrated with my family in the afternoon. Unfortunately, I had to leave early because I was set to appear on an early morning show here in the Philippines. Nonetheless, Christmas is always a happy occasion for me, as I get to spend quality time with my family. And I hope that you got to enjoy the holiday seasons too.
2. We understand that your beloved grandmother hugely inspired you to become a chef. Could you please share how she has influenced your cooking style?
My grandmother is the chief cook in our household when I was a kid. I grew up watching her prepare the food daily. I used to play around the kitchen not knowing that this will become my profession today. If there’s anything about her cooking that strikes me the most, it has got to be her passion. At times, cooking daily can be a daunting task. But not once did she show any trace of that at all. She cooks because she enjoys feeding us. She cooks because she loves the family she’s about to feed.
That is what I try to do with my craft. Whenever I am asked to create recipes, I would always try to know more about who I’m about to feed and I happily prepare it. This helps me immensely in coming up with a dish that would suit their taste.
3. What is your favourite Filipino dish?
My favourite Filipino dish is my grandmother’s Tinola. This dish holds a tender childhood memory. It is chicken soup infused with ginger and usually served with chili or moringa leaves. Every time, I’d get sick, my grandmother will prepare this for me. Since then, it slowly became my comfort food. I guess that’s the magic of food carefully prepared for the people you love. It has the power to lift your spirit and warm the heart.
This is the same reason why I chose to showcase this dish when I auditioned for Food Hero Asia back in 2016. I am almost positive that every Filipino household knows how to cook this dish. So if you get to visit the Philippines, I encourage you to try it.
4. In your opinion, which is the most underrated Filipino dish that you wish to raise awareness for?
I think Filipino cuisine, as a whole, is quite underrated. We have a lot of great dishes with influences taken from different countries and have made fantastic dishes of our own. I would not be able to select a single dish, instead I encourage everyone to try all our delectable dishes and see for themselves. I am brimming with pride knowing that Filipino food is wading its way through the international scene slowly. It is truly an honor for me to be able to host Home Cooked Asia Philippines last year as it gave me the platform to introduce some of Filipino’s well-known dishes like Adobo, Tinola, Kare-Kare etc just to name a few.
5. What do you think was the biggest change that happened in your life since winning the Food Hero Asia title in 2016?
Biggest change would definitely have to be the fact that I got to host my own TV show on the Asian Food Channel and Food Network. And now I am also blessed with another show, Cruise the World which is on Discovery TLC. These gave me the opportunities to meet people from different countries and different backgrounds. I just feel lucky to be where I am at right now.
6. At the age of 24, you set up your first restaurant after winning Food Hero Asia. How did you manage this at such a young age when most people are still just starting out?
It may sound cliché, but it is really hard work and the desire to succeed. And at this point I have already been in and out of the kitchen professionally for 7 years now. I am also lucky to have a family that is absolutely supportive of my dreams. I would not have made it early on had it not been for my strong support system.
7. It has been more than 2 years since you juggled life as a chef, TV host and actor. Between these roles, which one is most enjoyable to you and why?
Hmmm… This is a very difficult question to answer. I find each and every one of them enjoyable. Each role has its own challenges and I am constantly learning from the people that I get to work with.
8. Besides traditional Filipino fare, is there a particular cuisine that you love?
I love Chinese food! I am all in for good dim sum! Haha! I am a little bias here, since I am part Chinese.
9. Have you tried cooking the cuisine you mentioned in #8 in an innovative manner? How did it turn out?
YES! I combined our traditional tamarind soup which is sinigang, and made it into a xiao long bao. It turned out well. It was featured on the 2nd Flavors of the Philippines event back in 2016, and I am extremely happy about that.
10. Is there any food you dare not try?
I am willing to try anything, as long as it is safe to eat. Haha!
11. What is your guilty pleasure food?
I have a sweet tooth! Leave room for dessert is always my motto when eating. Ice cream, frozen yogurt, cakes, you name it, and I would eat it!
12. Describe your cooking style in 3 words.
Passionate, Innovative, Learning.
13. In your opinion, who is the greatest chef that you look up to? Why?
Anthony Bourdain. He has been one of those people that I used to watch on TV, and I always find myself saying, man, I wanna be like this guy when I grow up. He was a rock star, and an icon to a lot of chefs worldwide. He may have been gone, but his legacy lives on.
14. In the upcoming TLC food and travel series Cruise The World, you paired up with Taiwanese host Patty Lee to cruise across the coastal towns of Taiwan and the Philippines. How would you describe this unique cruise experience?
It was fun, fun, and fun! I have been to Taiwan several times, but I have never been to a cruise in Taiwan before. It was great! And having someone like Patty along for the journey made it extra special, coz seeing Taiwan through her eyes was indeed refreshing and enlightening.
15. What was the most unforgettable incident that happened during the filming?
I cannot say! Please watch the show to find out.
16. Describe your host partner Patty in 3 words.
Humble, Talented, and Outgoing
17. What are the must-try dishes in Kaohsiung to recommend to first-time travellers to the port city?
They have got to try 刨冰 (Bao4 Bing1) out, because it is so so good! The Chap Chai is a must try for sure! Beef noodle in Kaohsiung is phenomenal! But eat everything you can get your hands on, really. That way you get to not only try their cuisine, but you also learn about their history through food.
18. What are the must-try dishes you would recommend to travellers to the tropical paradise of Puerto Princesa then?
They should definitely try crocodile meat, I suggest they try crocodile meat sisig, or crocodile bicol express. They should also try the fresh seafood on the island. There is also a must try dish, that I would not say here. They have to watch the episode to find out.
19. Tourist attention is usually given to Taipei than to Kaohsiung. What are the most underrated activities in Kaohsiung that you think certainly deserves more attention?
The water activities there are so much fun! They should also visit the ports in town and breathe the sea breeze in. We also went to a revolving restaurant, and the view is absolutely stunning. I also love the Lotus lake and the temples there. Kaohsiung for me gives off a different vibe, and I suggest that people go and experience it.
20. Could you also share some insider tips on the best activities to do in Puerto Princesa?
First place you should visit is the underground river, my word won’t do it justice. Island hopping is a great activity for the entire family to enjoy. They can go visit the churches there as well to get to know the culture a bit better. If you are feeling a little adventurous, you can climb Ugong rock! Oh the dives spots there are also one of the best.
21. How would you introduce the capital city of Palawan to people who have never heard of Puerto Princesa?
22. Describe your best travel memory to date.
The best one yet is the Taiwan trip with “Cruise the World”. Initially, I felt anxious as this is my first time doing this kind of travel show. Plus the fact that I will be travelling with a stranger. But as soon as we started filming, I was totally enjoying every bit of our journey, on and off cam. Patty and the rest of the crew who were with us made everything easier. It doesn’t feel like work at all. Eventually, we all became friends. In fact, we always try to keep in touch.
23. Where’s your favourite travel destination?
My favorite travel destination is Europe. I have been to Italy last year and every corner of each city I visited to was picture-perfect. Italy is particularly exquisite. It’s rich with history and culture. It’s a place I’d like to keep coming back to. Not to mention the food in Italy is so good. And the people are nice too.
24. Is there any place you have been dying to go to, but yet to explore at this moment?
I’ve always wanted to go to Machu Picchu. I want to explore temples over there like Indiana Jones. That would be cool.
25. What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from all those press releases?
This sounds like a tricky question. I really won’t know. Perhaps, the best to ask would be the people I get to interact with most of the time. I find it interesting to know what they’d say, [laughs].
26. If you were to be granted a day off amidst your busy work schedule now, how would you plan the day to make full use of it?
Nothing beats spending time with the people you love most. In my case, that’s my family and my dog. We could just be doing the usual stuff, like sharing stories while eating at the dining table, or simply just watching a movie. Whatever the case maybe, it will always be time well-spent.
27. Best piece of advice you would give to an aspiring chef?
Talent + Hard Work x Opportunities = Success.
This isn’t a formula you will find in any Math textbook.
I found this to be extremely true. At the end of the day, you have to find the perfect balance of these three to make it big not only as a chef but whatever it is that you set your heart to do. Find an opportunity and use it as a springboard to reach success.
28. Last meal?
Last time I checked, I’m not on death row, [laughs].
29. And finally, if you could turn back time, when is the period you would like to go back to and why?
I’d say I’d like to go back to the time when I was eight; this was when I first started to learn how to cook. I’d like to go back to the time when I was watching her cook for the people that she loves.
Cruise the World premiered on TLC (Singtel Channel 254) on 19 January 2019.