Breakfast of Champions: Nicco Santos, Photographer & Chef at Hey Handsome

Nicco Santos (@niccosantos) has been pushing creativity in Manila and abroad in a couple of ways - in the kitchen and behind the lens. Most would know Nicco from his recent success in introducing progressive southeast asian cuisine into the Manila food scene. Others would have found out about his other skill, photography, via social media. We sit down with him to find out how he juggles between the two.

With your cooking and photography, it requires a lot of creative thinking. Are there ways where you are able to transfer knowledge and skills from one to another?

Nico Santos: Yes a little bit but more like my way of being, or who I am at that moment while I’m directing which inspires new ways of thinking and working when I’m in the restaurant.

In general, what do you to get inspired? Are there people and places that inspire you?

Nico Santos: I get inspired by a lot of things and right now I’m very inspired by random acts of kindness that take place inside a restaurant between guests and staff. Those small glimpses and gestures always brings me back to why I started this career in the first place. 

We’ve seen you collaborate with other chefs locally and abroad. What purpose do you look for whenever engage in such events?

Nico Santos: I have an affinity with people and places with complex histories and culture. More than techniques, flavors and ways of working – the biggest thing I get from collaborations is really a deeper sense of understanding and listening from the conversations that take place from the brief time of working together.

How similar or different is it working in a team of cooks and servers in a kitchen from working with a solo subject for your photography?

Nico Santos: Both I think. Similar in context of trying to make my subject or kitchen team get how great they are but different in ways of being on how to get that done. Haha does that make sense?

Does coffee play a role in any of your creation process? Or work? How does it?

Nico Santos: I would say a whole lot. Other than the jolt of caffeine that helps gets me present, I love it because it’s something that brings us together a few hours a day may it be with family, friends or my restaurant team. That brief time together makes us show up for one another during service. 

If there’s one person in the world who you would have coffee with (dead or alive), who would it be and why? 

Nico Santos: Keira Knightly because it’s freaking Keira Knightly.

What is next for you? What should people be looking forward to?

Nico Santos: I’m currently working on a couple of ideas that eventually and hopefully will transform into concepts and sustainable businesses.

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