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‘Food hero’ Anton Amoncio on going beyond chef stereotypes

A conversation on defying culinary expectations and cruising into a cultural collision course with his new travel show

Photo by Jerepee Jazul courtesy of Discovery

Listening to 2016 Food Hero Asia winner and chef Anton Amoncio’s effusive deliveries about his life since his landmark victory in Singapore, it’s apparent that a lot has changed. For one, the 29-year-old found himself in even more uncharted territories in front of the camera where, not only did he embrace his stints at the Asian Food Channel and The Food Network, he also took it even further with acting roles on GMA’s romantic comedy Inday Will Always Love You and another upcoming teleserye in January.

Although, everything came together at the expense of another of his incredible achievement. “You know how it is with restaurants, you get tied down and you don’t get to do a lot of stuff,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why I closed down my restaurant because filming for my show back then happened abroad—and [filming for] my upcoming show happened abroad, too. It’s just kind of difficult for me to manage it.”

That other show Amoncio is talking about is the new TLC and Discovery series Cruise the World, a collaboration with Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau and the Philippines’ Department of Tourism where he traveled with a “stranger” in the form of Taiwanese actress, singer, and model Patty Lee. “People will get to see me in a ‘three-dimensional’ way so to speak because people are so used to seeing me behind a desk or table just cooking,” he says. “This time around they will get to see me interact with different types of people and cuisines.”

Set to air in January 2019, Amoncio summarizes what they strive to achieve with the mini-travelogue in a rather peculiar fashion. “I want people to see that traveling with a ‘stranger’ is fun—well, not the bad [kind of] stranger—because you get to explore their hometown through their eyes. I’ve been to Taiwan several times but I’ve gotten to experience a different side of it through a Patty’s eyes. Same goes hopefully with Patty when I brought her to Puerto Princesa. We ended up being great friends afterwards.”

Transitions seem like second nature to Amoncio. His predilection for versatility stems from his belief that chefs shouldn’t box themselves into conventions, something that he’s always been able to balance with an undercurrent of actuality. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise like ‘Oh, you’re a chef, just stay in the kitchen.’ Not at all. Explore. Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of those now, not just among chefs.”

“I want people to see that traveling with a ‘stranger’ is fun—well, not the bad [kind of] stranger—because you get to explore their hometown through their eyes.”

Yet for all the directions—perhaps distractions to others—he has pulled himself into, Amoncio’s evolution from cooking in the kitchen to cooking in front of the camera and eventually recreating a kind of cultural exchange via Cruise the World is, in essence, a triumph in and of itself. Much like his predecessors before him—JP Anglo, Jeremy Favia, and Erwan Heussaff come to mind—Amoncio is a maverick, a man of the moment unfettered by the expectations attached to his hard-earned title or to the fact that he might be remembered mostly for his hosting vignettes on television.

When questioned about the supposed asterisks appended next to TV chefs, Amoncio’s maturity and vulnerability on the issue thread through the complicated scenario that still exists today. “Yeah sometimes we get that, ‘Oh this guy had it easy,’ ‘Oh he’s just good-looking and he speaks better English than I do that’s why he’s on TV,’ he says casually.

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“But what most people don’t understand is that they’ve gone through the steps and did all the work, and that’s the main reason why they got into that position.” He hasn’t done much in the same vein as his previous food-focused shows but what he had done in the past is an important statement in banishing whatever nonsense chefs on television receive.

“It’s a platform for us to advocate what we want to happen, what we want people to know, say, Filipino food. Like on Home Cooked Asia: Philippines, I made it a point that the dishes presented will be traditional Filipino food because Filipino food is underrated as it is.”

As important as food is to Amoncio’s life is the fact that whatever chefs offer to a consumer, a viewer, or a stranger on the street is a reference point for an experience that goes beyond the senses. And the diversification Amoncio is doing is a standout example. 

“It’s a platform for us to advocate what we want to happen, what we want people to know, say, Filipino food. Like on Home Cooked Asia: Philippines, I made it a point that the dishes presented will be traditional Filipino food because Filipino food is underrated as it is.”

On one hand, he is tending to his consultancies and planning a modern Filipino restaurant as well as a Japanese concept that he hopes to launch sometime next year, while on the other he is also intensely bound to wherever the wind blows him on, or off, course.

That he wouldn’t look out of place experimenting with sinigang or tinola on his own terms or alluding to Anthony Bourdain in small doses is a refreshing take on what it means to be a jack of all trades in a landscape that sometimes pins people down to traditional roles.

Amoncio’s documented trips on Cruise the World around, well, Taiwan and Palawan for now, is just one of those instances in which culinary demarcation and co-dependency with other forms of media is both a relief and a statement. It’s not a bad thing, really.

Cruise the World premieres on Jan. 19, 2019 on TLC

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