By Helen Mitternight
Nikko Cagalanan is an Energizer Bunny of a chef. He cooks at Zero George full-time and in his “off time,” he cooks at his pop-up, Mansueta’s, and at Palmetto Brewery on Sundays. He’s bringing Filipino cooking to Charleston’s mainstream and doing it all while commuting from Myrtle Beach.
Favorite Kitchen Tool or Gadget: A wok. I remember my grandmother’s old wok. It was rusted on the outside but clean on the inside.
In My Refrigerator (3 Things): Soy, ginger and pork. Lots of frozen pork and chicken.
In My Pantry (3 Things): Salt, pepper, vinegar.
Favorite Charleston Restaurant Other Than Yours: 2 Nixons pop-up.
Comfort Food: Anything Adobo. Pork or chicken, it reminds me of home.
Favorite Smell: My grandmother’s garlic fried rice. Since we were little kids, that’s how she would start her mornings.
Favorite Drink: Hard cider .
Number of Hours You Work a Week: Well, it’s 40 or 50 at Zero George. And then, I do a little bit of prep every day for my pop-up. It’s like an extra 20 hours. So…60 or 70 hours a week.
Customer Pet Peeve: People who won’t even try something and just say they have allergies. They’re afraid to try something different.
Most Under-rated Ingredient: Scallions. In Filipino cooking, we use it a lot. Here, it’s used more to garnish or plate but not for the flavor.
Favorite Meal to Cook at Home: Something easy, like a stir-fry with instant ramen and I add Filipino flavors.
Best Advice From A Mentor: It was Josh Foley from Avenue in Massachusetts. He said timing is everything and just put your head down and work as hard as you can.
Nikko’s pop-up is at Palmetto Brewery every Sunday, 289 Huger Street. From August 5-11, he is doing a restaurant takeover of Kwei Fei, 1977 Maybank Highway.
Want more Nikko? Check out the companion podcast! Happy listening.