Opposites attract. In the case of Borderless, a two-night pop-up dinner organized by F&B Report magazine, opposites also result in outstanding food.
Josh Boutwood and Nicco Santos are both serious with their craft. They share a passion to learn and be better in what they do. This is why their restaurants, Test Kitchen and Hey Handsome, respectively, are among the metro’s best.
However, the similarities end there.
Their food and techniques differ.
Boutwood, having grown up in his parents’ restaurants in England and Spain, studied at Escuela de Culinario Mojacar. He is well versed in European and Mediterranean cuisines and modern techniques, thanks to stints at Copenhagen’s Noma, among other revered restaurants.
Santos worked as portrait photographer before eating adventures in Singapore got him interested in food. Though he took up a basic culinary course at the American Hospitality Academy, he credits the home cooks and families he met throughout his sabbatical, for teaching him the skills he now puts to good use in his restaurants. His flavors are potent and marked by Asian ingredients. And his methods, though fundamental, are nonetheless indispensable.
The unlikely tandem sat at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the collaboration worked.
“I really love how Josh uses the simplest of ingredients and turns them into their best versions,” said Santos. “My team has nothing but admiration for his talent, and I draw a lot of inspiration from that.”
Boutwood said he admired the complexity of layering in Santos’ dishes—particularly “the way he is able to create foundation after foundation and turn it into a flavor profile that’s unimaginably delicious.”
He added: “I believe that my team is one of the few that is dedicated to achieve a goal that’s undefined. (Santos’) team matched mine.”
Though they have different culinary backgrounds, they approached the collaboration with open minds, deep respect for each other and absence of ego.
“Once we’ve tasted each other’s food, the discussion and brainstorming were surprisingly seamless and easy,” Santos said.
Each dish in the eight-course menu was coherent, reflecting the touch of each chef.
Delicate Crystal Bay oysters hid underneath a black prawn kerupok; cubes of Pacific Bay salmon sat on a bed of laksa and got lost in a mound of refreshing pickled melon; rich, buttery ancient grain kamut matched the poached chicken; and the succulent pork belly came nestled on a pillowy sweet potato mash.
Savory highlights were the tender chunk of Brandt beef brisket in a blanket of velvety coconut sauce, and the Sher wagyu striploin with oyster sauce, rhubarb butter and hand-torn fresh ramps.
Desserts were also well thought out, with the carrot ice cream and passion fruit sheet under meringue shards, and a mix of cashew and coconut lending a welcome texture to the warm red rice porridge.
The dishes seemed complex in print, but proved clear and uniform in taste.
Borderless was a culinary collaboration that benefited the guests and the chefs. While diners emerged from the dinners satisfied, Boutwood and Santos, and their teams, left with a stronger understanding that great things could result from focusing on what they could do together and not on how different they are.—CONTRIBUTED