Hey Handsome chef cooks ‘nasi lemak’ at home, for your home | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Chefs Nicco Santos and Quenee Vilar in the Santos homekitchen
Chefs Nicco Santos and Quenee Vilar in the Santos homekitchen


It’s chef Nicco Santos’ birthday on May 31. To celebrate, he and his Hey Handsome right hand Quenee Vilar will offer the food they have become known for.

“I think the best way to celebrate my 36th is by doing something I truly enjoy, which is creating brands and cooking for my family and friends,” he says. “I have one of the best chefs in the country as my partner, and a family who just wants me to be happy. There’s nothing more I can wish for.”

On May 31, Santos and Vilar will launch Sambar, a home-based brand serving his take on Southeast Asian classics. Sambar is a play on the word sambal and inspired by the word zam, which means “earth” in the Avestan language.

Unlike the food in their former restaurant, Sambar dishes will lean more toward the traditional. Though many loyal customers miss the beetroot paneer with pappadum and durian cream puff at Hey Handsome, nothing satisfies more than familiar fare done well.


“Nasi lemak” by Sambar

What matters

“During this lockdown, we have had a lot of time to think and really understand what matters to us. We miss cooking and expressing ourselves. We miss the service. We miss the interaction with guests and we miss our team,” says Vilar. “People are mentally and emotionally down, so we want to open them to the possibility that no matter what state we are in, we can still do what we want to pursue.”

It’s about food that’s typically served at home, and nothing can be more comforting than that.

“We believe that cooking can share a sense of excitement and comfort with our family, friends and loved ones. This is one way we can stay connected to them,” says Santos.

Since their kitchen setup (Nicco’s Bonifacio Global City apartment) is limited, the duo wants to focus on a single dish that’s well executed. Their first offering is the Malaysian favorite, nasi lemak, composed of fragrant coconut rice, crispy curried chicken, boiled egg, fried anchovies, toasted peanuts, sliced cucumber and sambal. It’s one of the things Santos fell in love with back when he was residing in Singapore.

The techniques and recipes for their dishes are culled from years of cooking and understanding the cuisine and processes shared with them by home cooks and friends abroad. The nasi lemak is something they developed for a month and a half before reaching a version they are happy with and they think customers will enjoy.

Next in line is a range of homemade sambals and sauces, sambar prawns, nasi goreng, prawn mee, Indonesian BBQ and rendangs. —CONTRIBUTED

Sambar, tel. 0917-8999363; follow @sambarph on Instagram