Chef Interviews: Nico Madrangca of Rey’s Place
Nico Madrangca is the Head Chef at Rey’s Place, a modern Filipino restaurant in Sydney’s Darlinghurst neighborhood. We sat down with Nico to talk about his career, signature dish and advice for aspiring chefs.
What inspired you to become a Chef?
What inspired me to become a Chef is my family. Back when I was a teenager, they always support or push me to cook something and it felt really good when they like the food that i made. Then it made me realize that i get to touch people’s lives and i love it!
Where did you train to cook? Do you recommend a formal training for someone who wants to become a Chef (i.e. culinary school)?
I didn’t graduate a culinary school or had any formal training. I’m a Hospitality Management graduate. After school, I was very fortunate to work for a prestigious company that sent me to a private island (Balesin Island in the Philippines) to work as cook for a year and a half.
Then my dad pushed me to apply for a cruise company – Norwegian Cruise Line. I worked there for 18 months and there is where I gained most of my knowledge as a chef.
My advice for aspiring chefs is that if you have the money or the privilege to study in a culinary school, do it because that is a great opportunity [to learn] and not everyone can afford it.
But for the people who can’t – still dream big because dreams do come true if you’re willing to take the chance.
What are your favorite cookbooks?
When I started working at Rey’s Place, Jonathan Bayad handed me over 7000 islands by Yasmin Newman. This cook book helped me refresh my knowledge of Filipino food, and also learn new things. It is part of my accomplishments.
This book helped me maximize my knowledge of Italian cuisine. I was very interested in it because as we were cruising the Mediterranean.
At my first work before in the Philippines (Balesin Island), our Thai Executive Chef gave me two cookbooks as a birthday present and wished me to explore more about other cuisines. She gifted me a Thai cookbook, “Thai Street Food – Thai Food With A Modern Twist” and a French cookbook, “My Paris Kitchen”.
Do you have a signature dish or a favorite dish that you enjoy cooking?
My signature dish is Pork Sisig, a fantastic traditional Filipino dish! It just makes me happy cooking this dish and I feel very happy when someone likes it. The dish contains 50% pork belly and 50% pork face flavoured with Filipino spices like onions, garlic, chilli and of course soy and vinegar then topped with mayonnaise and pork chicharron.
Tell us a bit about Rey’s Place. What can people expect when coming to Rey’s Place?
Rey’s place is a modern filo restaurant that presents filo food in such a different way compared to the traditional one but taste and flavor still the same or even better!
For me, filo food needs to be shown to the world, it’s time to represent the cuisine and show people how good filo food really is!
What is the most popular dish at Rey’s Place? What makes it popular?
The most popular is the Lechon (suckling pig). It is very popular because it is the national dish of the Philippines and who doesn’t love pork?
Moreover at Rey’s Place, we make our lechon very special by adding filo spices like lemon grass, shallots, and garlic that gives the meat an incredible aroma.
And of course, it is paired by our homemade mang tomas sarsa (chicken liver sauce) and people are crazy about it!
How important are high-quality ingredients in creating an outstanding dish? Where do you source your produce and ingredients for your restaurants? Can you please provide some specific examples?
It is extremely important to use high-quality ingredients; the dish will only be as goof as the ingredients used. We try and source all local ingredients from trusted suppliers.
Many chefs struggle with a healthy work and life balance? What’s your take on this?
If you’re not focus on being a Chef or, you are too focused on being a chef, that’s where you become unhealthy.
You have to balance everything and that’s very hard to achieve. I’m lucky in that, Jonathan, the owner of Rey’s Place is very focused on work-life balance and he is very aware of the hours myself and my team are doing.
Having a well-trained team that you can trust is a massive part of finding balance. Being a chef is a large part of your life but, it is not your whole life.
How competitive is Sydney’s restaurant scene? What do you need to do to survive and thrive?
Sydney’s restaurant scene is extremely competitive. Every week new venues are opening and restaurants are getting better and better.
To survive you need to have a product that stands out from the crowd and that is so good that people become repeat customers. What that is exactly – is the million-dollar answer.
Rey’s Place is unique as we’re the only modern Filipino restaurant in Sydney and we back that up with seriously delicious food and high-quality service.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a Chef?
Be prepared to be challenged both physically and mentally. Being a Chef is often a thankless job and is definitely not for everyone. It’s not easy standing up for like 10 to 12 hours a day, suffering or experiencing the heat in the kitchen, the adrenaline rush, the pressure from the boss and mostly to be consistent at your job.
But, those are just the base of the cake. Never give up until you put the icing on top! 🙂
Don’t get distracted when someone tries to tear you apart, Never give up on your goals and don’t let anyone steal it from you.
Stay in touch with Nico on Instagram and take a trip to Rey’s Place in Darlinghurst and enjoy his amazing creations.