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Q+A with Kultura Chef Nikko Cagalanan who was named a James Beard Foundation Awards finalist

Chef Nikko Cagalanan of Kultura was named an “Emerging Chef” finalist.

This photo shows Chef Nikko holding ingredients.

The “Emerging Chef” category highlights chefs who display talent, character, and leadership.

Photo by Ryan Belk

On Monday, June 10, the James Beard Award winners will be announced. Charleston Chef Nikko Cagalanan of Kultura was named an “Emerging Chef” finalist. This highlights chefs who display talent, character, and leadership.

We chatted with Chef Nikko, known for his inventive take on Filipino cuisine; keep reading to learn about what inspires him, a dish everyone should try, and his go-to meals at local spots.

What does it mean to you that you were named a James Beard Award finalist?
For years, I’ve followed the James Beard Awards and looked up to the chefs who are listed as finalists, so it’s surreal to now be one of them. I’m especially excited about the category that I’m in — Emerging Chef. I’m in the running with other up-and-coming cooks who are making their own path in the industry and drawing inspiration from their cultures.

To me, the nomination is just as thrilling as if I were to win the actual award. I’m just really proud to introduce the food I love to people who enjoy eating it, and I think this nomination speaks to how hard my team works, too.

Kultura for Eater

Chef Nikko says his main source of inspiration comes from his childhood memories.

Photo by Ryan Belk

Where do you draw inspiration from?
My main source of inspiration comes from my childhood memories growing up in the Philippines and cooking and eating with my family, but I draw fresh inspiration from everyday life, too. I’m constantly inspired by the local culinary community, by the chefs who travel from all over to cook with me and my team at our pop-up dinners, and by the producers who help me source so many delicious products.

What are three of your favorite dishes you’ve created?

  • The arroz caldo is very nostalgic for me; it’s inspired by my grandma’s rice porridge.
  • The Sisig Carbonara is a combination of two of my favorite dishes, pancit and sisig.
  • Finally, the Kinilaw; it’s a Filipino ceviche made with tuna and strawberry nuoc cham.
This photo shows Chef Nikko and others working in the kitchen at Kultura.

This James Beard Award finalist from Charleston is known for putting an inventive twist on traditional Filipino cuisine.

Photo by Ryan Belk

When you’re not on the job, what’s your go-to meal?
I love the Korean Fried Chicken from Renzo and the Ceviche at Estadio.

What’s one dish or item you think everyone should try at least once?
Sinigang is a sour soup made with green tamarind, fatty pork belly (sometimes shrimp or fish), tomatoes, water spinach, and daikon.

Learn more about Chef Nikko’s growing list of accolades + make a reservation to visit the team at Kultura.