He won over the MasterChef NZ judges with his modern take on Filipino food, now former pig farmer Leo Fernandez is set to open a restaurant in Auckland's Parnell.
The restaurant will specialise in Filipino and fusion cooking and is to be called Azon - short for a common Filipino name, Corazon, which is also Spanish for heart. It is expected to open in September, 12 months after Fernandez's loss to Tim Read in last year's MasterChef NZ final.
The vet turned restaurateur said the name was a reflection of his vision to offer food "cooked from the heart" and true to his ethnic roots.
"We want to uplift the name of Filipino cuisine, so that people will learn about what is quintessential Filipino food," he told the Herald on Sunday.
Despite being given a boost on MasterChef NZ, the Southeast Asian fare still lags in popularity to more well-known Asian gastronomic options.
Fernandez said Filipino food was a rich mix of flavours and spices.
"It traces back through a long history of settlement, migration, occupation, colonisation."
The food was typically based on Malay cuisine and featured dishes influenced by Japanese, Chinese and Western cuisine.
Fernandez said Filipino cooking also tended to use all parts of an animal to minimise waste.
"In Filipino cuisine we use the head to tail. Your pig, for example, you eat everything - only the hair, hooves, teeth and bones you don't eat. It's the same for the fish."
The final Azon menu was still a work in progress. The plan was to offer "Filipino food, but not in a scary way" - that would look different but stay true to its ethnic flavours.
MasterChef NZ judge Josh Emett wished him all the best with his new venture. Emett said Fernandez and his creations were a revelation in the show's kitchen. "It's quite hard to modernise an old-school cuisine without ruining it, but he had the ability to do it."
Meanwhile, Read's foodie career is also on the up. On Friday he launched his new website - timread.co.nz - which features seasonal recipes and culinary tips.