Founder of OG Lemak
I keep coming back to this: how can I make people look at food differently, while still respecting the flavours we grew up with? How can I grow an appreciation of our own food heritage?
Tell us your story, how did you get here?
I left my corporate job in 2008 and started a hawker stall at Maxwell Food Centre. In 2011, I closed the hawker stall to start Wok & Barrel at Duxton Hill. In 2017, I started private dining with Ownselfmake Chef with a series of dinner themes like aPORKalypse and Sinfully Seafood.
What impact have you made in Singapore?
I’ve always wanted to change how we look at food. In particular, the foods we grew up with that bring us comfort, warm our bellies and influence our taste buds and preferences. The foods that bring back our fondest memories from childhood and remind us of home. Food is a tangible bite of belonging in that way.
In 2008, I picked nasi lemak to start my food journey because of this. It’s such a homage to our local culture and flavours. It’s very humble food. A little sambal, some anchovies, maybe some peanuts, an omelette – yet everybody loves it whether you’re affluent or not.
Despite it being a stalwart of local cuisine, it’s seen mostly only as a breakfast dish. Why? If it’s made well, it has all the elements you need for a filling lunch or dinner. You have your carbs, protein and veggies, with balanced and familiar flavours to hit the sweet spot. So it was rethinking what I could do to better the dish, to elevate our appreciation of this humble hawker food.
This has been the crux of my food journey. I keep coming back to this: how can I make people look at food differently, while still respecting the flavours we grew up with? How can I grow an appreciation of our own food heritage, even though our taste buds might have gotten more sophisticated along the way?
What makes Singaporean food so good is precisely because it’s a melting pot of flavours and spices. This cauldron of ingredients keeps growing because we also have new immigrants and better access to quality food. That magical alchemy of local heritage and globalisation can only better our food scene.
I’m humbled that I can lend a positive impact and shape this food scene in Singapore, while still paying homage to the same foods that have fed our founding immigrant culture. Many of my dishes draw references to the foods we all find familiar: nasi lemak, bak chor mee, wu kok, hae mee, beef rendang, nasi biryani – in spite of our different ethnicities.
Food is unifying. It’s such a shaping influence in our lives. But can it be done differently? Absolutely. And why shouldn’t it evolve, just as our taste buds have grown? To be better isn’t to necessarily let go of things in the past, but to carry the best elements of the past along, while refining and elevating these recipes and growing new awareness and appreciation of our unique Singaporean cuisine.
What does 2022 look like for you?
What do you love most about Singapore?
If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
Durian and nasi lemak.