Singapore-based Michelin Star Chan Hon Meng, aka Hawker Chan, brought his signature dish to Indian cities of Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai at the gala food carnival Zomaland by Zomato. During the Delhi edition , Chan was whipping up a culinary storm for an exquisite gastronomic experience for his customers with his signature soya sauce chicken rice.
Despite a Michelin Star, he remains modest as ever - not only was he seen helping the staff boys carry vegetables to the booth, he was also mingling with customers, satiating their hunger while satisfying their curiosity. The maker of "the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world" tells
Indrani Bose how a Michelin star has affected his life. Edited excerpts:
How does it feel to be the first "hawker" to acquire a Michelin star?
The award of one Michelin star from Michelin Guide Singapore in July 2016 gives me great pride. It was beyond my imagination that my humble soya sauce recipe would be recognised by the most prestigious Michelin Guide and I would be awarded the titles - The World First Hawker Michelin-starred Meal and The Cheapest Michelin-starred Meal in The World.
To see visitors from all over the world visiting my stall and restaurant and relishing the food gives me immense happiness. A lot of hard work and passion went into the winning feat. I was passionate about cooking from a very young age, and daily food preparation is hard work. I still have to wake up early in the morning to prepare the sauce for marination and to obtain the signature flavour and tenderness. Hours of manual braising is part of the preparatory routine. I use premium and fresh ingredients for my cooking on a daily basis, and firmly believe that the consistency in taste and food quality is essential for any culinary success.
Please tell us about your brainchild and how you gave birth to your trademark dish - the soya sauce chicken rice?
My culinary journey began through my daily preparations for my family's meals. The early exposure to cooking developed my passion for cooking. The foundation of my culinary passion was based strongly on the belief that good food should be made simple and affordable. I left school and my hometown at 15 and came to Singapore in search of work. During the early years of my apprenticeship under a Hong Kong chef, I learned and developed the soya sauce chicken recipe. In 2009, I initiated Liao Fan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle recipe in Chinatown Complex Food Centre.
What's your favourite delicacy?
I like having white fragrant rice. Other things I relish are bread and coffee, chicken rice, beef and game food.
Any experience you would like to share that you had with your customers?
After being awarded the Michelin star, a visitor came all the way from China to my stall to try a plate of my chicken rice and he was amazed by the fact that a small stall like ours with a two-member staff (at that time) was able to churn out so much chicken rice in a day. He was inspired and decided to share his experience with his fellow staff to motivate them.
How do you keep yourself motivated to maintain the consistency in your preparations, day in and day out, since you have a fixed menu?
I know there are visitors who come from across the world to try my food and this motivates me to work harder and deliver my best to them. I have always believed that consistency in taste and food quality is essential for the culinary success and not just variety.
How has the Michelin Star affected your work?
The soya sauce chicken dish was definitely growing in popularity after the Michelin star award happened. I saw the need for a partnership to meet the increased demand and fuel business expansion and to ensure everyone gets a taste of the dish. Thus, I decided to partner with Hersing Culinary to transform my original hawker food stall into a quick service restaurant and to expand my brand locally and overseas.
I believe as long as I am putting in my best effort to serve quality products to my guests, I know they won't be disappointed.
Does the star push you to do better? How do you handle the pressure? How has the honour changed your personal life?
Yes, the Michelin star has definitely motivated me to do better so that I can continue to get visitors from all over the world at my restaurant and stall. Life hasn't changed much. I still wake up early to make arrangements for the day’s succulent dishes. The only difference is the number of people I and my team have to attend to now.