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Hitting A Personal Low and Getting Your Shit Together!

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(Before I left for LA, currently looking like pic to the left of the left) 
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia is not a city, it can be called more of a ‘BIG’ village. There isn’t really a way to get around without a car. There isn’t a subway system or a decent bus system. On top of that my residence is far from everything and anything interesting.
I found myself feeling trapped. Not being mobile is not a feeling I’m use too. At home I have a car, in Singapore I was close to a bus stop, I’m accustomed to going where I want when I want.
While I had nothing to do during the day, at night I would go out and hang out with my cousins friends who communicated in Mandarin! Have you ever sat for hours not understanding what people are saying? Its terrible, I was only able to stay sane by consuming calories while keeping in touch with my friends in Singapore via Whatsapp.
On top of not accomplishing my personal goals, I felt like I hit an all time low in my fitness. I have not been away from the gym for this long EVER! Never have I felt so out of shape and miserable about my fitness level. Before I left for Los Angeles, I was in the best shape of my life, 6 months later, as days pass I feel like I’m loosing everything I’ve gained! I feel like I’m becoming pear shaped… something I promised myself which would never happen.
There are way more mosquitoes in Malaysia then Singapore, one night I went to bed and got bite the fuck out of. I was literally swollen to the point my arm has a 2 inch speed bump on it!
But why am I writing this blog post? Am I trying to show you how depressed I am? Fuck no! I want to show you not everything goes according  to plan. This is also a note to my future self when I experience something similar.
I want the ability to pick myself back up no matter how many times I fall.
I doesn’t matter how many times you fail, its matters how quickly you get back up. - Mark Cuban
This has to be one of the lowest lows I have felt. If I had not set out expectations for myself I would have been happy go lucky and enjoyed every minute of my stay. I physically felt my disappointment. I feel accountable for every miss goal and target I set for myself. I want to write this post for myself, to remind me to never feel this way AGIAN. It felt like my dream was slipping from my hands, the very dream I worked so hard for. Putting the feeling and experience into words help me get my mind back on track.
Will I be able to bounce back and make progress on my goals? I am the captain of my own fate!
So whats next? I am heading back to Singapore for about a week before I head off to Bangkok, Thailand. I got limited time left on my food adventure and I hope to make the most of it. I got friends in Toronto meeting me in Bangkok on March 13th but I will be arriving on March 10th just to explore Thailand alone. I will try to attend some local cooking classes and spend most of my time with my friends traveling. I call this trip, the vacation within the vacation. Its time to relax and get lost in a totally new environment.
I am on the back end of my trip and its just 1 more month till I get back home. Even though I am excited to travel Thailand, I am even more excited to come back to Toronto to get things started. I have been researching, networking, learning for the past 10 months. I want to apply all my ideas! I want to start MEOW! 
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What Happened in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia?

What better time to write a new post while siting on a plane cramped, with no arm space! 

I have been MIA for a while, around 3 weeks an I am going to give everyone an update on how I have been doing. 

Before leaving for Malaysia my time in Singapore was getting dull, I felt like I exhausted all the resources I could find. There were many cooking schools that I wanted to attend but the classes were offering dishes that did not interest me. I did however sign up for one right before I left! However they canceled on me…those bastards! I was getting tired of the environment in Singapore, the city was all starting to look the same I wanted a change of scenery. I got my wish! 

On Feb 13th I left Singapore to head to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. My goal was to improve my culinary speed by doing a task over and over again. I thought I was going to step into the kitchen making a certain dim sum dish over and over till I felt very comfortable in the kitchen. This was to help improve my hand-eye coordination. Each one of my mentors have told me that I have to gain more experience in the kitchen and I completely agree. I’m a total noob, I have no experience in the kitchen, I crave for experience - I am eager to learn!

When I arrived in Singapore I made so much progress that I wanted to carry the momentum right into Malaysia…that wasn’t the case. I arrived in Malaysia and my cousin picked me up. He informs me he had quit his job at the dim sum restaurant over half a year ago! I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, I didn’t really have a Plan B. However he reassured me he knew people that could help me and would introduce me to them.

One day my cousin keeping his promise introduced me to the store manager of Zen Q Desserts. They are a franchise that specialize’s in Taiwanese desserts. I interviewed the store manager who was my cousins old landlord. However, the language barrier kept me from asking difficult questions so I had to keep the vocab limited. I asked a lot of question but overall I didn’t learn much. Everything I heard I already knew. 

The Zen Q manager offered me the chance to work for his store a couple of nights to see how they operate. I was really excited to get some new experience and perhaps a story to share with everyone. The day after the interview I arrive at the door front, and my cousin calls the manger to let him know I was there, he replied he forgot and was sorry but to come back the next day. I was a bit disappointed but felt the next day was fine in my books. The next day I arrive back at the store and my cousin once again calls to let him know about my arrival, the manager replies that his other partners need him for a emergency and to rearrange for another day. I was largely disappointed this time around. Back to back days my hopes were crushed! I felt like I hit a low. Everything combined together put me into a hole. Ill explain what kinda of hole I was in my next post. 

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Singapore Network grows exponentially! (part 2)

 
7 months ago back in Toronto, I originally wanted to interview all the Singapore hawker stall owners and ask them questions, documenting the entire process via video. Back then I didn’t know if this was feasible or not. Once arriving in Singapore with no real camera and no film experience I realized that this wasn’t going to be the most feasible option. I however still had the idea of sharing the food culture in Singapore with everyone back in Toronto.
 
I was lucky enough to get an interview within 1 week of my arrival with Singapore’s best street food blogger. My interview with Dr. Leslie Tay was a huge step towards my personal goals. However, Dr. Leslie Tay was more than just a great help, he was a catalyst in how I met two NTU film students, Andrew and Clement. 
 
Andrew and Clement are two people who share the same vision as myself. They have their final project on my exact idea I had in Toronto 7 months ago! This is really like a dream come true, I can’t even stress that enough! They have countless interviews with Singapore food entrepreneurs and food experts. On top of that they have video footage! CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?! - I can’t…
 
When one of your dream are being manifested in front of your eyes you do everything in your power to keep living that dream. Once Andrew and Clement told me about their project I immediately started to think of things I could help out with.
 
Since I have a lot of time at my disposal, I offered advice about social media with possibly helping them grow their Facebook and twitter accounts. I showed them my social media resume in hopes of striking a WIN/WIN.
 
With everything said and done, I made three new friends who all share a passion for food and decided to join my journey. I couldn’t ask for more, I am currently all smiles. 
 
This me.n.u journey is just getting started =) 
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Singapore Network grows exponentially! (part 1)

Dr. Leslie Tay ask me if I had eaten yet and I shook my head. He told me they have a wonderful chicken rice stall and highly recommends it. When a food blogger recommends something, YOU EAT IT!
 
Stuffing my face with food, we start to chat. I tell him about the lack of food trucks in Toronto, what kind of menu items I think would be delicious, what type of food I enjoyed eating, why I came to Singapore, the food trucks I worked for etc. This set the foundation for our up coming brainstorm. I asked him about his input about different ideas, meat dishes, noodle dishes, flavours, recipes, ingredients, books and classes. There was no question I didn’t ask. As I sat there taking down notes, he introduces me to the two guys filming him upon my arrival. 
 
He Introduces me to two NTU students, Andrew and Clement. As we start to shoot the shit, I tell them I am from Canada, and thats where things got intresting. They tell me they just came back from an exchange program in Toronto, Canada. I couldn’t believe my ears! As they asked me questions, I gave them my elevator pitch along with my ideas and purpose in Singapore. I then asked them what they were doing interviewing Dr. Leslie Tay. They told me that they have a final film project which was based on Singapore Food Heritage, they will be going around Singapore interviewing entrepreneurs and hawker stall learning the evolution of Singapore Street food. 
 
:O! more to come, wait till tomorrow! 
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[NEW POST] Late To My Interview With Dr. Leslie Tay

 
January 24th, 2012. 
 
Its 11:15 pm, while I’m sleeping I hear my phone ring. It’s Dr. Leslie Tay. He tells me he got the “Allen’s” mixed up and the actually meeting was going to be at 12-3 pm.
 
I rush to my computer to google map directions to Bedok Food Centre. Google tells me it will take 90 minutes along with a series of bus, subway and walking routes. I exit the house and a wave of heat punches me in the face, I instantly started to sweat (instasweat). I get to the bus stop and a bus arrives but its the wrong bus number. However, the cool air conditioning was too welcoming to pass up. I jump on and ask the driver if it stops at the subway, he nods. 
 
After 30 minutes on the bus I realize I am going the wrong way and the Subway station is no where in sight. I look at my watch realizing how late I am. Not only am I late, but now I’m lost. I start looking at my surroundings, I see that there is a sky train line. I think to myself “If theres a line there has to be a station near by!” I jump off the bus and I follow the line until I find a station. I get onto the subway and look at my current location. I was so far east I must have wasted an additional 30 minutes on top of the previous 30. Long story short I arrived at Bedok Food Centre by cab at around 2:15 pm. 
 
When I finally arrive, I walk upstairs to the hawker centre to look around, this is where I see Dr. Leslie Tay (Singapore best street food blogger) being filmed by 2 University students. I am not sure what these students are doing but I sit in the background looking on. I wait for a window of opportunity to introduce myself. When that time came I walked over to Dr. Leslie Tay with an out reached hand and a big smile….I said “Hello, nice to met you, I’m Allen!”

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Sealing The Deal With Singapore’s Best Street Food Blogger

Upon my arrival in Singapore, I had no direction, no plan. I knew I was here to research and gain inspiration, ideas, and to create a larger network of resources. I came across a website that would name Singapores top food bloggers for 2012. I acted on this list of resources asking each one of them if they would be aviablie to answer questions. I used this as my first line of screening, once they gave me the green light I proceeded with next set of questions.

 
I sent 50 messages at first, out of those 50, 12 food bloggers responded then answer my second set of questions. When putting all the answers into a macro spreadsheet, I was connecting the dots. Everyone told me to speak to Dr. Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost. Back in Toronto, I did some research about Dr. Leslie Tay and read some of his amazing post, I though to myself “Wow! this guy is popular, I could never get an interview with him”.
 
I wrote him a email about myself expressing my purpose in Singapore. He replied shortly with open arms. He told me to meet him at Bedok Food Centre on Thursday, January 24th. I got the green light to interview the biggest street food blogger in Singapore! Words can’t express how excited I am. This is truly a dream come true. 
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How To Network In Singapore

I am leaving for Singapore this evening and the past two days I have been contacting every food blogger I could get my hands on. I though this would be a great way to be introduced to all things food. These individuals all have Facebook so I shot them all a message that looked like this: 

Hello,

Let me begin congratulating you on Singapore’s food blog finalist! My name is Allen Tan, and I am currently an entrepreneur from Toronto, Canada who would like to start a food business. Food is a huge passion of mine and I would love to follow my dreams of starting a food truck in Toronto. I have a specific interest in learning asian street food, and I thought it would be in my best interest to fly over to Singapore to learn first hand.

I am writing to you today for your expertise about singapore street food. From the looks of it you are well seasoned in the food industry and I would love to ask you a couple of question if you allow me. I thought this would be good chance to get familiar with the food culture, by talking to an expert.

Hope to hear back from you!

Looking forward,
Allen Tan

Once I got the green light to ask them questions, my second message looked like this: 

First and foremost, I would like to thank you for helping me! I arrive to Singapore this Tuesday and I have no time to waste! With your help, I believe I will have sufficient knowledge to educate myself on Singapore’s food culture. 
I have come up with questions that I think will give me a better understanding of the food culture.

1. Are there any young entrepreneur that you can think of that run food business’s or hawker stalls? 
2. Where/What are some of the most famous hawker stalls? (based on news and demand)
3. What is the most famous Singapore street food dish? Most underrated food in Singapore? 
4. How has Singapore Street food changed over the years? and Why do you love street food? 
5. Are there any food stalls that would take volunteers?

I am traveling Asia for around 3 months and I hope to expand my culinary knowledge. I notice that my hometown fails to provide authentic asian street food. I hope to tap into this market by learning first hand how it is made. I want to learn how to recreate some of these dishes so I can bring them back home. I would like to thank you for your time, if you are available, it would be my pleasure to ask you to join me on a food tour around Singapore. I am here to research and would love to meet locals that share similar interest as myself!

Best, 
Allen

This is how I have attained a bunch of knowledge prior to even stepping into Singapore. =) 

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3 Day Branding Seminar in London, England

My time in London has been short but exciting. I learnt many things about the food culture, and met people who dropped knowledge bombs on me. Just happens that my family members roommate is closely related to the restaurant industry in the UK. He helped brand the top restaurants in the UK. 

Since I have never met my uncles roommate before, I was eager to tell him about my idea and story. He replied, “You don’t really want to see the touristy things do you? How about we go on a food tour?” I was having a eargasm, it was sweet music to my ears. He knew A LOT about branding and a lot of local food, it was in my best interest to take notes on everything he said. As I was being shown around London my new branding teacher would drop knowledge on me. Every food stall, every franchise, there was some knowledge he would pass on. 

Here are some brief examples: 

Starbucks: No two Starbucks are alike, they are made uniquely to the area where they are located. It is very different then Canadian locations. The lights, furniture, setup, atmosphere, seating, everything was unique to the store location. Sure the cups and coffee were the same, but everything else was different. Here in London, they test new concepts and ideas for the rest of the world, this is where they test new ideas.  

Pod: A healthy food alternative. Their entire brand was based on green and sustainability. The packaging is all green, the floor was chemical free, the timber was sustainable forested, the table tops were made from recycled vending machine coffee cups, anything “green” related was put into this brand. Sure, this cost a shit ton of money to do, but it was to create a niche market. They found a market that other people have not tapped into. They were trying to educate the public that if you eat their food, you were doing something good for the environment. This grabbed peoples attention and resulted in many franchises all over London. 

Nanado’s: A South African chain that specializes only in grilled chicken. They have a unique brand of being South African, then menu, art decoration, all help Nando score substantial brand awareness and market share. They are one of the most widely recognized brands, according to recent statistics, more people are choosing to eat at Nando’s than at any other major restaurant or pub brand in the UK. 

Jamie Oliver: An icon in London with over 16 restaurants, each are suited to a different price point and concept. He branded himself into one of the most widely recognizable people in London. Each place is crazy packed and it takes days to get a reservation!

Branding in London seems to be over the top. Brands really try to attract customers by being unique, they offer something customers can talk about. 

My 3 day trip to London has been extremely helpful to see how brands operate and pull in customers. I must apply all the things I learnt to my own brand. I will take the ideas and apply it to my own business. There are so many good ideas that I can expand on. I now have an idea of how effective branding is done. When you see the me.n.u brand in the future, you will know where I gathered my ideas. 

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16 Hour Day With Fidel Gastro’s - Matt Basile [Part 3]

We headed over to Yonge and Eglinton for a private catering event. This was where we were introduced to the shittiest stove ever! We turned the burners on and dialed the knob for the oven to 350 degrees. Nothing! They were still cold. We weren’t sure if the kitchen needed a special type of pot or pan, but our food was not warming up…it was taking ages!

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Good thing there was another stove outside in the entertaining area. The downside was that this was where the guests were hanging out. Matt gave me a pan of diablo pulled chicken meat to heat up outside in front of all the guest. As I stood there preparing the chicken, I started fanning the delicious aroma into the room. Everyone approached me to comment on how appetizing the food looked and smelled. I nodded and spoke highly of the food they were about to indulge in. I transferred hot batches of pulled chicken, braised beef brisket and pull pork back and forth between the catering room and main room.
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When the first platter of food went out, the guest were nearly standing in puddles of saliva. These people were clearly satisfied and very happy. After listening to everyones comments I had to head back to the catering room to eat my own sandwich. I made myself a slider that had Diablo Chicken and beef brisket with cliantro aoli. My first bite release the serotonin in my brain, my toes started to tingle. I had about two more before I almost entered a food coma. I couldn’t nap just yet, I had to clean…
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Lesson 6: You must leave the space cleaner than it originally was. You have to hold a good reputation. People talk and if someone said something about how the kitchen was left in a mess that would stop the referral program. No more referrals means less business.

What a day! 16 hours with Fidel Gastro - I learned SO MUCH! I couldn’t ask for a better learning experience. These are just some of the many lessons I learnt. When the day ended, Matt asked me if I this was the job for me…I looked at him, smiled and replied “I never had so much fun in my life”. I could feel my food truck knowledge skill level growing. You can’t learn these things from books, you have to get out there and learn it first hand! Nothing beats real life experiences. To those who want to start their own food truck or business, start job shadowing and learning RIGHT NOW! This day just reassured what I already knew, I WANT TO START A FOOD TRUCK and I won’t stop till I achieve my goal…believe that.

Oh yeah and I slept like a baby that night. =)
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16 Hour Day With Fidel Gastro’s - Matt Basile [Part 2]

Finally we were parked and ready to prep for the lunch service. We prepared for day -ahead, cutting buns, heating up meat, turning on appliances. The day was just about to start!

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We had the music blasting! We played Johnny cash, limb bizket, linkin park, avicci, skrillix. The music was as random as screaming OLE! The 3 of us would yell OLE! at potential customers walking by, some laughed, some got scared but it was all in good fun.

Once everything was ready, the customers slowly trickling in and business picked up. As we started to sell, everyone was ordering the combo so we were almost out small bills. 

Lesson 4: Know where the closest Bank is. Also make sure you have enough change and small bills for service. I had the task of running over to the bank to swap for small bills. Let me just tell you, I had to walk pretty far.

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When I got back to the food truck, service had picked up A LOT! There were a ton of people in front of the food truck. I had no time to ease into things. I had to get it into overdrive. I was put onto fryer duty. I became the creator of the famous pad thai fries! I would deep fry the french fries, add the SECRET pad thai sauce, bean sprouts, cliantro and lime wedges. I would toss everything in a bowl and do a sexy dance (use your imagination) to mix it all up.

Lunch rush was relatively hectic because I had no line cook experience. Everything was learnt on the go! Matt was great in that he gave me pointers along the way, but he also let me learn a lot of things on my own. As time went by, I figured out how to make the food more efficiently.

Lesson 5: Make sure your timing is right for the window and always look ahead. For a seasoned cook this might be common sense, but for a complete newbie this was a great eye opener. Since we were making two products, the fries and sandwiches had to be timed so that the two can be plated together so nothing is sitting out for too long. Also learn to be efficient with the equipment around you - The fryer was a prime example. I realized that there were two fryer baskets for a reason. While one was frying I could have another setup to be dropped whenever needed. This would be filling in the times where I didn’t have anything to do, thus increasing my productivity level.

After lunch service, we cleaned by spraying everything down and mopping the floor. We headed back to the commissary. 

Exhaustion hit me HARD! We were only finished half of the day! 9 hours had already passed and we still had a private catering to do! I downed another pot of coffee.

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