(Before I left for LA, currently looking like pic to the left of the left)
(Before I left for LA, currently looking like pic to the left of the left)
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.
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 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:
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!
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!
This is how I have attained a bunch of knowledge prior to even stepping into Singapore. =)
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.