Category Archives: News

Brick-and-Mortar Businesses Versus Home Cooks: If You Can’t Beat Them, Take Them Under Your Wing Instead

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Some small/independent owners of brick-and-mortar food and beverage (F&B) establishments are crying foul over the lack of enforcement, licensing, and presumably less-financially-straining rise to success gained by home cooks. One distinctly upset business owner recently aired her grievances in the local papers, and a number of responses soon followed.

Of Finger-Pointing and Demands For Enforcement

During one of our many food-centred discussions during dinner (such gluttons we are), I recall mentioning to my mother: All it takes is for one letter or a status update on social media calling for tighter sanctions and/or enforcing stricter regulations on home-operated businesses, and an unnecessary spotlight will be cast on seemingly innocent individuals who simply wish to pursue their passion and/or earn a little extra side income by means of selling their food-based products.

Lo and behold; that very letter was penned not too long ago, and a number of responses soon followed (here and here). Not long after, a dedicated newspaper article aired business owners’ grievances and gripes about the aforementioned issue. Seeing how small and connected Singapore is, it will only be a matter of time before more back-and-forth debates arise.

While I do agree that a certain amount of enforcement and regulations should exist, almost none should be meted out with potential levels of tyranny which may affect – among various other collaterals – the livelihood of an individual and/or the existence of a business. With the exception of a few errant individuals/households (black sheep do exist in every possibly-imagined segment of activity), I believe that most home cooks are not breaching any rules as stated in the HDB’s current Home Based Small Scale Business Scheme; albeit (the aforementioned guidelines) being somewhat vague and/or ambiguous.

As someone who has worked in and around a number of food and beverage businesses, it goes without saying that hurdles are aplenty when it comes to setting up a business; with the most common ones in Singapore being that of manpower, not to mention the ever-present exorbitant overhead and operational costs. However; the disease that is finger-pointing, and calling for stronger enforcement and/or penalties only successfully portrays one’s bitter and entitled mentality, in addition to an autocratic-like demeanour. Additionally, even if your “rivals” were to be wiped off the grid, it would not guarantee your business a surge in patrons and/or profits – be it in the short or long term.

Learning To Work Together, Not Against Each Other

Instead of dedicating your time and already-strapped resources to put down others whom you conveniently label as your “rivals”, why not find out ways in which you can co-exist by engaging their services and tapping on their adequate experience and already-present skill sets? Why not offer them a part-time or temporary position at your premises (think the likes of festive season and special menus) instead of attempting to wipe them off altogether? Providing home cooks with a proper platform to showcase their products; and, for the brick-and-mortar business, the possibility of gaining a new group of patrons – that spells nothing less than a win-win in my book.

With the independently-owned branch of the local food and beverage industry (and the country as a whole) being already that small, petulant bickering and the aforementioned finger-pointing epidemic will do very little to solve and/or alleviate any existing issues or problems. Setting up – and subsequently running – a business isn’t a walk in the park; but instead of worrying about things beyond your control, why not look at and think about the things you can change and potentially take advantage of?

There’s some food for thought for you – pun absolutely intended.

Follow @eatfoodlivefood on Instagram!

After years of “going against the grain”; I finally rewarded myself with a smartphone – and it wasn’t a big surprise that one of the apps I first downloaded was Instagram. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of photos and various hashtags in relation to food!

I consider myself to be a greenhorn in the world of Instagram (and navigating a smartphone in general); but I appreciate the wonders and ease it brings about into one’s daily life – especially when it comes to drooling over photos of food! Additionally, it pleases me to see so many people and institutions dedicating their Instagram pages to the ever-changing and amazing world of food.

So, follow me on Instagram: @eatfoodlivefood! Do include the hashtag #eatfoodlivefood and tag @eatfoodlivefood on your photos to share them with me and like-minded food lovers. I’ve also included a widget on the side menu bar – on the right – that links to the Instagram page.

Here’s to many more years of great food and food photos! I’d also like to take this opportunity to wish fellow Muslims a very blessed and fruitful Ramadan!

Food Fit For An Athlete – And Everyone Else

With the 28th edition of the SEA Games gracing Singapore in less than a month, loads of preparations have been underway to guarantee a near-flawless execution of the biennial showcase of athletes from South East Asia.

While a bevy of athletes have been working exceptionally hard in hopes to outdo their rivals, a group of dedicated nutritionists and cooks have slogged out as hard as (if not, even harder than) the aforementioned sportsmen and women to ensure everybody involved in the games – athletes, officials, and volunteers – would be well and properly fed.

Together with the Singapore Southeast Asian Games Organising Committee (SINGSOC) and Singapore Sports Institute (SSI), project chief Chef Kenneth Francisco (Head of Food and Beverage Operations during the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG)) “believes at least 70 per cent of the food that will be served can be eaten by everyone.

In an attempt to balance “tasty” and “healthy”, recipes of local favourites such as Hainanese chicken rice and mee soto have been tweaked in order to be “leaner” and “contain lower levels of salt”. Only time will tell as to whether they would pass the “tasty” test. These are among the 120 dishes scheduled to make an appearance in the specially constructed menu over the course of the Games.

Clockwise from top-left: Chef Kenneth Francisco (in black), along with Team Singapore athletes (in red), and members of the kitchen team (in chef jackets); sauteed pasta with garlic and fresh herbs; a medley of dishes which would be available for athletes and officials during the Games; and local favourite – Hainanese chicken rice. (Photos: Lawrence Wong Facebook page and Yahoo Singapore)

If this meal initiative is to be genuinely broadened to include the army of Games volunteers, it would certainly be very encouraging news. Such honour and luxury wasn’t the case five years ago.

During the inaugural YOG held in Singapore in 2010, 21 volunteers went down with food poisoning after consuming a catered meal. Fortunately, the affected volunteers fully recovered. No athletes were affected; as they consumed different meals which were not provided from the said catering company.

Food Truck 2.0 – Le Bistro du Lion

The physical and internal image of a food truck looks set to get a makeover after Peugeot revealed its take on a modern food truck earlier this month. The result of a collaboration between Peugeot Design Lab and French food truck specialist Euromag is Le Bistro du Lion. Equipped with (among many other features) a professional coffee machine that will make most cafe owners green with envy, and a 46-inch screen in which “foodies can watch the chef’s every move”; this brings a whole new meaning to the gourmet food truck dining experience.

Photo: Peugeot

Equally at awe are the folks at Gizmag, who state:

…the many aspects of the vehicle named “Le Bistrot du Lion” cannot be portrayed adequately in one image.

For those who wish to see this exquisite piece of food, food truck, and automotive engineering up close and personal; Peugeot mentions:

The Peugeot Foodtruck was dreamt up and designed by Peugeot Design Lab, the carmaker’s Global Brand Design studio, and dubbed Le Bistrot du Lion. The new restaurant on wheels will take up residence at Milan Design Week 2015 on 14 April, before heading to the French Pavilion at the 2015 World’s Fair, Expo Milano, where the theme will be “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

For those who will not be able to make it to any of those aforementioned events, fret not – more images of this exquisite piece of food, food truck, and automotive engineering are available via Gizmag.

As Peugeot makes a statement with such a bold design, it will not be long before other automotive manufacturers ride on this as inspiration for future food truck innovations and designs. Practicality, the relative ease of cleaning up after operations, and maintenance issues would be some of the key factors for any potential food truck owner or franchise to mull and moot about before making a purchase. Nevertheless, many – be it those in the F&B industry or those who frequent food trucks – will still be eager to see what’s next for the food truck industry and culture.

World Street Food Congress 2015 – The Aftermath

As the 2015 cohort of street food extraodinaires from different parts of the globe fire up their stoves for the final time in Singapore this year, much can be said about the second installment of the World Street Food Congress (WSFC). The charcoal-smoke-filled air – easily capable of reaching one’s olfactory receptors from across the street – and constantly scurrying food vendors and hardworking crew seemed to suggest nothing less than the “greatest hits” in terms of gustatory pleasure.

Having visited – on two separate days – the open field next to Tan Quee Lan Street as a bystander with near-zero expectations; I arrived with a very mind, and equally open eyes and ears.

Food For (Almost) All

The decision to stage the WSFC at an alternative venue seemed to have a positive impact the moment you arrive within the Jamboree’s immediate vicinity: people by the hundreds, young and old, queued patiently and thronged the various stalls, and tucked into their street food delicacies of choice at the designated dining areas. Curious passers-by and tourists were also drawn into the gastronomic extravaganza. All of this despite the scorching heat and perspiration-inducing humidity.

In an ironic twist of fate however, head honcho of Makansutra (organiser for the WSFC) KF Seetoh and his team went through what he called “a nightmare for the organisers” when “almost all the food was sold out 4 hours into opening time at 9pm” on the very first evening of the WSFC Jamboree due to the fact that there were “too many people”.

Talking Food

The Dialogue-Hackathon was a session primarily aimed at having “delegates from all over the world come together to discuss the many aspects of street food, including its historical significance and how best to further its appeal“. Unless you had S$450 to spare for tickets, this seemingly closed-door segment of the WSFC was prioritised for and targeted towards members of the media and the food industry’s present/current practitioners (i.e. the who’s who of food) for answers to issues that are plaguing the street food branch of the culinary arena. Impressionable students from culinary and hospitality institutions (they are offered a discounted rate of S$120) were also targeted as they are touted to be those who will be holding the street food torch up high, while attempting to promote continuity and defend culinary traditions.

In an attempt to be more inclusive, Makansutra and WSFC could perhaps take the MADFeed route and make snippets (or critical moments of the various discussions; or, better still, as much as the whole Dialogue-Hackathon as possible) available for viewing online. MADFeed charged a roughly similar amount for tickets to their 2-day symposium in August 2014 and seemed to be more open and forthcoming in terms of getting people from all walks of life – regardless of how deep their pockets may be – involved in discussions about food.

Street Food “Greatest Hits”

Photos: WSFC/Makansutra

Putting all your eggs into one basket is often regarded as a bad decision. In the case of the WSFC (and similar events): the enthusiastic and very well-intentioned nature of gathering a large selection of “street food maestros”, and subsequently throwing them into a neutral venue often spells a recipe (no pun intended) for chaos. Despite their respective and combined years of near-flawless experience, finesse, and routines which come as second nature; these cooks and chefs have little to no control of what happens and/or may happen (refer to the aforementioned unforeseen “first evening fiasco“) away from their operations’ “natural habitat”.

As much as some (or one, in the case of KF Seetoh) think that they’ve managed to come up with a “greatest hits” smorgasbord, the assembly still lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. To illustrate: imagine driving through hilly and uneven roads – passing by acres of tea leaf plantations and strawberry fields – to reach a near-remote part of Indonesia to get a plate of traditionally and meticulously prepared gudeg, without doubt, enhances the whole dining experience tenfold. In essence, it makes the whole trip worth one’s while – dare I say it; more than that of just the food.

Pros And Cons For Everybody Involved

It goes without saying that the abilities, as well as highly appreciative, and equally well-intentioned nature of the army of aforementioned cooks and chefs are extremely valid and intangible attributes. Additionally; their time, effort, and sheer dedication is something to be admired and be inspired by.

However, business back home is bound to be affected – regardless of how much they were paid and/or sponsored (if they ever were, in the first place) to grace and participate in an event of international stature such as the WSFC. Temporary closures of their establishments, for example, will definitely result in losses – do note that we are talking about five consecutive days of non-operation for people from as far as the other side of the world.

WSFC 2015 - Paul Qui Food Truck (2)

Top Chef Season 9 Winner Paul Qui representing East Side King; whipping up kinilaw (Filipino ceviche) and inasal (grilled chicken) tacos

For the attendees to the event, the dilemma between choosing “costlier but convenient” (i.e. gathering food stalls and vendors for the WSFC Jamboree) versus “cheaper but having to fork out more for other factors” (e.g. cost of transportation and accommodation in a foreign land, and taking an extended leave of absence from work); there is neither right nor wrong.

Despite that, the idea and reality of global travel/tourism is becoming increasingly affordable; therefore it would make more sustainable and pragmatic sense for people to flock abroad to enjoy gastronomic offerings of foreign nations (i.e. culinary tourism, in addition tourism per se). In this case, one’s whole self (stomach, mind, eyes, ears, etc.) would be subject to experiences of immeasurable proportions.

If It Doesn’t Make (At Least S$2 Million) Dollars, Then It Doesn’t Make Sense

KF Seetoh stuck by his never-give-up attitude and enthusiasm towards street food culture despite suffering a loss at the premier edition of the WSFC two years ago. While it may come as a surprise to some; it goes without saying that the prices of the food (in both the previous as well as this year’s WSFC) are based on numerous inevitable factors which have to be taken into consideration (e.g. vendor accommodation, transportation costs, cost of ingredients, staff payroll, rental costs, etc).

Maria (right) – a Bolivian cook – had to fly 45 hours to Singapore because she was unable to get a US stopover visa en route here. Together with her is Gustu Melting Pot (Bolivia) head chef Kamilla (centre). Photo: KF Seetoh (left)

The Jamboree primarily succeeded in exhibiting itself as a food event for people with near-inexhaustible funds in their bank accounts. As I made my way in and around the sea of hungry souls with plates of sample-sized or portion-controlled amounts of food set in front of them, aghast cries of, “This had better be worth the money I paid”, and “Wow, that’s expensive!” were common. A moment of awkward and deafening silence fell upon a table of four young ladies – no older than 16 – when one of them carefully brought two sundae cups of Churros Sundae from the Churros Locos stall (USA) and revealed its price: S$16.

Basic arithmetic reveals that for someone to try food from all the participating WSFC stalls at the Jamboree (about 32 dishes in all); he or she has to fork out a total of S$263.10. Regardless of how dreadful one’s grasp of mathematics may be, the aforementioned number is one that most can neither afford nor are willing to part with. Under the guise of online monikers, various anonymous internet users aired their frustrations online. One “JBK” labelled the whole event as a “try-hard marketing gimmick“; while “GlobalCrosser” summed it up as “the biggest con job in the history of Singapore food scene“. Then again, it is worth noting that the initial S$2 million spent will not magically re-appear in Makansutra’s bank account immediately following the event.

Short Of A True Global Representation

Despite being billed as the World Street Food Congress, not all parts of the world were adequately represented (as was the case during the inaugural edition). Nations such as Japan, China, neighbouring Taiwan, and Hong Kong are very well known for their street food and traditional dishes; but were unfortunately missing in action. The aforementioned East Asian nations’ noodle culture is, in itself, are separately – as well as collectively – filled with rich history and fantastic flavours. Similarly, regions such as Africa and the Middle East – with the latter having an extremely wide array of street foods such as various flatbreads and grilled meats – had no street food ambassadors present. South America and Europe – each of which have very interesting food cultures and habits – were only represented by a lone stall each.

While one may argue that concerns pertaining to immigration – and other bureaucratic red tape – could have been one of the many genuine reasons for the absence of representatives from the said nations and continents; KF Seetoh and Makansutra could try and take a page out of Anthony Bourdain’s book and channel their inner Parts Unknown to explore further and delve deeper to quench their undying appreciation and thirst for street food. Networking, networking, networking.

WSFC 2015 - SG Pavilion

In conjunction with SG50, a “Deliciously Singaporean Pavilion” was set up. The pavilion housed the five stalls of Singaporean delegates who were chosen to fly the nation’s flag at this year’s WSFC.

And That’s A Wrap

At the end of the day, nothing is perfect; for we can only chase perfection but not attain it. Putting everything else aside; tons of credit has to be given to KF Seetoh and his team (which comprise of – but are not limited to – casual part-timers; volunteer and hand-picked students from culinary and hospitality institutions; full-time staff; and specially contracted security, stewarding, and cleaning personnel) for staging and ensuring the smooth flow of this highly ambitious event.

Once again; the cooks, chefs, and vendors who took time off to grace the event cannot be praised nor thanked enough. Despite whatever mishaps and/or hurdles they faced, these folks took them head-on like the fearless warriors and highly devoted artisans they are. Thank you for doing what you do, as always, and flying the street food flag high with pride.