Being inducted in the WGS Hall Of Fame is a once in a lifetime achievement. I have been receiving many awards in my 28 years of being a chef, but I never thought that I could achieve something of this level, especially since I’m a Chinese chef. I’m proud of not only myself, but also the other Singaporean chefs who have done well and made us who we are today.
Up until this moment, I would say that there are two people who inspire me. The first person would be Peter A. Knipp. I’ve known Knipp since 1990, when I met him in Hilton Bangkok where he was an executive chef. My father-in-law was the butcher who worked alongside Knipp. He was invited to my wedding where I was officially introduced to him. I started reading up on the events that he used to take part in. My interactions with Knipp were limited to the couple of times that I travelled with him as guest chefs for Raffles Hotel Singapore. During those times, I observed the way he talked to people, the way he expects things to be done. This just goes to show that he is a natural leader. He is also a very decisive person, who gives a definite yes or no as answers.
He is also a very organised and detailed person. Back in those days when we didn’t have the luxury of PDAs, I’d see him jotting down notes in his organiser, coming up with agendas and plans for meetings. I see these traits as something I could possible take up. These days, when I do get to meet Knipp during the annual World Gourmet Summit, I’ll always take away with me one or two quotes from him which I find meaningful. To be able to work with him, you’d need to have the capability and experience to succeed. Also, the way he manages the staff meetings and role calls at the beginning of the day are traits that I follow at work because I am in charge of a small kitchen, which to me is like running a small company.
The next person would be my boss, Andrew Tjoe. He inspires me through his business and people relationships with others, and how he manages to set up so many restaurants. He has a quote that I’ll always remember: ‘As an upright business man who treats his business partners well and with a clear conscience, the worse you could do to me is to cheat my money’.
To always forgive and forget, in all aspects of life. There’s no point in forgiving but not forgetting, because the next time an argument comes up, you would bring up the topic again, which in my opinion is pointless. I believe that to forgive and forget is a learning process. After attaining that concept, life will be made easier.
Being passionate and hardworking are just basic requirements. We see young people attending courses in culinary academies, saying that they have the passion and hardworking, and that they want to be like a certain chef. But once they graduate and start working as an apprentice chef, reality sets in. You pay to go to school to ask questions when you’re uncertain, you challenge your fellow peers in coming up with recipes. At work, you meet people and you’re paid to deliver. You must be committed to your work, to be loyal to your employer, and also to prepare to sacrifice.
I’m committed to my work because I’m in a good company and I have a good boss. Anyone could offer me twice of what I’m getting at Tung Lok, but yet, I’ll always say no, because I am committed to assisting in the launches of other Tung Lok restaurants. And once you are committed to your work, you will feel your sense of loyalty towards the company. And when your loyalty sets in, your company trusts you.
The last point is sacrifice of course, and when I say sacrifice, I mean getting a phone call from my boss during dinner time and having to rush back to the restaurant just to meet regular customers. There was this time when I was at the airport, about to go on a holiday with my wife when I received a phone call from Andrew Tjoe. My wife understood, saying that I should head back to the restaurant, and then take a later flight to join her. Then again, I’m not complaining because when you are committed and loyal to your company, little sacrifices comes along with the package. I believe that is how you gain faith and trust from your boss, like how Tjoe has a hundred percent faith in me.
Ten years ago, I had the impression that I had already mastered the traditional Cantonese cuisine; but when Tung Lok extended to China, I was brought over to assist in the set-up, I was taken aback by the vast variety of Chinese food, and I realised that they was actually so much to learn, so many dishes that can be modified. Travelling then definitely inspired me to come up with contemporary Chinese Cuisine and it has become very popular.
Now, I would actually like to go back to the basics – home-cooked Chinese food. My third book A Taste of Home is all about home-cooked Chinese family fares. The idea of this third book came to me because I met up with some fans who told me that they liked my food, but when I asked them which restaurant they went to, they told me that they haven’t visited any of the restaurants, but they saw my television programmes and concluded that my cooking is good!
Throughout my career, I have always believed that once I have reached a certain level and achieved a certain goal, I should stop, take a breather, and look back on the things I have done.