What's in Daniel Tay's central kitchen

As a child, Mr Daniel Tay remembers peeling apples for the pies his father baked and sold for $3.50 apiece at Seng Choon Confectionery in Marine Parade.

"My father would use bruised apples from a nearby fruit stall and I would cut away the brown parts. That's how he could sell items so cheaply," said Mr Tay of his entry into the food business.

"Of course, no one does that now," he said.

The bakery is long gone but he is resurrecting the pick of his father's recipes at Foodgnostic, his central kitchen facility. It supplies desserts, pies and sandwiches to several large cafes and restaurants, including the largest coffee chain here.

Along with the apple pie, he would bring back old favourites such as carrot cake and niangao (Chinese New Year cake).

It is still in the planning stage but he intends to sell them online, under the Seng Choon Confectionery name, starting next year.

It will be his second online endeavour. The first is Cat and the Fiddle, an online cheesecake business he launched nine months ago because desserts are still his passion.

Each cheesecake - flavours range from mango and Oreo to Milo and durian - is 18cm in diameter and weighs 1.1kg or more. They cost from $20 each, or about half what many cafes charge.

Customers pick up their orders from the Foodgnostic facility in Kampong Ampat, or have them delivered for an extra $9.63.

Accessories, including candles and cake decorations, are charged as extra items.

"The great thing is when my son wanted to order a cake for his Secondary 2 class, he wanted to pay for it. I was very happy that he could afford it," he said, when asked how he can keep his prices so low.

"I still make money, so why can't I sell at these prices?" he said.

His sons are 14, 10 and six years old respectively.

In his current business, he no longer has to worry about two of the biggest headaches people face when running a food business - rent and service staff.

A staff of 50 run the business. He reckons he is overstaffed and the kitchen is under-utilised. The factory operates regular hours and does not run at night.

Back in 1995, he said, a central kitchen was part of his original plan to supply baked goods to hotels and restaurants. The business failed and it also led to his father's bakery closing down.

He then took on the role of pastry chef at Les Amis and started Baker's Inn in 1998.

The business grew and changed its name to Bakerzin. He sold it in 2007 but stayed on until last year. He left because he "had a different perspective" from the new owner.

Being in control means he gets to make the big decisions, including buying a $200,000 automated ultrasonic cutter that can slice frozen cakes in seconds and a massive mixer that can prepare cake batter in under two minutes.

His cheesecake recipe is different from others' because of that mixer. He said: "I was actually told that regular cream cheese cannot be used with my high-speed mixer."

Still, not everything is automated. Sandwiches and pies are still made by hand and the baking trays are still wheeled manually into the industrial-sized ovens.

"Some folks might frown on machine-made food but it is better than being handmade by someone without skill," he said.

ULTRASONIC CUTTER

I ordered this during a food convention in Las Vegas. In the old days, you used a big knife to cut the cake. Then, you had to wash the knife and cut again. This machine cuts the cake and washes the blade automatically before it cuts another cake.

This mixer can handle 300kg in two minutes. As the cream cheese and fat will break down at that speed, we set it to the slowest mixing speed.

I've tweaked the recipe for the mix, to hold the cheese together. We are also supplying cheesecakes to restaurants and cafes and we are producing about 60 to 80 cheesecakes an hour.

We bake our own crackers and use this machine to mould the crust. You put the crust in and use the machine to shape the thickness of the crust. With this, we can also make the crust for the side of the cake, like a bowl.

INDUSTRIAL MIXER

This mixer can handle 300kg in two minutes. As the cream cheese and fat will break down at that speed, we set it to the slowest mixing speed.

I've tweaked the recipe for the mix, to hold the cheese together. We are also supplying cheesecakes to restaurants and cafes and we are producing about 60 to 80 cheesecakes an hour.

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST MAKER

We bake our own crackers and use this machine to mould the crust. You put the crust in and use the machine to shape the thickness of the crust. With this, we can also make the crust for the side of the cake, like a bowl.

STENCIL

When you buy a cake from a store, the price includes the decorations and the candles. Here, you pay only if you want them. We sell these stencils and powder so you can create your own designs.

WHO: Mr Daniel Tay, 44, is the founder and former CEO of dessert cafe chain Bakerzin. He now runs Foodgnostic, a central kitchen that supplies pastries, cakes and sandwiches to restaurants and cafes, as well as Cat and the Fiddle, an online cheesecake store.

HIS CENTRAL KITCHEN: The 16,000 sq ft facility in Kampong Ampat, which opened last December, has a staff of 50.

This article was first published on Dec 24, 2014. Get a copy of Digital Life, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.