New take on tradition

Who: Chris Kuang, 31, Moi Lum's third-generation owner

Moi Lum, which started out as a wonton noodle pushcart in the 1920s before expanding into a coffee shop in the 1930s, is a Cantonese restaurant that has survived the times.

Over the years, the establishment, which relocated from Tanjong Pagar to Henderson to Geylang and back to the Tanjong Pagar area before settling at its current location in Maxwell Road, has seen business boom and dip. That was due to a combination of factors, including the restaurant's old-fashioned nature, location and ageing clientele, says Moi Lum's third-generation owner, Mr Chris Kuang.

He says: "The restaurant was stuck in time. It never upgraded itself in terms of the decor or the food."

He joined the business six years ago and has taken over the running of it from his father, Mr Kwang Mang Tuck, 61, who is the third son of Moi Lum founder Khong Yu Lum and still cooks in the kitchen.

Mr Chris Kuang, who has a degree in hotel management from Perth's Edith Cowan University, says: "Singaporean palates have evolved tremendously as more cuisines are now available here."

He says he realised that to keep up with the times, he needed to keep his family's traditional 150-seat restaurant relevant to diners and had to spruce up everything from decor to menu offerings to plating styles.

He introduces new dishes once every three months, such as smoked duck with foie gras recently, and jazzes up the presentation of traditional dishes.

For example, a traditional dish of pea shoots with conpoy plated the usual way - blanched vegetables on a plate slathered with sauce - can look old-fashioned and unappetising. At Moi Lum, the vegetables are now served in an elegant circular mound in a shallow pool of gravy, topped with tempura enoki mushrooms. These new styles of food and plating help to attract new, younger diners to the restaurant, he says.

To cope with the food and beverage sector's manpower crunch and to increase productivity and efficiency, he has also introduced new cooking techniques.

Instead of a small gas oven, he now uses a German combi-oven to roast the restaurant's signature crispy chicken with precision. Whereas previously, the chefs would roast the chickens by look and feel, and only up to six at a time, they now know the exact timing for roasting. They can monitor the temperature of the chicken and prepare up to 30 at a time, all with consistency and quality.

Mr Kuang says: "We still have to stick to tradition, but there is a need to innovate, both in terms of the food and the cooking techniques, in order to sustain the business."

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