Fine-dining to school canteen: Young chef returns to his secondary school to whip up Western fusion fare

A bowl of pasta cooked by Wan (left) and the canteen stall operator himself posing at his stall (right).
PHOTO: Screengrabs/Facebook/Chan Chun Sing

Move aside, there's a new Chef Wan in town.

Unlike his celebrity chef namesake though, Wan Hasnirauuf Hassan serves up Western fusion fare at Boon Lay Secondary School's canteen.

Life has certainly come full circle for the 28-year-old canteen stall operator given that he used to be a student at this very school. 

Passion for the culinary arts

PHOTO: Screengrab/Google Maps

Fittingly, Wan's interest in food began from his Food and Nutrition lessons in secondary school, he tells AsiaOne.

This unlocked something in him and he knew that no matter what, his chosen route in life was always going to have an element of food in it.

Upon completing his secondary school studies, Wan applied for the Asian Culinary course at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and excelled in his new environment.

After two years, he even placed among the top in his class, and was selected to apply for the Technical Diploma in Culinary Arts programme.

Wan explains that this was a special collaboration between his school and Institut Paul Bocuse, a prestigious school in France that specialises in international hospitality management, food service and culinary arts training.

He has since been trained to set up and manage various F&B operations such as fine dining, food stalls, catering and banquets.

But perhaps the most memorable experience in Wan's culinary journey would be landing a job at Gunther's, a fine-dining restaurant on Purvis Street.

"The Belgium chef was tough to please but he did leave an impact on me — to ensure the quality of the food must always be right," Wan recalls.

Fine-dining kitchen to secondary school canteen

The grilled chicken chop (left) and squid ink pasta (right) Wan serves at his Boon Lay Secondary School canteen stall.
PHOTOS: Wan Hasnirauuf Hassan

In 2019, Wan began contemplating his next career move.

He tells AsiaOne that starting his own canteen stall at his alma mater was not in the plan but "it just happened". The bachelor also added that it was the right time given that he wasn't tied down with commitments such as marriage.

To keep costs low, Wan bought used kitchen equipment from Carousell and sourced new pots and pans from Johor Bahru.

"You can't expect to ask your parents for money to set up a stall right? Basically, it's from the ground up," he shares.

Drawing on his own experiences, he decided early on that one of the first changes he wanted to implement was the temperature at which food was served.

"During my time in school, the food was always cold."

Having looked into how this can potentially cause food poisoning, especially in children with weaker immune systems, Wan says he wanted to make it a point to serve hot meals. 

He also ensures there is a daily rotation of the menu items so that students do not feel "bored with the food served".

Some of Wan's signature dishes loved by the students are grilled cajun chicken ($2.70), pasta carbonara ($2.70), tom yam pasta ($2.50) and mac & cheese ($2.70).

The canteen stall operator's popularity apparently stretches far beyond Boon Lay Secondary School — Education Minister Chan Chun Sing recently took to Facebook to laud him for giving back to his alma mater

The post read: "Starting a business at 25 takes courage. With Covid-19 in the past two years, Wan also had to weather some challenging months when home-based learning had to kick in."

Chan added how he is glad to see that "things are getting back to normal" and Wan's business is doing well.

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amierul@asiaone.com