SINGAPORE - Her debut restaurant Wok & Barrel may not have survived the labour and rental crunch, but Shen Tan is not saying die anytime yet.
While citing reasons like staffing, rental and niche appeal for the closure of her Duxton Hill eatery, Ms Tan - who created her own version of modern Singapore cuisine such as bak chor mee pasta and five spice pork - is dialling down her brick-and-mortar ambitions, but is focusing her energy on her fledgling home-based businesses which include food consulting, cooking classes and an online spice shop.
She's also hoping to spread the word on healthy cooking with recipes that she develops for eateries. Her interest in nutrition has led her to advocate cooking with coconut - other than her signature nasi lemak, she has experimented with gluten-free coconut flour to make bacon cheese loaves, dark chocolate ganache tarts and pancakes.
Her coconut bread and brownies are must-tries. The loaf has a cake-like texture with the crunch of fragrant grated coconut, and the low-sugar brownies (made with coconut oil) are fudgy with a rich bitterness.
But food consulting is not just about the menu - it's also about the marketing, public relations, construction and operations management. "The number one mistake new restaurants make is underestimating the amount of cash they require in the first six months of operation," says Ms Tan, who counts Revolution Coffee and The Little Prince Café as her first clients. "They tend to invest too much in interior design, and not allocate enough money to staff training and human resources."
In addition, Ms Tan is also doing group and private classes for home cooks. "Some of my clients have domestic helpers, so I teach them to make enough healthy, tasty dishes for three months - after maybe six months, we'll do a refresher course and add new recipes," explains Ms Tan.
In fact, she could be bringing her expertise to a resort spa in Batam to complement their current wellness programmes. Then, there's Spice Shenanigans: Ms Tan is in the midst of setting up an online outfit that will retail spice rubs for lamb char siew, rendang, and grills. It's a partnership with chef-owner Andrew Sim of burger place De Burg. "Ideally, I want to inspire home cooks to be able to develop a large repertoire of dishes with Spice Shenanigans and Madam Tan Consulting," she says.
There are things Ms Tan misses about running a restaurant though. "You could socialise and meet new people; the interactions are also fodder for new dishes and ideas," she explains. "But I'm enjoying the freedom and flexibility of a home-based business; there is less stress as you don't need to keep your store front open at regular timings, and I get to experiment with food."
She continues: "The key is to do what you love: don't be afraid to ask for help, keep an open mind. Cry a little if you have to, but if you have to start something else, make sure you address the problems you missed the last time."
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