The Man Behind the Food of Chopsuey Cafe
PS.Cafe launched their first Anglo-Chinese restaurant with a unique taste of Asian flavours in January 2013. In 2014, Chopsuey Cafe’s popularity saw a second destination created in the heart of Robertson Quay at 38 Martin Road.
We will have a chat with the man behind Chopsuey’s gastronomic feasts, Chef Wai as he provides an insight into his food inspirations and his life story.
How did you first step into the culinary industry?
In my life, I have never thought of being a cook or chef. It happened in 1992, while I was waiting for my GCE O Level result, one of my schoolmates introduced a part-time job to me as a cook. Without much consideration, I just promised him since I was free.
When the results were released, although acceptable, my interest was no longer in academic studies. So I just carried on with my part time job as a cook until I went to NS (National Service).
Believe it or not, it was during the Operationally Ready Date for NS that my chef from my previous workplace called and requested for my return. Coming back as a cook in a Chinese cuisine restaurant, I was exposed to 5 years of Chinese cuisine before moving to another place.
Tell us more about your culinary journey…
From 1997, I got the chance to experience different cuisines while working at various places like Tower Club Singapore and The American Club Singapore. It was at The American Club Singapore, where I first worked on an Eastern-Western fusion fine-dining menu. It gave me the chance to experiment on a variety of ingredients. After that, I worked at an Eastern-Western fusion restaurant in Shanghai before returning to Singapore.
We have heard that you have a small stall of your own before you joined Chopsuey Cafe.
Yes, it just happened that one of my good friends was interested in collaborating with me to open a Zhi Char (煮炒)(Chinese home-style dishes cooked to order) stall. The business was even featured on a local television program ‘Sizzling Woks’ (煮炒来咯).
Why did you decide to cease operations when your stall was doing so well?
Greater success comes with a greater price; factors like rental increases, lack of manpower, long hours (including sourcing fresh ingredients at the market early in the morning), etc… made me and my wife think of the sustainability of it all. However, the main decision was made when an opportunity presented itself for me to join the Chopsuey Cafe team.
Being one of the first Anglo-Chinese restaurants in Singapore, how do you manage the taste buds between locals and foreigners?
Chopsuey Cafe dishes will be better suited towards the taste buds of someone who misses Chinese cuisine that are typically found abroad in the western countries. We travelled to Australia and sampled some of the Anglo-Chinese dishes to get inspiration and to understand the context of the cuisine. We added both local and western elements and ingredients to really transform it into our very own take on these Anglo-Chinese dishes.
What do you think when people compare Chopsuey Cafe with other Chinese cuisine or Zhi Char restaurants?
From the start, Chopsuey Cafe’s concept is a unique concept in Singapore. There are some similarities with traditional Chinese cuisine but as a whole, it is quite different.
For example, for our dim sum creation, the White Skin Siew Mai, we have added rum soaked raisins to bring a different take on this traditional dim sum.
Another example would be our Tingling Chilli Jam Prawns, which was inspired from the traditional “Bi Feng Tang” prawns from Hong Kong. We modified the dish by deshelling prawns and tossing it in our special homemade chili jam and topping it with crispy shallots.
What are the must-try dishes for the first-timers to Chopsuey Cafe?
Starters: San Choy Pau and Crispy Duck Pow! Pockets.
Mains: Crispy Orange Beef (a.k.a Rusty Nails) and Szechuan Pepper Chilli Chicken
Rice: Jade Rice and Mud Crab Fried Rice
Noodles: Long Life Vegetarian Noodle
Dim sum: White Skin Siew Mai and Flakey Char Siew Puff
Which menu item took the most time to develop?
The Crispy Duck Pow! Pockets. Our initial inspiration was from Peking Duck, using crepe to wrap carefully sliced duck meat, which was slowly transformed to using soft white buns filled with a shredded crispy duck confit.
What would be your pointer on being a good chef?
Embrace local produce and celebrate the gamut of experiences and influences of the whole food industry.
Who has the greatest influence on your career?
It would have to be a Hong Kong chef from a restaurant which I previously worked at. He said that one should not be complacent and must be willing to endure hardships in order to grow to be a better and stronger chef.
What can we look forward in 2015 for Chopsuey Cafe’s food?
Chopsuey Cafe will have more special creations emerging so do check out the special dishes as they are only in for a limited period. In addition, there may be weekend dim sum specials coming up for dim sum lovers.
What would be your most memorable moment in life so far?
There were these days when my family and I would go on last minute road trips to Malaysia. We went ahead without any plans made or hotel rooms booked and just travelled to different parts of Malaysia (Penang, Cameron Highland, Genting Highland and Kuala Lumpur). The trips were always an adventure and a surprise with a discovery around each corner; from beautiful sceneries to amazing waterfalls. We parked on cliffs and slept in our vehicles… allowing us to admire the plethora of stars at night the brilliant sunrises in the morning. Truly memorable.