In 2016, the Internet was abuzz with news of two local hawkers scoring Michelin stars – one of the top honours a chef can achieve in his/her career.
Of the two, Mr Chan Hon Meng’s Soya Sauce Chicken Rice – at Chinatown Food Complex – definitely gained a generous portion of media coverage.
The new Liao Fan Hawker Chan at 78 Smith Street has also made the Michelin Bib Gourmand Award 2017 list. There is also a 3rd outlet at 18 Tai Seng (which is a scant 10min walk from our office).
Hawker Chan’s food is also the cheapest Michelin-starred meal, with a plate of soya sauce chicken going at $3.80.
Already popular among long-time patrons before its launch into worldwide fame, the humble store soon saw endless queues from curious customers — both local and foreign.
As a matter of fact, TODAY reported that post-Michelin, “tourists make up 90% of his customers, [when previously] the ratio of tourists to local diners was 50:50”.
Queue times are also in the hours (my friend who decided to brave the queue was there from 10:30am to 1:30pm), up from the usual 45 minutes.
Fame also came with a price, and Mr Chan told the press that he now needs to prepare 30 more chickens than before (180 a day), and get to his store 2 hours before the previous opening time.
In spite of his visible fatigue, he remained passionate in getting even better, saying, “Of course, I want to retain my star or even get one or two more.”
The problem was, however, that he didn’t know where to begin.
“They (Michelin) say just do what I’m doing. But I don’t even know what got me my Michelin star in the first place; my guess is the chicken, of course. [But] If I try something new, my old customers may not like it. But if I keep doing what I’ve been doing, then in a way, I wouldn’t get better.”
However, with yesterday’s report, it does seem like Mr Chan finally figured out a way to bring his business to the next level.
$2 Million For The Recipe, And Worldwide Expansion Plans
While an earlier report by The Straits Times implied that Mr Chan plans to eventually sell his secret recipe for $2 million, the claim was later refuted by Mr Chan himself in a report by Channel NewsAsia.
“I’m not just selling the recipe! In the end, it’s the chef that holds the value, not the recipe. If they only have the recipe, it’s useless.”
He also stated that the figure is just an estimate of its value.
Instead, he is looking towards a partnership, and has three conditions for those interested in working with him to fulfil.
“The other party must have the capability and desire to expand overseas; must guarantee that the quality of food will remain the same in every branch; and must be able to provide a guarantee that the recipe will remain within the business.”
The 5 F&B giants that he’s said to be in talks with includes popular Hong Kong dim sum restaurant chain, Tim Ho Wan, which is by itself a Michelin star holder, and is dubbed “the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant”.
In October, Hawker Chan partnered with local firm Hersing Culinary to open its first quick service restaurant – the outlet now at Smith Street.
According to Chan, he would train family members to helm the stall at Chinatown Food Complex, while he himself shuttles between the 2 outlets.
“We want the customer to come first, not our profit […] We want the food to be fresh, and I don’t want the prices to be above others.”
“We have to find a price that will allow everyone to believe is fair,” he commented on their continued affordability.
Singapore Netizens React
In the articles, one of the main draws was how he linked his eventual plans to how fast food chain KFC is “known everywhere”.
“KFC sells chicken and has been successful in ensuring that the taste of its food remains the same throughout the world. I hope to do the same and become the No. 2 chicken eatery chain around the world after it.”
However, some netizens felt that these plans might only ruin the dish:
But there were also those who were supportive of his move, and even said he deserves more for the recipe:
Not The First Hawker Recipe To Be Sold
Mr Chan’s case doesn’t set a precedence for hawker recipes being sold for large amounts of money, though.
At the start of the month, yet another Chicken Rice recipe was sold twice for $42,800 to a workplace safety officer and information technology consultant, both of whom underwent hands-on training alongside getting the recipe.
While not exactly the best reminder, Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint, which was sold to the Aztech Group for $4 million in 2014, was on the news again – this time because its original owners got into trouble due to tax invasion.
Some other instances of owners putting their recipes up for sale are the owners of Hougang 6 Miles Famous Muah Chee, who said that they hope to sell the business and recipe for $1 million, and Xiu Jie Claypot Bak Kut Teh, whose owner priced for $200,000 in 2012.
Many of the owners cite the lack of succession as their reasons for selling their business to interested parties, and with young generations preferring to work in air-conditioned offices, our hawker culture will inevitably fade in years to come.
For Mr Chan, his wish is simple, “I hope that this dish will live on for generations. […] I just want to see my product expand worldwide. Even if there’s just one restaurant in each country, I’ll be happy.”
Feature Image Credit: buzzworthy.com