“A customer once asked for a Chwee Kueh ring. I never knew that people would like to wear Chwee Kuehs on their fingers, but nonetheless I made it for her.” – Juliana Fan, co-founder of Miniature Asian Chef.
Juliana Fan is one half of local startup Miniature Asian Chef, the other half being her husband Marcus Lim.
For those who have seen her food, you might be tempted to take a bite. But please restrain yourself, you might just end up chipping a tooth.
Miniature Food Creator
A miniature food collector herself, Juliana started making her own as she could not find realistic replicas.
This was a hobby that began when she was young.
However, the lack of support for her “childish hobby while she should be studying” made her embarrassed to share about it with others, including her then-boyfriend Marcus.
“She kept it from me and basically only her parents and brother knew. [Only] after a few visits to her house then she finally showed me some of her stuff [and] I was in shock.”
Things started to change, and Juliana decided to start her business from her dining room, where it takes her 6-8 hours to shape, paint and bake her creations.
Originally only miniature food, she expanded her catalogue to include accessories like earrings and necklaces after a successful carnival kueh earring sale.
Juliana has since added plenty of designs but the common motif is that they are inspired by her daily life in Singapore.
She does of course, receive requests for custom orders or new designs, one of which was the chwee kueh ring.
Another customised design are her 双喜 (double fortune) cufflinks for a groom-to-be, and it has also become a recurring product for other future grooms.
“The people wearing my products matter more than the products. I am happy that my creations make others happy, and when customers also share their special memories with me.”
There are no restriction to her designs, depending on what she’s inspired, as long as the designs are wearable.
“The idea can be a crazy one, but it will have to be wearable and sturdy. Usually, I will create a prototype for testing on myself, and if it works, I will launch it as a new product.”
The toughest design would have to be the durian, she says, as making and adding the spikes is a tedious process.
The easiest would be the Kueh Lapis Sagu and Kueh Tutu, she adds.
“I love eating Lapis Sagu as a young child, and will eat it by peeling off the layers one by one. Kueh Tutu is also my favourite snack, and now I use a mould to make more pieces efficiently.”
Tools are important to the trade, and Juliana has also gotten creative with what she uses.
Aside from a toilet brush, she has also used disposable chopsticks and Johnson & Johnson baby powder.
“It makes my table surface smooth (like flour) so that I can roll the clay better.”
Miniature Food Teacher
The most popular ones are easily the Miniature Kueh Platter and Kaya Toast workshops, she says.
Juggling Creation And Work
“Unlike other local crafters doing this full-time, I juggle Miniature Asian Chef together with a demanding day job in advertising.”
All the designs are made by her alone, as well as the daily admin work of responding to emails. Her husband Marcus handles their social media accounts, and helps to pack the stock for deliveries.
The holiday periods can be very taxing, and she reveals that she’s also working on something special for her 2017 National Day pop-up.
Switching to full-time would definitely make it easier, but Juliana remains conflicted about whether it can cover the bills.
“Still, I am amazed at the many things I can do in the very short hours I have left for the business every day. I sacrifice things like personal time and sleep, but the job satisfaction I get out of this makes them worth it.”
They’re breaking even from the business, she says. And according to a Channel NewsAsia interview, her part-time business is bringing in over S$20,000 a year.
Featured Image Credit: Juliana Fan