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“In all their expressions, [they] have helped me to develop myself, becoming a more balanced being,” Ng Sze Kiat, the founder of Bewilder, told us. 

It’s a sweet sentiment that you might attribute to a friend, a family member, or even a loving pet. None of them apply in this case. Instead, Sze Kiat was referring to fungi.

While an odd statement to make, it came from a place of passion and deep understanding of his craft. You see, over a decade ago, he taught himself to grow mushrooms through liquid cultures while living in Istanbul.

But when he tried replicating it upon returning to Singapore, it was failure after failure. The right materials were hard to source and he couldn’t turn to local mycology experts for help because, well, there weren’t any.

Determined, Sze Kiat stuck with his fungi experiments and learnt everything he needed to know about it. Or rather, everything he could at the time. “Working with fungi means that nothing is to be expected, and thus there can be no paths to follow,” he said.

Image Credit: Bewilder

Mushrooms are bewildering in his opinion. They can feed, heal, clothe, and house you, but they can also kill you. There’s a push-pull element with mushrooms that draws him to these enigmatic organisms. 

“They scare people, especially in Singapore. Mushrooms refuse to be categorised and placed into neat little boxes,” Sze Kiat stated. It’s for this very reason that he founded Bewilder in 2019, a one-stop Mycological Design Studio.

Spreading the spores in different ways 

Bewilder initially started as a studio offering grow kits, fungariums, educational workshops, and fungi art pieces. Each of these was put forward to help “spread the spores”, so to speak.

Then Sze Kiat quickly saw that there was an opportunity in the culinary segment. Despite mushrooms being a pantry staple in many Singaporean kitchens, a bulk of the gourmet mushroom species used aren’t available here.

Image Credit: Bewilder

This includes huge Lion’s Mane, Yanagi-matsutake, Chestnut mushrooms, and many others. So he began growing and supplying these gourmet mushrooms to restaurants. 

They’re on a grow-to-order model to ensure that chefs get the freshest mushrooms and reduce unnecessary wastage on Bewilder’s end.

Following that, the brand later expanded into the sales of cultures and consultation work for research institutions. This came about very organically due to Sze Kiat’s background and the fact that they’re pioneers in the field.

Image Credit: Bewilder

“As a self-taught mycologist, my years of hands-on experience coupled with my unorthodox approaches translate into solutions that are of value in academia,” he shared.

Besides education, one of his main interests is in medicinal mushrooms and this shows in Bewilder’s offerings as well. The studio carries a large array of them such as Lingzhi and Cordyceps. He’s also looking to provide a full suite of medicinal mushroom related products and services in the near future.

It’s a labour of love

But if you’re not into any of these, perhaps Bewilder’s fungal bouquet might be more up your alley. There’s a good range to choose from, like wedding bouquets crafted from various Lingzhi to edible ones like their “Bloom of Love” bouquet. The price for these starts from S$88.

The latter is their new special for Mother’s Day featuring colourful mushrooms. Don’t worry, Sze Kiat assured us that they’re indeed safe to consume. In fact, Bewilder’s farms undergo stringent inspections and have received certification from Singapore’s Food Safety agencies.

Image Credit: Bewilder

To create the bouquets, customers get to choose the colour palette and themes they like before the studio begins sketching designs for it. Afterwards, Bewilder will select the species and mushroom strains to grow the bouquets from scratch.

It’s a laborious effort as mushroom cultivation typically goes through six stages:

  1. Reviving the mother cultures – Bewilder grows the original fungal cultures they’ve stored to make sure they’re healthy and ready for the next step.
  2. Liquid fermentation – Bewilder takes the healthy fungal cultures and grows them in liquid form to produce a lot of fungal material quickly. 
  3. Solid state fermentation – Bewilder sterilises grains and adds the liquid fungal culture to them, allowing the grains to ferment into what’s called “grain spawn”.
  4. Substrate – Bewilder makes their own substrate bags before adding the grain spawn to start the growth process.
  5. Incubation – The substrate bags are put into rooms in controlled temperatures to allow the fungus to spread. This can take up to a month depending on the type of mushroom species.
  6. Fructification – Once the bags are completely filled with fungus, they’re moved to special chambers with the perfect conditions for mushrooms to grow.
Image Credit: Bewilder

In all stages, Sze Kiat shared that contamination is one of the most challenging problems. Proper aseptic techniques need to be practised in order to ensure biodiversity. 

That said, he advised customers to handle the bouquets gently as some can be delicate. The studio’s “Bloom of Love” edible bouquet can last up to one week when kept refrigerated. 

Each bouquet is bespoke and currently sold for a limited time only. However, with the many requests outside of Mother’s Day, Bewilder is considering adding it to its product repertoire.

“The key is to adapt to the ebb and flow”

At the moment, Bewilder operates out of Bukit Merah Central in a 3,500 sq ft facility with a team of five, including Sze Kiat. The founder remains very active in the studio’s day-to-day activities.  

Its retail doors are set to open to the public next year, but for now customers can shop online via its website.

Image Credit: Bewilder

Its most popular offering so far has been the monthly Low Tech Mushroom Cultivation Workshop (S$128). Participants learn to grow their own edible mushrooms at home without the use of lab equipment. 

Speaking openly, Sze Kiat shared that profitability isn’t Bewilder’s success metric, but he’s also realistic in understanding how essential it is to the business.

“We strive to be more climate-positive and sustainable in our practices, and this often translates to higher costs from a monetary perspective. But at what cost, right? Sustainability, circularity, purpose, and a dash of daring are key for Bewilder. The secret is balance,” he stated.

In that light, the studio is modelled after the way mushrooms grow.

”As much as goals help give one a general direction be it business or any other aspect in life, the key is to adapt to the ebb and flow of the business landscape, like how we all do in life. Mushrooms adapt to environs, so too must we.”

Image Credit: Bewilder
  • Learn more about Bewilder here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Featured Image Credit: Bewilder

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(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)