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Originally from Hong Kong, Joyce Cheng never expected to stay for as long as she has in Singapore.

“My family and I were born in Hong Kong, then emigrated to Toronto before 1997,” she shared with Vulcan Post. “We all studied and lived in Toronto before going back to HK to work for a few years. Then, I shifted to Singapore with my two sons in 2009.”

The reason for moving here was because of the education system, which Joyce felt was more suitable for her sons.

Although it wasn’t the intention to stay so long, Singapore has now become their home, and the family has built many invaluable friendships and connections here.

And of course, there’s the fact that Joyce now also runs her own omakase restaurant in Singapore by the name of WakaMama.

The path to becoming a raw vegan chef

Joyce actually has a background as an industrial engineer. She became a full-time homemaker when her sons were born though to better support their different health issues.

Image Credit: WakaMama

It was because of this that in 2012 she discovered fermented foods, which could help her sons. Learning about their benefits, the mother began experimenting with fermented foods and drinks in their everyday diets. 

From there, Joyce began sharing many of her own creations online, and not only fermented vegan recipes but also her formulated homemade moisturisers, and the like.

“Accidentally, without agenda, many other mummies followed me and asked me to teach them in person,” she shared. “So, in 2014, without any plan and out of kindness, I started teaching fermented vegan cooking classes at home.”

Interest grew quickly, but even so, Joyce continued to do it for free, only asking participants to bring reusable items to share with each other as well as their own containers and glass jars to participate in the workshops and cooking classes.

Image Credit: WakaMama

Joyce’s intention were pure and simple from the start—to help more children and parents facing the same symptoms as her and her sons. 

In 2021, she got the opportunity to expand from just being home-based into an outdoor picnic café. Then in the following year, she founded her omakase restaurant.

Opening her own omakase restaurant

The current iteration of WakaMama, which is a reservation-only omakase restaurant in Viva Vista Shopping Mall, can be thought of as a rebrand of Joyce’s home-based business.

Previously, the brand had been called “Back 2 Basic”, but Joyce wanted something that was more encompassing of her vision.  

Image Credit: WakaMama

The term “mama” in WakaMama comes from the idea that the cooking is made to be as homely as it can be from a loving mum. 

Meanwhile, waka refers to the sound that’s made when laughing boisterously.

Serving mainly Japanese-inspired vegan food, WakaMama provides the traditional Japanese omakase experience to customers. 

Image Credit: WakaMama

Joyce describes her food to be simple, real, and natural, specialising in fermented vegan and gluten-free ingredients.  

The menu changes based on the season. Her dishes are also inspired by a myriad of things, such as new ingredients she stumbles upon during travels.

Food has always been Joyce’s motivation, she shared. Growing up in Hong Kong, she often got to enjoy delicious foods the city had to offer.

“Unlike Singapore, Hong Kong has long been promoting plant-based and healthier cleaner diets, so I wanted to bring that idea to this sunny little island and share what I learnt from there to here,” she said.

Image Credit: WakaMama

Although she had the basic cooking skills down pat, Joyce wanted to improve her plating skills. In 2017, she registered for an online course with Matthew Kenney, an American celebrity chef versed in plant-based cuisine, regarding raw vegan fine dining cuisine.

“I found out that it is not just in line with my philosophy, but broadens my vision to keep teaching more in sustainable lifestyle,” she said about the course.

In all of her workshops, Joyce always tells her students how there is no Planet B. “My simple goal is hoping our next generation will able to see the blue sky and white clouds.”

Sustainability is a huge part of WakaMama’s ethos. And that is seen in action through not just the ingredients used and the cooking style, but also additions like compost bins.

Image Credit: WakaMama

Aside from environmental causes, something that Joyce advocates for is autism awareness. This is as her elder son as well as herself are on the spectrum.

“You can see our food and dishes, we made them very colourful to represent the rainbow colour of the autism logo to create more awareness,” she explained.

And her intentions don’t just end with the visuals.

The chef elaborated, “I’m hungrier for knowledge towards food that can help out with autism and other neuro-health issues. Thus, my food is created and crafted carefully to help out more people, making it not just delicious, but also beneficial to them and their families.”

Growing forward

It hasn’t been easy running WakaMama, Joyce expressed. Starting out, it had been very different from a commercially-run restaurant as she had little experience in running a F&B business. So, Joyce had to consult a lot of industry experts, seeking useful advice which she tweaked for her own journey.

Image Credit: WakaMama

Thanks to that desire to improve though, business has been great for WakaMama since last year, Joyce reported. Most of the time, they’re fully booked.

“We always encourage people to book at least two weeks in advance to secure their table as we only have one table for our signature vemakase (vegan omakase) menu,” she added.

Moving forward, she plans to expand WakaMama into a 12 to 20-seater restaurant. With the right investors and partners, Joyce hopes to bring her vegan omakase creations to more people.

  • Learn more about WakaMama here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about F&B businesses here.

Featured Image Credit: WakaMama

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