After setting up three successful coffeeshop stalls selling their 888 Mookata brand of Thai barbecue-steamboat, Chew Chor Meng and Dennis Chew want you to eat clean now.
Just last week, the duo soft-launched their new Ang Mo Kio kopitiam porridge stall called The Famous Zhou, aka ‘Zhou Chu Ming’ (粥出名) in Chinese, an epic pun on Chor Meng’s Chinese name.
For non-Mandarin speakers, ‘zhou’ is the Chinese hanyu pinyin for both porridge as well as Chor Meng and Dennis’ surnames.
“I want to make porridge famous, hence the stall’s name,” laughs Chor Meng.
Why porridge? He explains, “I wanted to open a porridge stall 10 years ago and did some research, but ended up putting it aside. I like porridge. What do you eat for breakfast besides things like eggs and noodles? Porridge. The profit margin [for selling porridge] is low [‘cos it’s cheap], but it is simple, honest good food.”
So much pun
There are eight types of homely, comforting chok served at the stall, available with a side of you tiao (fried dough fritters) on the menu. Prices start from a wallet-friendly $3.50, and you can add an egg for 50 cents, you tiao for 80 cents, and extra meat from $1.
The dishes have elegant-enough Chinese names, but their English names are a whole lot more fun.
“Obviously Dennis is the one who gave the dishes their English names, ’cos my English cannot make it!” chortles Chor Meng.
Thanks to the actor-deejay’s wicked wit, you can order cheeky bowls like the Are You A Sotong Chok ($3.50) with strips of cuttlefish and peanuts, and the You Are So Beautiful Chok ($12.80), loaded with a whole abalone and collagen, which will hopefully beautify the skin of customers who order it.
Or get Chor Meng’s favourite, Nice Smell Coriander and Fish Slice Chok ($4), which has, well, you get the drift.
If at first you don't succeed, try, try again
“I like eating fish. I used to run a fish head bee hoon eatery a long time ago [which has since shuttered]. I have been in F&B for many years. But I have also failed many times,” muses Chor Meng, who owned a now-defunct lok lok shop and shoe store.
He also used to have a share in coffee chain d’Good Café at Holland Village and Ngee Ann City but has since parted ways with his business partners.
But fortune favours the bold, and Chor Meng has bounced back with his current mookata and porridge stalls. “We want to open a few more stalls in coffeeshops offering cheap and good food to customers. The kopitiam is a homely place and I like hawker food. If there are coffeeshops out there who think we are a good fit, we are open [to setting up a stall there],” he shares.
Meanwhile, Dennis also has F&B experience as a co-owner of mod European café Figos Grail, which has since closed.
Their mookata stalls currently have branches at Hougang, Bishan and Bukit Batok.
Taiwanese masterchef behind the porridge recipes here
For The Famous Zhou, Chor Meng and Dennis reunite with Taiwanese masterchef Huang Ching Biao. The trio had met while they were filming Ch 8 culinary variety show Kungfu Chef in 2005, in which Chor Meng and Dennis pitted their Chef Huang-taught cooking skills against each other in episodic challenges.
Chor Meng says: “Chef Huang was our consultant on the show, and he taught us how to make some dishes. So we established a good rapport there. Although I’m not his apprentice, I consider him as my ‘master’ and he has always taken care of all my reunion dinners and special occasion meals. I just drive to his restaurant to tapow the food (laughs).”
Chef Huang is currently a consultant and guest chef at Chinese fine-dining restaurant Jin Shan at Park Regis Singapore hotel, and used to offer Taiwanese porridge at his restaurant when it was at Marina Bay Sands.
According to Chor Meng, he and his business partners all trooped to Chef Huang’s house to learn how to cook porridge before setting up their business. “He taught us a few porridge recipes, and we also tweaked some of our recipes and flopped many times. We had wanted to open the stall in April or May, but needed more time [to get ready] so we only opened last week.”
Dennis and Chor Meng also partnered with Chor Meng’s church mate and cousin to set up their mookata and porridge stalls, though Chor Meng reckons they needed more manpower for cooking porridge.
“We were so busy, and our friend, who was an engineer but has an interest in cooking, quit his job to join us too. He’s the one doing the cooking [at The Famous Zhou] now, along with a Malaysian cook,” he says.
Celebs like Zhu Houren, Pan Lingling and Huang Shinan had dropped by the stall to makan and show their support.
You can look forward to more hawker food concepts from these F&B towkays, though Chor Meng tells us it won’t be so soon: “We also want to introduce other concepts, but I can’t think of any at the moment. I just want to get this stall on track first!”
Look out for our review on Zhou Chu Ming's porridge soon.
The Famous Zhou, Blk 421 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, S560421. Open daily except Tues, 8am-4pm.