Xavier Neo has lost 5kg in one week. Ever since the 43-year-old started his own Singaporean-style Hokkien mee hawker stall called Hokkien Man Hokkien Mee a fortnight ago, he has been working 14-hour days.
Every morning, he wakes up at 5am and makes his way to his stall at a kopitiam in Toa Payoh Lor 7, where he prepares prawn stock that takes three hours to cook. He ends work at “around 7pm” after washing up at the end of a long, tedious day.
It’s a very different scene from Xavier’s previous job. For over a decade, the professional chef used to work at fine-dining restaurants (“I didn’t go to culinary school; I started from the lowest position as an apprentice and worked my way up”) — his last job was a sous chef at two Michelin-starred French restaurant Les Amis where he worked for over five years, and mod European restaurants Novus (now defunct) and The White Rabbit.
“The kitchen was air-conditioned back then, but my stall is hotter and more cramped,” he says. “The biggest difference [between being a hawker and chef] is that I used to work eight to 10 hours a day as a chef, but now I work 14 hours. We’re running our own business, so we do everything ourselves.”