8 DAYS: You were practically synonymous with Cocotte. Why did you leave the restaurant?
ANTHONY YEOH: I was at Cocotte for almost seven years and I’d accomplished what I wanted to do there. But I just didn’t know what I wanted to do next.
How did you end up working with Bjorn Shen at Artichoke and Bird Bird? His ‘dudestronomy’ grub is so different from your French cooking.
When word got out that I was leaving, Bjorn asked if I wanted to be Group Executive Chef. He needed help with moving (fried chicken restaurant) Bird Bird from Ann Siang Hill to Frankel Avenue. I wanted to stretch my management skills, so I saw that there was something to learn there. I left Artichoke when Bird Bird closed because well… there wasn’t a group anymore (laughs)! It’s just Artichoke.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt about the F&B business so far?
How much time do you have? (laughs) One of the most important lessons is that there’s a difference between having passion and knowing how to run a business. There are some inescapable things: you have to pay the bills and you need a sound business plan. That’s what we didn’t have with The Funky Chefs (his first private chef venture in 2008 with business partner and chef Melvyn Lee). We didn’t have a plan for how to expand or scale. Since then, I’ve learned the importance of listening to our customers and understanding their needs.
You look amazing. How did you lose all that weight?
My family has a history of strokes and heart attacks. Three years ago, I was hitting 156kg and it was just time to take control. I tried diets and exercise, but the weight was just going up and down. There was never any sustained success. I always thought that one day it would just happen. If I looked at Anthony Yeoh as a business plan, then I was screwing myself. It was like making a dish that takes 10 people to plate — it’s great, but not sustainable. If I ran my business that way, I would fire myself. So I went for a gastric bypass.
How have you managed to keep the weight off?
I’ve changed my diet, which is a given with the surgery because you can’t put away as much as you used to. I feel best when I eat vegetables and fruits now, and I exercise a lot. I run and go to the gym, which helps me relieve stress, too.
Is it hard eating healthily when you have to constantly taste test butter-laden French food, and prior to this, fried chicken at Bird Bird?
No. I would just taste; I wouldn’t eat [a full meal]. I don’t think chefs actually eat their own food. We only take spoonfuls to taste for seasoning. People [in the kitchen] get pissed off when you eat their prep work [as they’d have to prepare extra].
After working for other people for years, you’re now your own towkay. How does it feel?
Liberating! I finally have full control of what I’m doing. But also scary because now everything is all on me.
Was it a tough decision — to finally do your own thing?
It wasn’t tough because I knew it was what I wanted to do eventually. It was more getting over my fear of doing it, especially seeing how many F&B businesses fail. Would I end up as just another statistic? Would it be a waste of my time, or worse, other people’s time? Like my team, and my family who helped fund this place? That was important to me.
Did you have to spend a lot on this venture?
I spent $60,000 — some from my own pocket and some borrowed from my grandmother.
What do you hope to achieve with Summer Hill?
The ultimate goal would be to expand the brand. We can see it working as a neighbourhood spot. So more Summer Hills in other neighbourhoods, hopefully. It’s a nice neighbourhood business that runs parallel to the takeaway kits.
Why did you choose Clementi to set up shop?
I like that it’s small and in a convenient place, with the carpark at the back so it’s easy for people to park and pick up their takeaway kits. It’s also close to where I live.
Read our review of Anthony's new restaurant Summer Hill, here.
Summer Hill is at #01-62 Blk 106, Clementi St 12, S120106 (Sunset Way). Tel: 6251-5337.