After launching his Teochew restaurant Teochew City to much fanfare in June, Chen Shucheng, 72, is expanding his burgeoning F&B empire again. This time, it’s a kopitiam stall in Ang Mo Kio called The Chinese Kitchen: Taste of Taiwan, which sells Taiwanese food with a contemporary spin at wallet-friendly prices.
He has partnered local veteran chef Austen Ong, 51, who had previously worked at Grand Hyatt Singapore hotel as the chef de cuisine for 16 years before opening his own mod Chinese restaurant called The Chinese Kitchen at Cavan Road in October 2017, where he’s the chef-owner.
Why did two men with restaurant experience open a coffeeshop stall? Shucheng explains: “We need to move quickly to offer new concepts. Restaurant food at hawker prices, that’s the trend now. Chef Ong thought a lot about how to offer quality at such low prices, and he tested a lot of his own recipes."
While it makes sense for Shucheng, a traditional Teochew nang, to open a restaurant selling his dialect’s delectable specialties, we wonder about the man’s connection to Taiwan. “I went to Taiwan in 1975 to act in a movie, but that project didn’t come to fruition. I was based there for half a year and came to love lu rou fan (Taiwanese braised pork rice),” shares Shucheng. “Chef Ong’s lu rou fan is nice. He has competed in cooking competitions in Taiwan and is familiar with preparing Taiwanese cuisine.”
Shucheng and Chef Ong met through Teochew City’s head chef Chai Ngen Kin, who had apprenticed under Chef Ong. Next, Shucheng is working on setting up “an F&B group” with the folks behind Ocean Seafood (who are also his partners for Teochew City), plus another local F&B company which he declined to name. He says, “In future, we might open eateries in shopping malls or more hawker centres. There might be more new concepts under The Chinese Kitchen branding, like Thai food. It all depends on where the demand is!”
There are just eight set meals here (which includes Australian short-grain pearl rice and soup), all priced under $10 each and assembled a la minute. “Even the braised egg is served warm,” says Chef Ong. “We try to make everything as restaurant-like as possible, even though the prices are inexpensive.” There’s also an “off-menu” secret pick: an Abalone with Pickled Chillies rice set ($15.80) with a single Australian abalone braised in collagen broth.
Chef Ong, who will shuttle between the stall and his restaurant The Chinese Kitchen, is based at the kopitiam for the time being to get operations on track. He will also personally cook in the kitchen while “they hire and train a new chef”.