The world’s first Michelin-Starred street food chef

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Our interview with Chan Hon Meng, who dished up his award-winning flavors at B&&B

Before the rest of the world even heard the term “hawker stall” – or street food stall – Singaporean chef Chan Hon Meng was refining his award winning Soya Sauce Chicken, to become to world’s first hawker stand with a Michelin star. Since scoring this accolade last year, his low-key food stall Hawker Chan is now known as the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal, and it goes without saying, also the most delicious.

So how do you create culinary gold in an area the size of a closet? Ahead of his arrival at Bread & Butter – where he dished out his infamous chicken – we talked to the humble chef for a taste of what life is like when your hawker stall goes from local favourite to international destination.

People have lined up for hours to taste your food – why do they love the soya sauce chicken so much?

I am very thankful for the longstanding support of my fans and customers. To me, it is a privilege to serve my humble dish to them. I take approximately 5-6 hours to prepare the food from start to finish. When they queue to try my food and appreciate the effort that I put into making the dish, it is very rewarding to me.

What makes Singapore’s hawker stalls great places to eat?

Hawker stalls are a unique aspect of Singapore‘s culture. They bring together the best in local food and atmosphere, in an enjoyable open-air setting. Located all over the island, hawker stalls are important places for the community to bond over food.

Hawker stalls give people the best of both worlds – they’re able to enjoy a quick, hot meal at an affordable price.  

Why did you turn your passion for cooking into a profession?

Having grown up on a farm, I’ve been cooking for my family since I was 12. My passion slowly developed as I started to learn many different styles of cuisines. I started to apprentice at a seafood restaurant in my 20s and learned the ropes of Chinese cooking. In 2009, I started my own hawker stall at the Chinatown food complex in Singapore.

What’s the secret to your signature Hong Kong-style Soya Sauce Chicken dish?

I learned it while I was working at another restaurant, owned by a Hong Kong chef. Over the years, I tweaked and perfected the recipe to suit the local tastes and preferences. I used higher quality herbs and ingredients to develop the right flavours. It’s all then slowly braised at a particular temperature with a mixture of Chinese herbs and spices that are unique to my hawker stall.

HK Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle is the world’s first ever Michelin-starred hawker stall. How did you feel when you received the news?

I was overjoyed, surprised and excited; receiving the Michelin star is a very humbling experience for a hawker like me. I’ve never been to an awards ceremony, especially not one that is so prestigious and influential on the F&B scene in Singapore. I was excited and blessed to be in the same room with fellow honoured chefs. It was an exhilarating experience and makes me want to work hard and strive to maintain my star.

Do you have a life and/or cooking philosophy?

I always stick to the philosophy of using the finest ingredients, preparing food to the best of my ability and putting my heart into my cooking.

What kind of foods are you most looking forward to trying during your trip to Berlin?

I’ve never been to Germany, this would be my first time there. I would like to learn more about the people and explore its food culture. I am looking forward to trying the local and Asian dishes available there, especially how chicken rice tastes in Berlin.

Every chef has its critics. Out of anyone who’s ever reviewed you—from journalists to TripAdvisor, to your mother—who has been your toughest critic to please?

Myself. I’m tough on myself because I know I can do better. I do not like to underperform as I want to give my best to my customers.

Anything you won’t eat?

I don’t any raw food, like sashimi and salads. Perhaps, it’s because I’m used to Chinese cuisine being thoroughly cooked.

Foodie culture has exploded because of Instagram. Does that make your job easier because people love dining out or has that led to more amateur critics?

I appreciate how social media impacts businesses, not just my own. It has a wide reach and many people all over the world have heard about my Soya Sauce Chicken rice and came to Singapore to try it. I’m open to constructive criticism because it allows me to improve and serve my customers better.

What’s the riskiest thing you’ve done so far in your career?

Deciding to open my very own hawker stall in 2009. It took a lot of courage and I’m glad to have done it with the support of my family.

Who would you most like to have dinner with, and where would you eat?

I would love to dine with my wife and daughter. Home cooked meals are my favourite. My wife and I work long hours at the hawker stall, so we treasure the times we’re able to spend it together as a family.