Young Entrepreneurs: Competition only motivates him more
Continuing our series on young entrepreneurs, we meet a chef who chose to start own business in Singapore rather than study in Paris
Paris or Bedok?
It was a difficult choice.
Study under masters or stay and set up his own business?
In the end, Mr Charles Tan, 25, decided not to go to Paris to train and work under Michelin-starred chefs, deciding instead to open FatCat Ice Cream Bar in Bedok North Avenue 2 with his sister, Ms Tan Ying Qi, 28.
The young chef told The New Paper: "I was choosing whether to stay in Singapore, and my sister was changing her career. I had some ideas on how to change the ice-cream industry, so we thought why not give it a shot?"
The gamble paid off, thanks in part to hit, social media-friendly dishes such as charcoal waffles with salted egg yolk drizzle.
For those familiar with Mr Tan's confectionery in Bedok, it might come as a surprise that he had actually trained as a savoury chef. The sweeter side of food was just a hobby.
Now, almost three years since FatCat's opening, he has gone back to his roots, with Stray by FatCat at Orchard Central.
Stray takes a different path, offering what Mr Tan calls "redefined Chinese cuisine". Even the desserts incorporate Chinese elements.
The siblings run their businesses in a hands-on manner.
While Mr Tan is in charge of the kitchen, his sister holds the fort in all other aspects.
They decide every detail of their business.
"We don't engage any interior designers or marketing. We did our own construction and sourced every single thing. We are very detailed," said Mr Tan, who took inspiration from those around him.
His first job was at the highly regarded Restaurant Andre (ranked 14th in the World's Top 50 Restaurants list) where he was able to glean a lot of industry knowledge.
He used that to work on his passion and bring dessert bistronomy - a hip term for casual fine dining - to the heartland.
Some may think that the siblings lack experience because of their youth and so are at a disadvantage, but the chef begs to differ.
"You will definitely be able to slog more, and the mind is a lot fresher," said Mr Tan.
The energy is definitely a plus, given the hours the Temasek Polytechnic culinary graduate puts in. His days typically start at 6am, and he is busy in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning.
Although he laments not having eight days in a week, his job means the world to him. "It is not just a job, it is my life. I enjoy it.
"Even on my days off, I'll be in chef pants scolding people. I don't want to get out of here."
The purported saturation of dessert bars and cafes does nothing to faze Mr Tan. "I think it is a good thing. It challenges me to raise my standards and it is like a warning as well."
This is seen in how he approaches his special desserts. Each has its own story to tell and is testimony to the standards he sets.
Mr Tan runs his kitchen in an egalitarian way. This boss often tosses out challenges to create new dishes that anyone, even the dishwasher, can respond to.
And what is the best advice he has received? Don't look back and go all the way.
As for Mr Tan's advice to budding entrepreneurs?
"Be weird. It s the same thing as being original."
Go to tnp.sg for videos on our Young Entrepreneurs series