The story behind the $42,800 chicken rice recipe
A chicken rice stall owner made headlines after selling his recipe for $85,600 to two successors. HARIZ BAHARUDIN (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to them to learn more
The story behind the sale of this chicken rice recipe reads like a gongfu classic.
Money alone was not enough to convince Mr Niven Leong to part with his secret recipe - his potential apprentices would have to commit to a rigorous selection process.
They would then have to go through at least a month of training under Mr Leong, the 56-year-old owner of Uncle Chicken Rice stall at The Bedok Marketplace.
Mr Leong told The New Paper that "around 20 people"approached him after he announced in 2014 that his recipe was up for sale.
This was despite the hefty $42,800 price tag.
The amount was based on a specific reason - Mr Leong's late father had told him that should he decide to sell the recipe, it had to be exactly that amount.
"It was not just my father's favourite combination of numbers," Mr Leong said.
"He felt that the amount represented all the years spent cultivating our recipe, and all the mistakes we made to get to this point."
Mr Leong uses the same recipe as his father did for his Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice stall, which was located at the now-defunct Margaret Drive Hawker Centre in the 1970s.
TNP PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Passing on the recipe involves more than a list of ingredients and instructions.
Mr Leong insisted that whoever wanted to master his family's version of the dish would have to learn it "properly" and "completely".
He said: "Anyone can come up with the money, but how will I know they won't ruin it?"
Other than cooking the chicken and rice, and preparing the condiments, his successors would also be taught how to serve customers, manage their inventory and be efficient.
"I have learnt how to run a chicken rice stall perfectly," Mr Leong said.
"But I am not going to be around forever, and succession has been on my mind."
So far, he has chosen two successors.
Workplace safety officer Koh Teng Loke, 34, and information technology consultant Cheong Wai Fong, 36, each paid $42,800 for the recipe and training under Mr Leong. (See report on facing page.)
"They both have their hearts in the right place. Although they do want to eventually start their own businesses, their sincerity shines through,"said Mr Leong.
Ms Cheong started her training two months ago, while Mr Koh has been training since last December.
Learning from the master is a dream come true for Mr Koh, who has been eating Mr Leong's chicken rice since he was six.
"I would crave for it often. There is nothing like the chicken rice from him, the natural taste it has," said Mr Koh.
Mr Leong has offered to stay on as a business adviser even after they "graduate".
They can also associate their businesses with the Uncle Chicken Rice or the Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice stalls.
Mr Leong is unfazed by the potential competition - he is more concerned that the quality of his family's chicken rice is maintained.
"You do not need to chop off people's legs to stand tall - people can stand tall together," he said.
What the student says
PASSING IT ON: Mr Leong (middle) with his two successors, Mr Koh Teng Loke and Ms Cheong Wai Fong. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIME
Uncle Chicken Rice apprentice Cheong Wai Fong has to go through at least 30 lessons before she can claim to make the perfect dish.
But the 36-year-old information technology consultant is undaunted.
She said: "There is a lot to learn from shifu (master in Mandarin) and his methods are the best.
"Chicken rice has been in his family for so long, so I have a lot of catching up to do."
These lessons, which Ms Cheong has been taking since July, are a mix of observing and hands-on learning.
They are carried out as Mr Leong prepares chicken rice for his customers.
Ms Cheong first came to know of Mr Leong's chicken rice two years ago as she was helping out at her family's fruit juice and claypot frog leg porridge stalls, which were also located at The Bedok Marketplace.
She started talking to Mr Leong and she eventually found out about his plans to sell his recipe.
After considering for almost a year, she decided to take the plunge.
"I was thinking about expanding my family's food business, and chicken rice was a good idea.
"I am still young, and I can afford the money and time," said the mother of two boys, aged five and 10. Her 42-year-old husband is a project manager.
Ten lessons in, Ms Cheong said the experience has been fruitful, although she wishes she has more time to commit herself to mastering the recipe.
She goes to Mr Leong's stall only on weekends.
She said: "With my job and family, it can be a bit tough to juggle the lessons, but I am learning so much each time."
Although some might feel that $42,800 is a steep price to pay for learning how to cook chicken rice, Ms Cheong has no regrets.
"It is an investment for my future, for my children and for the future of our hawker food too," she said.
"I hope to expand my repertoire of recipes and one day sell the same great chicken rice as shifu."
Other eateries and recipes with high prices
Hougang 6 Miles Famous Muah Chee
In 2012, owner Teo Yong Joo said he hopes to sell his family's glutinous rice ball business and recipe for $1 million.
Tai Fatt Hau Cuisine
The stewed beef noodles recipe and stall in Bukit Merah were put on sale for $200,000 in 2012 by owner Wong Pak Shin and his wife, Madam Tan Li Ying. They claimed to sell 100 bowls of noodles a day.
Xiu Jie Claypot Bak Kut Teh
Owner Ang Chiew Huat priced the recipe for her pork rib soup at $200,000 in 2012. Her Cantonese version of the soup has a lighter broth than the Malaysian version, and carries more than 10 types of medicinal herbs.
Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint
In 2014, the roast meat restaurant in Upper Paya Lebar Road was sold for $4 million to conglomerate Aztech Group, 2½ years after it was put up for sale.