Former drug addict is now chef, ceramicist and triathlete
He's nicknamed the Iron Man Chef
When he was 25, his employer dismissed him on learning that he was a former drug addict.
"It was painful," local chef Heman Tan, who declined to name the company in question, told The New Paper at a media brunch on Friday.
"The company even spread the story around the F&B industry about me being an ex-addict, so people were afraid to hire me."
Now a celebrated culinary artist, ceramicist and triathlete, the 48-year-old has truly overcome the odds.
Nicknamed the Iron Man Chef, Tan was appointed chief culinary officer of the Soup Restaurant Group last month. He was previously executive chef of the JP Pepperdine Group, which operates restaurants such as Jack's Place.
Tan has designed a Gourmet Table menu featuring high-end dishes, such as steamed spinach chawanmushi with chicken bak kut teh soup, to be launched at selected Soup Restaurant outlets next month.
The dishes will be served on ceramic plates and bowls also designed by Tan, who studied ceramics under the late Dr Ng Eng Teng, a Cultural Medallion winner.
"It's my way of pairing my two artistic passions together," said Tan.
His dishes will also be served to nursing home residents as part of Soup Restaurant's ongoing charity programme.
"I want (the elderly) to have decent and down-to-earth meals, and enjoy eating them off beautifully made porcelain ware," he said.
Tan's second book, The Iron Man Chef's Guide To Life, will be released this Friday.
Chef Heman Tan with his festive desserts, which will retail over Christmas and Chinese New Year. TNP PHOTO: CHOO CHWEE HUA
A follow-up to his first cookbook Tough. Love., his new offering dispenses recipes and nuggets of wisdom as he shares his extraordinary life story.
"This book is about me stripping down to reveal very personal details of my life.
"I hope my story can inspire troubled young people and their parents," he said.
Tan's father was a vegetable seller and his older brother and sister died when he was a child, leaving him and his parents grieving.
When he was in primary school, an infection left him mostly deaf in his left ear, and he struggled in school due to dyslexia.
"I could not study or read properly, so my learning was very slow," said the father of three, who needed to turn his right ear towards this reporter as he spoke.
"I only learnt I was dyslexic when my youngest son, who is now 11, was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in Primary 1.
"He is doing all right - he has a high IQ and is very good in science," Tan said.
In secondary school, Tan fell into bad company and joined a gang, which led him to experiment with drugs.
His desperate parents sent him to a boys' home, then to London after his national service, hoping he would turn over a new leaf.
After learning about English cooking as a kitchen helper in London's Walker's Inn, he returned to Singapore and spent time at a halfway house. There, he was introduced to his "spiritual father", Dr Ng.
"Meeting him was my turnaround point," he said.
"People know me as an impatient person, but I learnt patience from molding clay."
Patience and fortitude also helped him participate in Ironman triathlons, and Tan runs or cycles about 15km daily to start his day.
Although he is best known for his cooking, Tan said the skill he would like to pass on to his children is the art of ceramics.
"I do not force my kids to be like me, but I hope I can teach them how to mold clay because the process is very special to me," he said.
People know me as an impatient person, but I learnt patience from molding clay.
- Local chef Heman Tan, whose mentor was the late Cultural Medallion winner Ng Eng Teng