Food Artisans in Singapore Who Make Us Nuts

In collaboration with Kenwood, we interviewed food artisans in Singapore. Food artisans are craftworkers who make food by hand using premium and healthy ingredients. In a sense, most homemakers who cook for their friends and families are food artisans; your grandmother who cooks or your brother who bakes.

The common thread between the food artisans we interviewed is that they want to eat something but they couldn’t find a good version locally and so they decided to step up and fill in the gap. They also work very hard and went through many trials before they reach where they are now.

Bake and Bake
8 Telok Blangah Crescent #01-159 Singapore 090008
tel: +65 9670 8007
9am-9pm, closed on Sat, PH, and eve of PH.

Anson Goh, the owner of Bake and Bake, was a pastry cook for four years and then a customer service officer for twelve years. All the while, he has been baking for his friends and colleagues. Finally, in 2017, he quit his job and concentrates on baking full time. His shop focuses on biscotti, an Italian almond biscuit. He uses less sugar, no butter, and no oil in them. His bestsellers are chocolate biscotti, almond biscotti, and pistachio biscotti.

Why is your shop called “Bake and Bake”?

It’s called “Bake and Bake” because you have to bake biscotti twice. For the recipe, I experimented and finally came up the biscotti on ourselves. We come up with original flavours such as mango-coconut-charcoal biscotti, and wolfberry-red date biscotti, a unique East-meets-West biscotti.

We use two days to make the biscotti. We bake the dough until it’s firm but not fully baked. We wait for it to cool down and then put it in the fridge overnight. Then we bake again. It’s very labour-intensive.

How did your passion in biscotti come about?

When I traveled to other countries, I didn’t know what it was. Then I realized it was very good to munch. In the end, I fell in love with biscotti. When I go to other countries, I always try it.

What are some of the issues you face or have faced?

In the beginning, I couldn’t afford a suitable machine to cut the dough; it couldn’t cut nicely so I had to hand-slice it. Every slice must be of a consistent size and a customized machine ain’t cheap. I had to slice on frozen dough until my hand hurt. But now, we finally save up to buy a machine and now we can take on bigger orders.

It’s always a financial issue. Many months, I didn’t have a salary and it was a struggle last year. I worried a lot about the spending. Although things are picking up, I still have to work harder. Things can be better.

I didn’t know anything about business. Every day I need to learn how to manage the business on the job. I have to learn how to foresee problems, how to plan ahead. I’m probably not as good as those business-minded people, but I’ll do my best.

Another issue is to get the word out, to get people to know us. People don’t have good impressions of biscotti because most people come in contact with it from supermarkets. So it’s hard to sell to people who already have a fixed idea. But once people try ours, we have repeat customers. We have a 91 year-old granny who said, “假牙慢慢吃lor.” I’m doing more events to promote it, but it’s very tiring to travel here and there. Sometimes, the events are quiet and the products don’t sell. Or when it rains, we have to keep our stuff. But when customers give us good feedback, it gives me great satisfaction.

It’s very tiring, but when you work for your passion, it’s fulfilling.

What is your eventual goal?

My dream is to open a bakery-cum-café one day. Because biscotti pairs well with coffee.

Haru Plate

Chen Shiqin and Irvin Tan are a husband-and-wife team behind Haru Plate, making food for kids from 18 months to six years old. Haru Plate makes sauces, stocks, and jams with whole, fresh, natural food and with no salt, no sugar, and no preservatives. Their products can be used to complement other food such as pasta, pizza, and bread.

Can you tell us about your background?

Irvin: I’m a computer engineer by training but when I graduated, I started as a commercial photographer and gradually found a passion for arts/documentary photography.

Shiqin: He was doing photography for a F&B where I was doing PR. That’s how we got to know each other. And we set up a freelancers’ studio. We’re still doing it… but after we have kids, the creative side of things is harder to sustain because deadlines are crazy. We wanted to do something that allows us to spend more time with our kids. Three, four months ago, we started Haru Plates full-time.

What is the meaning of “Haru”?

I: There is the official meaning. “Haru” means spring in Japanese, conveying a new beginning metaphorically for kids. The real backstory…

S: It’s to do with Ollie [their first child] and his schooling experience. He didn’t like school, always crying it’s not fun, it’s not fun. And then one day, something very simple changed his perspective towards school and it has to do with the word “Haru.” Kids are very innocent. To change their perspective, it’s very simple. Just find one thing.

I: He has a classmate named Haruka. One day he came back and said, “Papa, school was fun today.” What happened? “I have a new friend.” Oh, is she cute? “Yeah.” This is what we wanted for our food, to have something to change his perspective.

S: We want to make eating fun to get kids to eat better. But we try not to tell the story too much. Later, her parents get wind of it and think we are creepy.

How do you come up with the recipes?

S: I can’t cook for nuts. The recipes come from him. I can give feedback. He created the sauces so that I can cook for the kids. Once, he was on a work trip and I cooked salmon for the two children. Ollie looked at the fish, and said, “How come you only cook one thing? Daddy cook a lot of things one.” Then he saw an oregano flake and said, “Mommy mommy, you cook two things.” He had to comfort me that I wasn’t completely useless.

I: We were experimenting cooking food for our children at home. There is the organic market, which 90% of people cannot afford it. There is the mass market, which is loaded with chemicals you don’t want children to have. And parents, like us, do want better food for their kids. That’s where we come in.

What are some of the challenges you have faced?

I: We don’t use salt and sugar so it’s limiting. Our jams, we don’t use sugar, and that’s hard.

S: It’s not only in flavours, but in textures. Jams use emulsifiers to have jelly-like texture, but we don’t use emulsifiers, so we have to think about ways of how to create that texture. Also, the taste. When we adults taste it, we think it’s tasty, but when our children eat it, they fail it. You cannot know what kids will like.

I: Kids don’t care about your feelings.

S: they are quite brutal! They don’t like means they don’t like. The entire food experience for kids isn’t about the food; it’s also about colours. They like bright colours, purple, red. But they associate green with vegetables and dark red with chilli, so they avoid it.

L: That’s why we make our “sambal” [there is no chilli in it]. Once we shift kids’ perceptions, they are willing to try new things.

S: That’s how we name our products too. Our “pumpkin sauce” is named “My First Curry” [no chilli, only cumin] so when kids eat it, they think hey curry is not scary and when they are of a suitable age, they will transition to real curries.

I: When we develop our products, we are also thinking as parents educating kids on eating. Another challenge we faced… When we first started, we were targeting pre-schools where our kids spend most of the time. We spoke to school after school. Some of them were, oh good idea but we don’t want to pay for it. To be fair, school’s business is education ostensibly; it’s not food.

S: In Singapore, pre-schools are bogged down by rental. When it comes to food, they don’t think about it as nutrition; they think of it as operational costs.

I: We wanted to shift Haru in schools and at home. But schools are reluctant. Until schools see parents want it and are asking for it, there is nothing we can do. We were really trying out best for the last 3 to 4 months but things weren’t moving forward.

S: Our ultimate aim is to get kids to eat better. They are eating in schools and at home. It’s important to have continuity in schools and at homes so that children can develop lifelong healthy habits.

Holy Moley Dips

Teo Liwen, a former flight attendant, focuses on healthy, vegan, dairy-free hummus, freshly made with all natural ingredients with no preservatives. The original hummus is lighter than others I have tried. But my favorite flavours from Holy Moly Dips are Marmite & Caramelised Onions and Harissa & Habanero.They also have a dessert hummus dip, made from 100% pure Valrhona chocolate with only 2g of sugar, sweetened by dates.

Why is your store called Holy Moley Dip?

“Holy Moley” is my nickname in school because of my mole! [She points to the mole below her lips.] I wanted a catchy and easy-to-remember name.

Why did start a hummus online shop?

Before everything started, I was flying for four years. I was craving for hummus but I couldn’t find a good one in Singapore. That’s how I develop my interest in hummus.

What is the difference between your hummus and others’?

A lot of people tend to compare my hummus with the ones in supermarket. The price point is a bit different but the ingredients are super different. My hummus uses good quality ingredients and no preservatives. I don’t use canned chickpeas; I use dried ones. Instead of citric acid, I use fresh lemon juice. I use extra virgin olive oil whereas others use canola or other oils.

I also tweak it to local tastebuds. I did many test tastes. We prefer not so smooth and creamy if not we feel very jerlat. Mine has more texture.

Durian and truffles are my most requested. I cannot bring myself to make durian. I love durian by itself, but I’m not sure if it’s good with hummus. Maybe one day.

What are some difficulties you face?

 Starting from scratch, learning everything myself. I am not food trained. don’t have food background. How long should I soak the chick peas?  How long should I boil it and let it simmer? It took me one year to learn how to make hummus. Should I go as a sole proprietor? Food is sensitive, I have to read up on it. I considered food consultants to help me but it’s so expensive. I was caught in the middle because I left the job. I want to go as fast as possible but a lot of things have been stopping me. Since I have my mind set on doing it, I should do it on my first and not rely on food consultants. There are days when I feel discouraged but these setbacks have overall made me a positive person.

Another challenge: When I first launched, not a lot of people know hummus. I got a lot of private messaging to ask about the products. Marketing is very important. I get to meet people and they can try it.

What are your plans for the future?

I definitely want to scale. I left my comfortable job to do this; I didn’t want to make it small. The end goal is every household has a holy moley dip. But I definitely want to maintain no preservatives.

Provisions 杂货店
492 Macpherson Road, Singapore 368199
tel: +65 6909 0824
9am-4pm, closed Sun

Paul Ng (left) and Nicholas Tan (right) were secondary school classmates who set up Provisions 杂货店 that sells snacks and condiments. Their bestsellers are gula jawa almond brittle and curry cashews, and while they are very delicious, my favorite product is the pickled young ginger. The products are hand-made by them in small batches without any preservatives. One of the things that I really like about them is that they are socially conscious that they use paper packaging, instead of plastic. It’s just one of the little thoughtful things that make them stand out.

How did you come to set up Provisions?

Nicholas: We always have an interest in food and snacks and flavours that are familiar to us. We were both studying in UK at similar time and we missed Singapore food. So we cooked things we liked to eat.

When we came back to Singapore, a friend was getting married and on a whim she asked us to make something for wedding favors. We created the first two flavours, which were hits at the wedding. People were asking us where they could get it. That’s how we started and we finally launched our brand in the middle of last year.

As we R&D and develop more, it’s not just snacks we want to do, that’s why we have pickles and chillis and things like that.

Most of the startups focus on one product. But you have 11 or 12. Do you think you’re taking on too much?

Paul: The reason why we’re called za huo dian is because we want to do things that we like to eat. We have a bit of everything but we will make sure that they are unique. Even though we did a variety of things, we don’t copy others. We don’t do things differently for the sake of it; we do it because we like it. We incorporate new flavours but these flavours are always regional.

N: One of our strengths is ideations, drawing inspirations from familiar things. So for example, our masala lavosh cracker… I really like to eat to muruku, so we reinterpreted and reinvented it. If it comes to our minds, we try it out, explore, and if it works, we launch it. Another food, I have always been going to Hong Kong to get pickled ginger for century eggs, but the lady stopped making it. And I bugged her very often until she gave me the recipe. We tinkered with the recipe; and we want to bring pickled ginger back.

P: We don’t make for the sake of it. It’s usually something that hard to find and we want to eat it, so we make it. We don’t sell things we don’t like to eat. If we put it out, and we feel that it can be changed, we will change it.

Starting a business is always difficult. But it may be more difficult doing it with a friend. How do you manage?

P: Between Nicholas and I, there are many things that make the partnership work. We knew each other since we were 15, we know each other for 19 years. We are both literature grads, and we think about things similarly. At the end of the day, we have good hearts. If there are any small issues, they are just superficial; we have to get to terms.

How do you come up the recipes?

P: Over the past the years, we have different experiences with food, whether it’s cooking or eating at restaurants. We have a base recipe and then we tinker.

N: Going on holidays is always structured around food. Also I subscribe to food magazines.  It’s hard to pin down exactly where we get our recipes from. But our current snacks.. our recipes evolve and improve. It’s a constant evolution. After we have many of trials, we get a sense of what makes it right. We are not set on the recipes, there is always potential to evolve.

Since you have so many products, which one is your favourite?  

P: It’s hard to say. We have 2 and then we have 3, and suddenly we have 11 or 12.

N: They are all our babies. But kafifr lime coconut cashews… How this come about is… I’m thinking of the spices in our rendang. But I wanted to create something fragrant and not spicy. It’s interesting because when people try it, they thought of green curry but my Malay ex-colleagues got rendang immediately.

What are some difficulties you face?

P: Exposure. Exposure is very different to get.  Recently we were at a bazaar and we did very well. It gives us some form of confidence because we are sure that our products are right and there is a market for them. It’s just about getting the word out.

N: Having a store in a central location will help… but certain structural costs are very high. When we started out to expand our range while keeping the business on-going… like marketing and outreach while we R&D because it’s just the two of us. We had to learn things along the way because doing business is new to us.

What do you envision the future of your shop?

P: We want to maintain a boutique-ness but be an established brand in the F&B industry. We want to set up shop for people to pick up gifts for their friends and family here and overseas.

N: It’s a lot more that Singapore as a region can offer and it’s a pity our country isn’t doing it. Eventually, we do want to set up shop in a central area.

This article is presented by Kenwood who supports local food artisans, passionate homemakers, and anyone who cooks with a heart. For Kenwood, it’s about eating fresh food. For more inspiring stories about food artisans and wholesome recipes, please visit Kenwood.

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