The happiness of a man in this life does not consist of the absence but in the mastery of his passions – Alfred Lord Tennyson
We arrive in a quiet HDB complex. Dark clouds gather overhead and the plump, heavy raindrops begin to fall. Inside the square is the Keng Eng Kee Seafood Restaurant. The din of the lunch rush is beginning to die down. The tables and chairs appear orange under the heavy glow of the fluorescent lights overhead.
We are here to meet Derrick Tan; a popular Singaporean food blogger. Derrick runs the extremely popular sgfootonfoot.com. He has consistently been named one of the top food bloggers in Singapore, and we are delighted to get to meet with him, and I’m not afraid to say a little bit nervous. He has selected this restaurant for many reasons. For one, the salted egg yolk crab is arguably the best in Singapore.
Derrick started his food blog a few years ago as he and his wife were exploring places to eat in Singapore. His blog circles around dining establishments that can be found within walking distance of the MRT, a highly popular transportation option in Singapore given the very high cost of owning a car.
Derrick introduces us to Paul; the director of operations for KEK Seafood, and Wayne the head chef. We are immediately welcomed into the restaurant. Paul’s jovial laughter and warm spirit puts us at ease as we begin to setup our gear. We are welcomed just as if we were old friends, returning from a long journey. Paul’s brother, Wayne, is the head chef of KEK Seafood. Wayne, in his thirties, is the third generation chef for this family owned restaurant that has been around since the 1960’s.
Wayne ushers us into his kitchen where dinner prep begins for the evening. The heat is blisteringly intense in an area no bigger than an average bedroom. It’s like being in an attic of a 2 story house on a hot summer day. One of the six or so sous chefs is chopping the forty cucumbers that will be used as garnish for each dish. In the back, fresh fish is being skinned and prepped. Wayne personally sources all of his ingredients once a week from the local wet markets. Over in the corner another sous chefs fries the bean curd in hot oil. The soft and spongy bean curd seizes in the fryer as it gets put in, the angry boil of the oil ignites as a 3 foot wall of flame that licks the ceiling like a dragon’s tongue. Alison gets some quick B-roll before we move on to the interview.
Outside the kitchen, hundreds of little ‘hay-chor’ rolls are prepped in a giant round steamer. Hay-chor is Wayne’s mother’s personal recipe, rolled mince meat, water chestnut, carrot, and prawns wrapped in beancurd skin. Each hay-chor is carefully wrapped, steamed, and then deep fried.
I’m saving the details of the interview (and the other wonderful dishes) for our final film, but Derrick was an absolute joy to work with. He shared about his inspiration for his food blog, what he hopes will continue in Singapore food culture, and how he has a passion for sharing his food adventures with others.
After the interview, we are treated with the tasty dishes we saw being prepped earlier. Wayne carefully supervises the preparation and serving of each dish brought to our table, like a father carefully watching his children. The salted egg crab was the best crab dish I’ve had in Singapore, exceeding even the chili and black pepper versions I’ve had elsewhere. I don’t think I’ve seen that large of a crab portion in any restaurant I’ve been to here.
As we breakdown our gear and leave, the skies open and bathe us with a tropical cloud burst. We walk away from the shoot silently; partially due to all of the delicious food we ate, but in no small way due to the passion, caring, and hospitality we each just witnessed.
What makes two brothers carry their family’s legacy forward to a new generation? Given the numerous career options available, what drives Wayne and Paul to be masters of their craft, and to share this passion and drive with others?
As I’ve said before, these are recursive themes in our visits to Singapore. Here are two brothers and a food blogger, each sharing their love of the dishes, all while advancing Singapore food culture into the future for a new generation.
Thank you Derrick, Paul, Wayne, and your families. We are eternally grateful for all you did for us, and for demonstrating the best that humankind has to offer in this amazing place.