His namesake chain of quick-service soya sauce chicken restaurants can be found in 8 countries, from Thailand, Australia to Kazakhstan, but Chan Hon Meng, the founder of the Hawker Chan eatery chain has been steadfastly working at his original hawker stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre over the past two years.
Every day, the unassuming 58-year-old starts preparation work at the stall at 9 am before taking up his main duty of chopping the soya sauce-drenched chickens when the stall opens an hour later to snaking queues.
When The Peak met him on Friday afternoon after his stall had closed for the day, Chan was seen packing chilli sauce. He says in Chinese: “I like the satisfaction of being at my stall — I get to meet my customers and check the quality of the food. I have to eat my chicken rice every day.”
He also tastes the braising stock of the chicken as well as checks how the other meats are roasted, and chips in where his workers need help. He also visits the other Hawker Chan outlets here regularly to taste the food, troubleshoot issues and chat with workers.
His stall, which was formerly known as Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, was thrust into the international spotlight in 2016 when it received a coveted one Michelin star accolade. In 2018, Chan partnered homegrown food and beverage company Hersing Culinary to start a global restaurant franchise. Last year, the hawker stall lost its Michelin star, while the Smith Street outlet of the Hawker Chan eatery chain retained its Bib Gourmand recognition.
Hopes of getting at least a Bib Gourmand
Chan is adopting a laissez-faire attitude on the announcement of the results of the Singapore edition of the Michelin Guide this year. The results of the Bib Gourmand, which lists restaurants offering “good quality, good value cooking”, will be unveiled on 5 July, while the closely-watched starred restaurant list will be revealed in a ceremony and gala dinner at Marina Bay Sands on 12 July. As a teaser, the Guide has been releasing new additions to the Singapore list every month since April this year.
Chan says: “I hope that the hawker stall receives Bib Gourmand recognition — of course, getting back the star would be better. But, if that doesn’t happen, we will continue to work hard for customers, who are the best judge of our food.”
‘Regretful’ to have lost the Michelin star
Gesturing a sign of disappointment, he says that it was “regretful” that the Hawker Chan lost its star last year. He says: “Having retained the star for 5 years, it is challenging to hold on to the star for so long. Nothing lasts forever – especially when it comes to food, when it is determined by so many factors like the ingredients and manpower.”
He adds the main meat items, including the soya sauce chicken and roast meats, are all prepared in each of the outlets (be it in Singapore or overseas), and not in central kitchens. Due to travel restrictions, he and his overseas franchisees communicate regularly through video conference calls and text messages on issues and ideas they have on running the outlets. Hawker Chan will be opening outlets in Dubai and South Korea soon.
Like most chicken rice stalls here, Chan also has to grapple with the recent ban on imports of fresh chicken from Malaysia. He shares that Hawker Chan is using frozen chicken for now, and he has been adapting the recipe for frozen chickens and seeing how different they can be chopped. He shares: “Frozen chickens are smaller – for one of them, I can only serve 6 plates of chicken instead of 8.”
Customers are the best judge of his food
However, he is grateful that tourists are slowly returning to this stall, making up 30 percent of the customers, and getting continual support from local diners. When The Peak visited the stall earlier in the morning, there was already a queue of more than 10 people barely 30 minutes after the stall opened. The Hawker Chan hawker stall sells about 90 chickens daily.
Turning wistful, Chan reflects: “Having received a Michelin star for my hawker stall is a once-in-a-lifetime honour and hopefully that has played a part in putting Singapore on the global culinary map.”
(Related: What Michelin stars do to a restaurant)