The cost of food is going up, observes Dr Daniel Chan, co-founder and the group deputy chief executive of Fullerton Health – a Singapore company that is one of the leading providers of corporate health-care solutions across the Asia-Pacific.
He is not referring to the local fine-dining scene, where the cost of a meal can rival that in some of the glitziest cosmopolitan cities around the world. But, really, his mind is on simpler fare.
He takes his closest and oldest clients to feast on nasi padang, and power lunches with his business partner means a trip to the nearest kopitiam (coffee shop). Here, he shares his penchant for down-to-earth fare with us.
Tell us about your power kopitiam meetings with your business partner.
(Dr Michael Tan) and I are both born and bred in Singapore – hawker food is comfort food to us. We have to eat despite how busy we are, so that’s when we brainstorm and problem-solve. The kopitiam environment is one that we are comfortable in – and the service is quick and efficient! Our meal could be bak chor mee, chicken rice, char kway teow, or Teochew muay (Chan belongs to the Hokkien dialect group, while Tan is Teochew), and we finish off with local kopi (coffee). No offence to artisanal coffee but I like my kopi siew dai (coffee with milk and less sugar).
What are some local stalls that we might find you at? Wow. Where do I begin? If we’re talking about near our office, Michael and I like Ah Ter Bak Chor Mee in Amoy Street. We also like Yu Guo Hainanese Curry Rice. And my guilty pleasure is ter huang kiam chye (pig innards with salted vegetables) from a stall at the Serangoon Gardens wet market. I have frequented the stall since my parents took me there as a kid.
What do you seek when entertaining business clients?
We work so closely with our clients that they become partners in managing health-care costs. A meal is really a platform to share our message and mission, and help them find solutions to their problems. Depending on the client and how well we know them, the venue might be a private, quiet place for a serious discussion, such as Crystal Jade at Paragon. We also entertain a lot at Tower Club (the dim sum is very good), and China Club where service is excellent and the environment is quiet.
Tong Le at OUE and Sky on 57 have excellent views of the Singapore skyline, and are great for hosting overseas clients. Sky on 57 also serves deluxe local dishes. We work so closely with some clients that they become friends. As they, too, entertain a lot and find comfort in simple food, we sometimes end up at local haunts. With a feast of ikan assam pedas and sotong hitam from Hajah Maimunah in Joo Chiat Road, and great company, what else can you ask for?
What are some fail-proof venues for entertaining overseas?
I spent about eight years in London and one of my favourite Italian restaurants is La Famiglia in King’s Road – they serve a great lobster pasta and bread soup. For brunch, I would head to Patisserie Valerie near Knightsbridge for fantastic scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and finish with profiterole separated by sheets of chocolate. In Hong Kong, the classic Cantonese dishes in Fook Lam Moon is a safe bet, while noodles at Sang Kee in Wan Chai is a good place to go with friends. We’ve heard about how you dragged your team out to Peter Lugers Steakhouse in the Bronx on a recent work trip, even though everyone was dead beat from travelling – and they eventually thanked you for it.
What do you think is the importance of good food?
Bonding over food is very important. It’s a bit like the kopitiam discussions – everybody relaxing around the dining table and sharing a common experience. Everybody remembered the 45-minute car ride and how the steakhouse was super crowded, and the lack of choice. As we were in New York as a team, I thought, instead of having everybody just calling room service and then heading to bed, we should create a memorable experience.
What are some of your most memorable dining experiences?
Quite a while back, on a trip with my parents, we visited Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant before he was famous. He was the chef and my parents and I had his famous terrine, steak, a pheasant and a fish dish. The food was simple but done superbly. Service was also impeccable. Also memorable but hardly fancy was when I went on a diving trip in the Maldives. It was a Singapore boat and the staff would cook Maggi Mee with an egg for us after our dives – delicious!
Do you cook?
I have two brothers and we cook extensively. My mum is a phenomenal cook but we had to learn when we were studying overseas. Back then, we cooked a lot of local food – I make a good chicken rice – but our focus today is Western dishes. Especially now, when good meats have become rather accessible, it is very satisfying to prepare your own steaks at home. The secret is that you have to cook it in duck fat. Fat is flavour!