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Pandemic opportunities for millennial chefs

How young chefs are charting their own paths in this new normal.

A JOBLESS chef couple who's starting a kitchen sharing concept so they don't have to worry about retrenchment. A pastry chef who built a viral bakery business during Circuit Breaker. A private dining chef who sold granola as a last resort and now can't keep up with the demand. A head chef who quit to launch his own line of XO sauce.

Circuit Breaker was a scary time for the local F&B industry and chefs' livelihoods, but for some, the stop gap measures they took to earn money have since led to new business opportunities that they didn't know existed. Especially now, as home-based businesses (HBB) flourish and dining out (and in) becomes the main entertainment for travel-starved Singaporeans. As the appetite for new things to eat grows, so too are young chefs closer to making their dream of running their own business a reality.

Changing perspectives

Where once the gold standard for a chef was to toil in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world until they found rich investors to invest in the restaurant of his or her dreams, it's no longer the case for millennial chefs. Particularly in this climate when even the top restaurants around the world are toppling like bowling pins.

"We live in a different era now," says Christopher Kong, the Seattle-born chef who started the private dining outfit Dearborn from his home a year ago. "You don't necessarily need the big backers that you once did in order to get your name out there. Working for top chefs and restaurants demands all of you if you want to flourish, but that's not for everyone. We live in a world where word-of-mouth is louder than ever with social media, and everyone can find their market and niche. There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. If you know what you want, and you are confident that you know how to do it, why not just cut to the chase?"

Having worked in restaurants from NoMad in New York to Waku Ghin, Chef Kong speaks from personal experience. He and his Singaporean wife started Dearborn in early 2019 "as a low-risk way for me to develop a brand, find my cooking style and meet investors before opening a brick and mortar restaurant".

Dearborn was a hit, until Covid-19 knocked it for a loop. Circuit Breaker meant no customers and no income. His wife had been working with him, so both were out of a job.

Shifting into survival mode, he decided to sell granola. "During Dearborn, we made granola for guests to take home for breakfast the next day. So many guests asked us to sell them more, but I didn't want to then. But (during CB), I thought why not give it a go, to make some income. When we first posted, it took about 30 minutes to sell out. Now it takes less than two minutes sometimes." The business did so well that he's since moved into a production kitchen in the CBD "to scale up and introduce other delicious products, and I'm really excited to have customers buy our jars from our own shop window". He's also stopped private dining, "as having strangers in our home would make me uncomfortable in the pandemic". But who knows. If he becomes a granola magnate, he might well open a proper restaurant sooner than he thinks.

(Original shared on Business Times via

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