The story of 'John' - how my quest to help a diabetic patient change his diet turned me into a passionate promoter of spiralised vegetables as 'noodles'
Let me share with you <The Story of 'John'> the story of how I became such a passionate promoter of spiralising vegetables as 'noodles' that I am today.
About 3 years ago, I was reviewing the food diary and blood glucose records of one of my patients, let’s call him John (not his real name), with poorly controlled diabetes. I had put him on a blood glucose monitoring device that would allow us to track his 24 hour blood glucose profile and also got him to take photos of his every single meal for a week. That morning, we were going through the photos of his each and every meal and his corresponding post meal blood glucose response of each meal in detail. This is what I do with almost all my patients, half of whom are diabetics and the other half are people with high cholesterol, hypertension or weight problems, who come to see me for lifestyle & dietary habits modification coaching to improve and better control their conditions. I only see patients by appointment and I normally only schedule to see at most 3-4 patients per day because I would allocate 45mins to an hour for each patient, and I only run my clinic in the morning, allocating the rest of the day working in my restaurant or conducting lifestyle & dietary habits workshops and programmes.
Let’s get back to the story of John.
John was in his 50s and had diabetes for more than 20 years. When he was first diagnosed with diabetes, it was mild and for first few years was only on one oral medication for diabetes. He, like most people with diabetes I know, became complacent about his condition, and was content with just relying on medications to control his abnormal blood sugar without making any effort to change his lifestyle and eating habits. He told me that he loved food and on top of that he was a busy businessman and had to do a lot of entertaining of clients, so he didn’t try very hard to change his eating habits. So, as would be expected, his diabetes condition gradually but surely worsened over time and he was put on more and more medications to control his ever worsening blood glucose. And by the time, he came to seek help at my clinic for lifestyle and dietary habits change coaching, he was already on multiple oral medications for diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol. Diabetes complications had already begun to set in and he was already almost blind in one his eyes and his kidney had begun to fail.
So that morning at my clinic, I was reviewing together with John, every single meal he had in the week before and the corresponding post-meal blood glucose profile with each of the meals that we were reviewing. Something stood out clearly, he loved noodles, all kinds of noodles. He would start the day with Bak Chor Mee or Char Bee Hoon and may then also have other kinds of noodles dishes such as wanton mee or mee pok for lunch or dinner or supper on the same day. And from the glucose monitoring device that we had put on him, we could see the significant spike in his blood glucose following each of his noodles-heavy meals.
I looked at him and said, ‘John, you do know right? That these noodles dishes, consisting almost wholly of flour-made noodles/beehoon/kway teow, are high GI and would spike your blood glucose post meal, as you can see for yourself from your blood glucose monitor.’
John replied, ‘Doctor, to be honest with you, I am feeling depressed. I am already blind in one eye, my kidneys are failing because of my diabetes condition. I loved food, especially these noodles dishes I grew up with and which have become my comfort food. So although I know that these noodles dishes will cause my blood glucose to spike, my blood glucose monitor shows that clearly and consistently every time I eat these noodles dishes, but I still cannot help myself and must have these noodles dishes every day.’
I left the clinic that day feeling a mixture of frustration, sadness and anger. Like most Singaporeans, I have always been a foodie, and I love food. But what I saw that morning was a person who, for his love of our local food, struggled to make the necessary changes in his dietary habits, even though his health was clearly deteriorating as a result.
That afternoon when I was working in the kitchen of my restaurant, I kept thinking about him and whether I could create and entice him with lower GI alternatives to the noodles he loved so much. That afternoon, I ended up getting hold of some daikon and spiralising them to vermicelli-like strands and cooked them in a tom yum soup, I then got my wife as a guinea pig to try the tom yum daikon-'noodles' dish I created, she loved it and that was that, I immediately added the dish to the menu of my restaurant the very next day to test the responses of my customers, some customers loved it, some a lot less and quite a few were incredulous that I even dared suggesting this as an alternative to the noodles or vermicelli that they so loved. Subsequently I even invited John, the patient who inspired me to create and offer this Tom Yum Daikon-Noodles dish in my restaurant to come by to try it, and I was very happy to see, he being a big noodles fan, seemed to be like the daikon-noodles too.
And ever since that day, I could not help myself but be an ‘evangelist’ on using vegetables to replace high GI flour-made noodles at every opportunity & platform I get because I wanted to change the minds and palate of people and not have them end up like ‘John’ who could not give up or even reduce his intake of high GI flour made products even when his medical condition called for it and his health was clearly being compromised as a result of it. Up till the day I stopped operating my restaurant The Bento People in March 2019, I made spiralised vegetables a very prominent part of the restaurant menu, including ‘Doodles’ (Daikon spiralised noodles-like), ‘Zoodles’ (Zucchini spiralised noodles-like) and ‘Broodles’ (Broccoli spiralised noodles-like). I intentionally chose to demonstrate spiralising daikon into ‘noodles’ when I was invited to participate in the Mediacorp Channel 8 variety show 冰箱的秘密, I also intentionally showcased spiralised vegetables in many of the episodes of < 厨师医生送便当>, a 13-part series I did with SPH radio 96.3好FM.
And even after I stopped operating my restaurant The Bento People in March 2019 and transforming the space into ‘Habits for Health KITCHEN’ running food & health educational dining events and workshops, I have continued to use these programmes to advocate and encourage people to use using spiralised vegetables to replace high GI flour-made noodles common in many popular Singapore favourite dishes. So in the ‘Eat & Learn with What’s Cooking Doc’ programmes that I’ve running, I do demonstrations on spiralising vegetables as well as serve them dishes such as ‘Laksa Doodles’ (daikon spiralised noodles like), Curry Zoodles (daikon spiralised noodles like) and many other dishes where I reinvent popular Singapore noodles dishes using vegetables to replace the high GI flour-heavy noodles in these dishes.
Although I have no delusion that these lower GI whole food alternatives that I am advocating would ever displace Singaporeans’ common love for noodles and other popular staples made from processed carbohydrates, all I wanted and hoped to do is to introduce to people some different-but-just-as-yummy whole food alternatives to noodles, especially for those who needed to moderate their intake of processed carbohydrates products because of their changed health circumstances.
I am not saying anything about whether noodles are unhealthy and neither am I suggesting that everyone must give up or reduce their intake of their favourite hawker noodles dishes, all I am saying is that we all could do with a more 'flexible' palate, one that would enable us to still be able to enjoy what we eat even when we have to change our dietary habits, if not by choice but when necessitated by the changed circumstances of our health.
It is one thing to enjoy our favourite hawker foods occasionally and on special occasions but to have them as our daily staple and not being able to reduce the intake of them even when our changed health conditions demand that we do so is another thing altogether.
It is OK to love food, I do too but we shouId love life more, and that does not mean that we cannot enjoy our food at the same time, we just need to move away from a 'Love Food, Enjoy Life' mindset to one that 'Love Life, Enjoy Food' instead.
As for me, I shall continue to make best use of every opportunity that I get to activate people to change their eating habits for better health and to combat diabetes and other lifestyle-related diseases, including the Eat & Learn with What's Cooking Doc educational dining events that I conduct regularly as well as on whatever media programmes that I have the privilege to be invited on such as this series of 《厨师医生送便当》videos I did for 96.3FM where I shared about the benefits of exploring the use of vegetables to replace the high GI flour-heavy staples commonly found in many Singapore favourite dishes. >> Click here for link to the videos
Eat & Learn with What's Cooking Doc - Exploring Better Staples
is a 2 hour educational dining programme where I teach, do food demo and serve food in tasting portions to educate, encourage participants to explore better lower GI staples such as quinoa, spiralised vegetables (zucchini, daikon etc), cauliflower rice and tofu skin noodles as substitutes for the more common high GI flour-heavy noodles staples found in many popular Singapore dishes. For more info on >>> Eat & Learn with What's Cooking Doc - Exploring Better Staples
Today's Valentine's Day, the 24th Valentine's Day that we are celebrating as Husband and Wife. And for the first time in the many years since we accidentally started our restaurant The Bento People in 2014, we are able to celebrate Valentine's Day today without having to spend the evening working at our restaurant serving dinners to lovey dovey couples, but that's only because Valentine's Day this year falls on a day where we are not open for dinner, so after working at the restaurant for the lunch service, we could take the rest of the day off to celebrate.
I first wrote this post in 2015 to publicly acknowledge and thank my long suffering wife Janice for her unwavering support in everything I do. How many times does a man need to thank his wife, the answer can only be - again and again and again .....Although this blog post was first written & shared in 2015, I have been updating this post regularly ever since and the last time I updated this post was after a particularly busy, stressful and tiring day.
That particular day started with us having to start our day very early in the morning at our medical clinic because we had a long list of patients scheduled for their lifestyle and dietary modifications consultations that morning. Whilst I busied myself being the doctor to my patients, my wife spent the morning being coordinator and coach to them, taking care of every details, from helping the them schedule their appointments to come back to see me, to arranging for blood and other laboratory or diagnostic tests for the patients to playing the role of a friend and coach to many of our patients in their journeys to change their lifestyle and dietary to control their diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol and weight problems and other chronic lifestyle-related conditions.
After that particularly busy morning in the clinic, we then rushed off together to work at our restaurant The Bento People during the busy lunch hour. So that day, like most other days, from 12 to 2pm, she played the role of the super efficient yet smiley host at the front counter serving the customers whilst I work in the hot kitchen cooking up the orders for the customers and that particular day last week was one of the busiest lunch service we ever had. After the last of the customers had left that day, I rushed off to the hospital to conduct some lifestyle and dietary modification programmes whilst my wife decided to stayed behind in the restaurant, because she had to work with the staff on many matters, including arranging their schedules, ordering supplies from our many ingredients suppliers as well as liaising with the customers who had sent in requests for bento deliveries for their company events and meetings.
By the time I finished my work at the hospital that day, it was already evening when I got back to the restaurant to meet up with her, When I got there, she was busy helping some customers, and as I waited to speak to her, I could see that she was looking a little tired but the first thing she told me when she saw me was to remind that she had arranged for me to speak to some of our patients who needed follow up, so I spent that evening busy with my patients whilst she continued to work at the front counter serving customers at our restaurant for the dinner service, And after the last of the customers had left, we both spent some time cleaning and packing up the place before finally leaving for home, but that was not before detouring to the supermarket to pick up some stuff that a supplier had failed to deliver that day but was urgently needed by the kitchen the next morning. By the time we reached home that evening, it was almost 10pm and we both immediately crashed onto our bean bags in the living room. I turned on the TV to watch some random programmes to chill, whilst she turned on her laptop to reply to emails from customers and patients because she didn't have enough time to deal with them till she reached home. Soon she fell asleep on the bean bag whilst working on her laptop,. As I looked at her asleep, obviously exhausted, I felt a mixed sense of awe and gratitude for all that she had done and was continuing to do to support all the different things, some crazier than others, that I had done and was doing.
Hence the frequent updates to this 3 year old blog post. I wanted to tell my friends, who after seeing how I was able to do so many different things at any single time, been calling me a 'superman', I wanted to tell these people, I am no Superman, I am merely a man with a Wonder Woman behind me.
All these years, as I embarked on one 'adventure' after another, there were two things that were the ever constants.
One - 万事起头难, taking on new challenges, especially in areas where I did not have the relevant training or any prior experience, was never easy. Each time that I embarked on a new adventure, taking on yet another new challenge, into untested, untried territories, it would be filled with uncertainties, fears, difficulties, unknowns and sufferings. especially at the beginning. It didn't get any easier with practice or experience, it just came with the territory.
Two - the second constant was that my wife, Janice, would always be there with me and for me.
When I first started practising as a medical doctor more than 20 years ago, working insane hours, from 8am - 10pm daily, with no lunch or dinner breaks, seven days a week, she was there for me, she even changed her meal timings so that we could have dinners together, we could only eat together at about 10 plus pm every night after I had finished seeing my last patients and shut the clinic.
When I decided to take the leap to join Economic Development Board (EDB) as an entry level executive, she was there for me. Even though at that time, our son was just a month old and we were not yet financially stable and the decision meant that I had to take a huge (more than 60%) pay cut from my then comfortable 5 figure monthly salary as a GP in the late 90s, she was there for me. She quietly supported me and never complained about the lifestyle adjustments that we had to make because of my pay cut.
When I was posted by EDB to London to be their Centre Director there, she stopped work and gave up her career to move to London with me and lived there for a few years, becoming a stay home mom looking after our young kids.
When I became the Assistant CEO of a statutory board and had to attend many public events as a VIP guest, she overcame her introverted and extremely private nature to attend the many public and industry events with me.
Just when life had finally become more stable and comfortable, after many years of hard work as a mid career change civil servant, I having been promoted to senior management positions overseeing a few hundred staff and spearheading many major national initiatives, I decided to take the biggest leap of all, I quit my comfortable stable position to become an entrepreneur.
Yet she was there for me. All the hardships of starting up a new business, all the fears of failures, all the financial hardships we had to go through. She was stoically there for me, never complaining.
When I started a new business, she made the effort to learn about the new business and supported me. When I became the CEO of a company developing, constructing and operating a hotel, she learned all about the administration and finance practices of the industry and supported me. When I 'accidentally' went into starting and operating a F&B business. I became the accidental chef and she became the accidental baker. She just took up the challenge because I was taking up the challenge. We went to baking school together, we worked the super long hours together, we hosted our guests together, we did the dish washing together, we woke early to go to the markets together. We even had the same oven burn marks on both our arms together. She was there for me every step of the way.
In the last four years, when I began to devote myself to the area of lifestyle medicine, preaching, teaching and coaching people in the area of lifestyle & health, she again became my partner and supporter. When I am practising as a lifestyle medicine doctor and seeing patients in my clinic, she became the counsellor, friend and coach to my patients, supporting and encouraging them in their journeys to change their eating habits.
We put both her microbiology degree and my medical degree to good use, putting all the knowledge of health & diseases from my training & practice as a medical doctor coupled with the deeper knowledge of food and the relationship of food and health that I acquired in the last few years as a healthy food chef and practitioner as well as our experience in conducting coaching programmes and workshops in helping our patients & coachees to change their lifestyle and eating habits to combat diabetes and other lifestyle related diseases.
I saw that there was an great unmet need especially amongst people with diabetes. I saw that many did not have the knowledge or the necessary support to have a serious go at using lifestyle modification to to optimise the management of their conditions and that I could play a part in helping them. I decided to throw myself fully into doing all that is necessary to to help people change their eating habits to prevent and combat diabetes and other lifestyle-related diseases.
So for the last 4 over years, that has been my personal calling, mission and work. and she was there for me again, as always. We spent a lot of time studying scientific materials and research studies together, on lifestyle and behavioural change, food and diseases, especially diabetes, ischaemic heart diseases and cancers and other conditions where food has a significant role. We would spend time discussing topics like insulin, glucose and metabolism during meal times and even do testing of our own blood glucose level together after eating certain specific foods so as to be able to fully appreciate what our diabetes patients who have to go through.
We began to exercise together, tracking our heart rate and activity level. We decided that we want to do our very best and do everything possible to encourage and help people change their lifestyle and dietary habits, which meant that beyond being just the doctor, tutor, trainer, coach, counsellor to my patients, I should endeavour to be their role model too. That beyond 'Preaching', 'Prescribing' and 'Teaching' lifestyle and dietary habits change to my patients, I should endeavour to walk the talk and practise fully what I preach, prescribe and teach in terms of healthy lifestyle & dietary habits. Again, she was there supporting and encouraging every step of the way.
It would have been a lot more straight forward, more comfortable in all sense of the word, especially financially, if I had decided to just practise medicine in the conventional way instead of focusing 100% on this new and challenging area of advocating, activating, educating and enabling people to change their lifestyle & dietary habits to prevent and combat lifestyle-related diseases. Because the harsh but sad reality is that most people would prefer and choose to pay for pills than to have to change their eating habits. But she never ever, not even once, questioned my decision or my 'sanity' in taking this challenging path which will require the family to continue to endure the sacrifice of financial security and other challenges that came with it.
And it has certainly not been easy, people are not familiar with the science, power and practice of lifestyle medicine, even to people who badly need it. The going so far has been very tough on us as a couple and on the family. But my wife has never wavered in her support for me and that kept me going in spite of the difficulties. We monitor our patients and coachees; progress together and we get encouraged together when we see the progress that our 'coachees' were making. There was this man with diabetes that we were coaching, we coached him together and we even brought his wife to the supermarket to educate her on what's good & what's bad for her husband and even helped her with cooking tips when she needed it, and all this while my wife was there assisting me in everything, all the way. And I remember how my wife was cheered and encouraged seeing the kilograms drop off from this man and seeing his blood sugar control improving over time. It is these 'little' things that is keeping me going in spite of the immense challenges. Seeing how my wife is supporting me all the way and being able to share the joy of seeing the progress of our 'coachees' with her have become the 'fuel' for me in my journey to activate, educate and enable people to unlock the power of their lifestyle and dietary choices to prevent and combat diabetes and lifestyle-related diseases.
I never had any fears for the hardships and uncertainties that will inevitably come with every new big challenge I embarked on, the only thing I always 'hated' every time that I went on these new adventures was the hardship and worries that I had to impose on my wife.
How I wished I can live in 2 parallel universes. One where I would go on adventures, take risks and suffering all the hardships ALONE, whilst in the other universe I would be a regular guy with a successful career built consistently over decades with a steady fat income. I would want my wife to live with me in the second universe but maybe not the first. Then I would not have had to impose on my poor long suffering wife all the hardships, worries, fears and uncertainties that invariably came with every new adventure I embarked on, which I had been on many in the last 20 plus years.
Thank you my dear wife, my long suffering wife
But until then, I just want to say to my long suffering wife, " Thank you dear, 我会加油的 and will do my darnest best in whatever we are doing and one day I hope, however belatedly, I can afford to give you a Tai Tai lifestyle which you much deserved! :-)"
When I wanted to start up a bakery,
we went to baking school together to learn to make breads and buns
We celebrated Valentine's Day of 2015, 2016, 2017., 2018 by working together and serving our customers celebrating Valentine's Day at our restaurant, The Bento People.
She bakes. I cook.
I speak on stage, she sits in audience cheering me on
When I speak at workshops, she 'blends' into the audience
to give me support and be my critic.
When I began to get my patients to conscientiously do more walking everyday and decided that I needed to be a good role model by literally also walking the talk, she joined me and made sure we made time and the effort and walked together with me around our estate everyday.
When bloggers want to feature 'both of us', she, despite her extreme introvertedness & her very private nature, agrees to their requests. The above pic is a post from ieatishootipost
When I created new dishes for the menu of my restaurant,
she was my food taster and fiercest critic :-)
This is the story of the birth of THE BENTO PEOPLE, the why and how I 'birthed' an eatery with a mission to encourage, educate & enable people to understand more about and be able to practise using the power of food choices to maintain & improve their health.
[ For more info, location & opening hours of THE BENTO PEOPLE >> Click here ]
The Bento People was actually birthed out of a bistro/cafe which originally served up a creative international fusion menu for customers who worked and lived in the neighbourhood.
The birth of The Bento People, with a mission to encourage and enable customers to explore and enjoy eating healthy as a lifestyle, happened a few months into my journey as a doctor turned accidental chef.
As a medical doctor, I had never intended nor imagined that I would start an F&B business, let alone lead and work full-time in the kitchen for a couple of years. But the unexpected event of the chef quitting 2 days before the eatery’s opening led me onto such a journey where I would end up working as a full time chef, and spending time creating dishes and finding ways to encourage adn educate people to see food as medicine, and to make conscious considered food choices every meal.
When the chef quit, I just instinctively stepped into the gap to stand-in as the ‘chef’, prior to which I had no formal culinary training or experience working in a commercial kitchen, although I had been an avid home cook all my life. I had originally, and now looking back rather naively, thought that I would only have to stand in as the chef for the eatery for a few months at most, but little did I imagine that I would end up working full-time in the kitchen from 2014 to 2016, while continuing to manage the restaurant and being in charge of the kitchen even up to today.
At the beginning, I was just enjoying the ‘fun’ of being able to exercise my creativity to create dishes to delight my customers. I never had any ambition to do anything more than that. But being a medical doctor, I soon realised that although I could take the ‘doctoring’ out of me and put myself into the kitchen to work as a chef full-time, I could not take the ‘doctor’ out of me even though I was working as a full-time chef serving food to people and not a doctor helping people with their health.
I also never intended to let people know that I am a medical doctor when I was working full-time in the kitchen of the eatery. In fact I had gone out of my way to try to keep it a ‘secret’. I didn’t know what my other doctor friends would think of me if they found out and most of all, I was worried about what my customers would think if they found out that the chef in the kitchen was actually a medical doctor, I was ‘paranoid’ and had imagined that many customers might say (in hokkien), ‘An Zua Lor Koon Mai Jo, Jo Cook‘, which when translated to ‘Singlish’ would read ‘Why when you can be doctor, you don’t want, why you want to be a cook?’ hahaha. But more worrisome for me was this fear of possible unrealistic expectations from customers that the food I serve in the eatery must be ‘healthy’ just because I, the chef in the kitchen, am a doctor.
But an unplanned social visit by my ex-colleague, the famous doctor food blogger Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost.sg and his subsequent sharing a post on his facebook saying that I am a ‘doctor turned chef’ totally changed the path of what I was doing in the kitchen ( you can read Leslie Tay’s facebook post >> here >> )
My 'cover' was immediately blown, by Leslie’s tay’s facebook post about him finding a doctor turned chef. Initially I was worried, especially when many of my customers, upon finding out that I am a doctor, began to ask me many questions about eating healthy, about the relationship between food and health. This, as well as a series of other events led to me to a decision to fully embrace educating and encouraging people towards healthy eating and lifestyle as my personal purpose and mission. you can read my blog post on this - 'Advocating Healthy Eating - the day I began to embrace it as my purpose and my mission' This was the seed that birthed The Bento People as we know it today.
My 'research' about 'Eating Healthy' perspectives and habits disturbed me
The first thing I had to do and did was to dive deeply into research - about what medical science say about the typical dietary habits of modern city dwellers and how they have contributed to chronic diseases like diabetes. I also began to do more research on what people think about the relationship between food and health, talking to people, my doctor friends and also customers about their diets and their understanding of the relationship between food and health. This gave me a greater insight into the common dietary habits of most people and how that had affected their health and what are the areas that needs changing and what I could to do to contribute in some way to helping people make changes to how they eat so as to keep in health and restore lost health.
And what I found disturbed and also discouraged me. Most people acknowledge that food choices have a great impact on health and especially chronic lifestyle-related conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and weight problems as well as the consequent increased risks of strokes and heart attacks. But the majority of people were unable or even unwilling to change their existing food choices and dietary habits to keep in health or better control their blood sugar/cholesterol/pressure problems, with most preferring to choose the 'easier' way of just taking and depending on medications to control their conditions, thinking that that would allow them to keep in health without any need to improve or change their dietary habits. These people were usually the kind who LOVE FOOD and who have the very wrong perception that 'Eating Right for Health' and 'Eating Happy' cannot co-exist.
I also discorvered another group of people at the other end of the spectrum - people who are 'obssessed' with and even 'fanatical' about every new 'Healthy Eating' fads, to them eating healthy was only and all about following every new 'findings' / 'discoveries' regarding nutrition and 'Healthy Eating' and they would be quick to embrace every new 'superfoods', 'super diets' or anything that had a 'healthy', 'nutritious', 'Super-___' or 'organic' labels stuck on them.
The First Challenge - what kind of 'Healthy Eating' principles and offerings' would I stand for, advocate and offer?
First thing that I knew I had to do then was to be very CLEAR and CONSISTENT about the 'Healthy Eating' principles and offerings I would actively promote to my customers. It had to be something that I would actively practise myself, and something that I would be able to also, without any hesitation, encourage my wife and our two precious kids to practise as well.
One thing I knew for sure was that I would not want to be promoting any kind of ‘super’ diet, ‘super’ food , ‘super’ nutrient or any kind of health fads just because they were 'marketing-worthy' to the health-conscious consumers. I just wanted to decide for myself what 'Healthy Eating' principles, practices and products I myself would be comfortable with and be able to be passionate about championing and offering to my customers and even my wife, my kids and everyone whom I care about.
Falling back on my medical background was a natural thing to do. This was where I went back to where I 'came from'. I went back to medicine to look for answers. And for months, I dived deeply into research and looked at what reputable medical research institutions and health authorities from around the world, from their extensive medical research and studies, were saying about the greatest gap and need in modern society regarding food choices and health.
The very compelling conclusion that I came to after my deep dive scan of research and the local situation, in terms of what most people in Singapore need to do better in terms of their dietary habits so as to prevent and control chronic lifestyle-related conditions ( high blood sugar/ cholesterol/ pressure) was this: Building a good foundation that eliminates/reduces as much as possible all added / free sugar & processed foods - especially processed carbohydrates and meats; and upon that foundation, making specific choices, with the guidance of their doctors, in order to tackle their individual specific health problems and goals. Some may do well to choose food focusing more on GI (glycemic index) considerations, whilst others may need to consider adopting a more Whole Food Plant-based or Grain-lite/free dietary lifestyle for a season at least.
So I decided that I want to be able to use my restaurant to Encourage, Educate and Enable my customers to do the above.
The first thing I did then was to 'clean up our menu' so as to adhere to my new mission, 'throwing out' all the food and drinks in our old menu containing free sugar or were processed. So out went the ice-cream ( the ice-cream freezer and display in the restaurant is now used to store and display quinoa for sale! haha), out went the fruit juices too, and out went the meatballs and luncheon meats that were used for our very popular meatballs and spam fries.
Upon this foundation of no free-sugar/processed foods, I wanted to be able to encourage, educate and enable customers to practice conscious and considered food choices specific to their own health challenges, needs and goals, whether it is low GI, whole food plant-based or grain-lite/free. So my second challenge was to develop a new concept/menu to do this.
The 2nd Challenge - the search for a concept and menu that I could use to educate and encourage my customers to make conscious and considered food choices specific to their respective health challenges, needs and goals.
After much searching and thinking, I found it. The Bento Box. I realised that a bento box with equal compartments would be the perfect vehicle for my purpose and goal to teach my customers about making specific food choices, including and especially the relative proportion of the different food types/groups for every meal based on their own needs and goals or based on the diets prescribed to them by their doctors
In the end, I even ended up having to air-freight lacquer bento boxes from Japan because I could not find suitable ones in Singapore with the dimensions and compartments that I wanted to use to guide my customers on how to have the right proportions and portions for their meals.
The 3rd Challenge - The Menu
Now that I was clear about the healthy eating principles I was championing and the concept/vehicle to deliver that to my customers, I needed to create a menu to support that.
And so for many weeks after that, I went into a intense research and development mode in the kitchen, creating and testing many 'Low GI', 'Whole food plant-based(vegan)', 'Wholesome non-processed meats', and 'vegetables' dishes to put on the new menu for the new concept. In particular, I wanted to create healthy dishes that the average Singaporeans might take to, so I created a whole grain red rice with Chinese olive vegetables, a whole grain brown rice option flavoured with a variety of fresh herbs, I also used quinoa to create ‘quinoa fried rice’ and ‘quinoa lemak’, I created a range of new dishes with wholesome non-processed meats, vegetable and whole-grains with flavours familiar to the Singaporean/international palate, such as Thai Tom Yum, Thai Green Curry, North Indian Masala, Japanese Miso amongst many others.
Because I knew that in order to succeed in my mission, I knew I simply had to make the 'healthy' also tasty.
The final challenge - giving it a name.
After many intense weeks of research, testing and development in the kitchen, we were finally ready to launch and introduce this Make Your Own Healthy Bento concept to our lunch customers. The only thing left to do was to give it a name.
A few days before our launch, I was in the car with my 18 year old son, Ryan. I shared with him my plan to launch a ' Make Your Own Healthy Bento' concept and explained my motivation for doing so. He was very supportive and encouraging. I told him I wanted this Healthy Bento concept to be a brand new F&B concept that would stand for our mission of educating and enabling our customers to choose better for health. We started to throw out possible names for this new brand and within minutes, the name 'The Bento People' came up and we both immediately agreed that we should adopt it as the brand name for the new 'Make Your Own Healthy Bento' concept.
So it was as simple as that, - The Bento People brand name was thus chosen and birthed in a five-sminutes conversation with my son.
And on the 28th of April 2015, six months after the eatery had first opened for business, we relaunched our eatery with a brand new brand 'The Bento People' and served 'Make Your Own Healthy Bento' for the first time, and with that took our first baby steps in a long journey towards realising our mission of educating and encouraging our customers towards embracing 'healthy eating' as a lifestyle.
I still have much to learn on this journey and I would be most grateful for any advice and help that anyone would offer. I would continue to learn, listen and try my best.
I also know it is not going to be easy and would be full of obstacles.
But I am prepared to give my all to achieve this mission.
Wish me luck.
The Bento People - Eat Happy. Choose Healthy.
回想到新明日报的记者访问我， 要我跟她分享当年我创办 The Bento People（健康便当之族） 餐馆时的故事, 以及为什么我一名医生会去当名餐馆的全职主厨。
一眨眼就三年了。 在2014 年开办 The Bento People 餐馆时， 我根本没有打算当全职主厨，但一眨眼就当了主厨三年了。老实说，当主厨又要当医生真的不容易，真的很累， 可是每当我看到我的病人或餐馆顾客的饮食习惯有所改变时，他们的身体健康指标有好转，而因此改变了他们未来的健康轨道， 我就会觉得再累也是值得的。不管多吃力不讨好，我还是会坚持下去的。
- Waking people up to
The Power of Lifestyle to Heal & Destroy, helping them to maintain wellness & regain lost health through informed lifestyle & food choices
>> My Medical Practice where Lifestyle & Dietary modifications is the first go to medicine
>> My 'School' - Engines of Health - where I run workshops and programmes
>> My Restaurant - The Bento People - where I cook and try to entice people to eat healthy.
>> My Advocacy - The TV & print media where I have the priviledge to advocate the power of Lifestyle as Medicine
Why & What I Blog about
Blog's Top Posts
Lifestyle as Medicine - my journey, my passion, my pain
How & Why I became a Lifestyle Medicine Doctor, Trainer and Advocate
Doctor turned Accidental Chef turned Incidental Chef
Reflections of 'The Food Doctor'
How I lost weight 'accidentally'
Doctor turned Accidental Chef - How it all began
The birth of The Bento People
I made this Tom Yum Daikon-'noodles' because I was 'angry' with how the love for noodles was affecting one of my patients.
No wasted Journeys -
Why I Blog
Buay Chye, God & I. The day God sent me a cook.
Behind every adventurous man is a long-suffering wife
How I accidentally left a legacy as a 9 year old boy
The day blogger Leslie Tay (ieatishootipost) came to visit
The accidental marathoner
- how I accidentally ran the marathon when I was 12
They call me a Maverick.
I say I am an Explorer.
Why & How 'Advocating Healthy Eating' became my purpose, mission & passion.
Sharing about the power of food on Diabetes Lifestyle magazine