I did not want to be known
This happened in January 2015.
By this time I had been a cook and running The Snack Culture Company for almost 2 months already.During those 2 months, I had kept a low profile and didn't want my friends and ex-colleagues to know I am now a cook. Not that it was anything I was ashamed of, but rather, I just didn't want to have to explain, to people who know me, why I was doing what I was doing, why I was choosing to be a cook. Also I didn't want customers to know I am a medical doctor, albeit one not in active practice.
I wanted to grow the business as a corporate brand known for its good offerings and one not linked to any persons or personalities.
Most of all, being an introvert by nature, I valued my privacy
* I had done the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator test many times during the more than 20 years of working life and each time, the results showed that I was an extreme introvert.
We had no media or marketing plan
From the time we started, we never had any media or marketing plan. We didn't hire any PR agency, we didn't invite any media, food writers or bloggers. We had no official opening or launch.
We just opened our doors and started operating.
There were many reasons for this.
One, we were so overwhelmed by the many operational work and issues that we really had no time nor energy to do anything else.
Second, the reality was that I was not confident that we were ready enough to shout to the marketplace yet. We were new and had no F&B experience to speak of, and our food, whilst good and interesting, was still constantly being refined and improved and I was still not sufficiently satisfied with our offerings to be 'shouting' about them yet.
So almost 2 months after we opened our doors, we had done zero marketing.
The day I gave Leslie Tay a call
But by mid January, I knew I could no longer afford to continue doing almost zero marketing anymore. I have had to rely on a lot of 'Jio-ing' of friends to be the customers of our first 'Around The World in 9 Small Plates' degustation dinner the week before on the 16th January, I knew I have only that many friends whom I could 'jio' to come for future dinner and could not hope to depend on that for many more weeks.
Our location, at that time at least, did not have much human traffic at night during dinner time. And although we were hoping to open for dinner only once a week (then we didn't think we would have enough demand for our degustation dinner to open for more than once a week), unless we get the word about our dinner out, the new dinner menu, however good, would risk being a 'stillbirth' and die a natural death.
So I decided to ask Leslie Tay, the now famous award-winning doctor-food blogger, for some advice. I knew Leslie from school and work. He, like me. was from RJC and we are both medical doctors. But we were not close, didn't know each other that well and had not spoken to each other in years.
I called him and told him I was working as a cook and I would like his advice on how to engage the food media people. He was surprised to hear I had become a cook and he said he would try to find time to come down to take a look and we could talk further then.
The day Leslie Tay came to visit
Then on 23rd January, Leslie said he would drop by for lunch. I said great and I would try to prepare some of dishes from our 'Around The World in 9 Small Plates' degustation menu for him to try, so that he could give me feedback and advice.
23rd of January was a Friday and it would also be the second time we were opening for dinner with our 'Around The World in 9 Small Plates' degustation menu, having launched it just the Friday before.
Leslie came with some friends and I went to the kitchen to prepare some food for them to try, I wanted his opinion and his advice about my food and how I could be marketing it better. I was not expecting nor did I ask him to post anything about us.
Leslie must have been in a hurry that day. He ate fast and spoke even faster.
This was roughly how some parts of our conversation went after he tried my food.
L: Your food is unusual, interesting and quite nice, but not to the 'Tok Kong' level yet;
L: But the more interesting thing is you, you a doctor turned chef and that your food is nice but also healthy.
Me: Err..... I don't agree with you, I don't want people to know that the cook here is a doctor and be interested in this place because of that or that the food is healthy. I just want them to know about and be interested in the food and that it is good, that's all. So what I really want from you is really some advice and tips on how I can better reach out to the people in the food media industry about us.
L: Come, come, ask your wife Janice to stand beside you, I want a photo of the 2 of you.
Me: really ah, I really don't want to be known as the cook here, do you really have to or want a photo of us?
L: Don't worry, it will look nice, come, come, stand closer and smile for me, yah, that's nice, good.
And that was that, Leslie and his friends left shortly after taking that photo.
I was worried. I had invited him to come visit so that I could get some advice on engaging the food media from him but he ended up taking photos of me and my wife and maybe our food. I had no clue what he was going to do with them. I thought I had indicated strongly enough to him that if he were to post anything about us, I would not like it to be about me or my being a doctor chef but that it should focus on the food and the food only without any mention about me. But then, did I really say a firm no? By my agreeing, however reluctantly, to let him take a photo of my wife and I, did I indirectly say yes? But then, he didn't really say he was going to post anything about us, I really hoped that he wouldn't post anything about me, if not the whole world would know I am now a cook in The Snack Culture Company, something that I have been trying to avoid all these months.
I thought of giving him a call to explain all these again. It was a busy afternoon and we were going to serve the 'Around The World in 9 Small Plates' degustation dinner that night for only the second time and there was much to do, so I thought I would call him after the dinner.
Then it happened. And there was no more turning back.
Soon it was evening and customers arrived for the degustation dinner and I began to busy myself in the kitchen, occasionally running out to serve and talk to the customers.
Then it happened.
It was about 8.30pm, in the midst of the dinner, I had wanted to post a photo of degustation dinner on our facebook page and when I went to our facebook page, I found that there seem to be quite a number of new 'Likes' of our facebook page since the last time I checked our facebook page a couple of hours ago. Eh? what was happening? Then I remembered about Leslie, oh no, maybe he posted something about us before I had the chance to call him to reiterate my not wanting to be featured, something which I had planned to do after the busy dinner service that night.
I then quickly went to check Leslie's ieatishootipost facebook page to see if he really did post something about us.
And this was what I saw.
Click HERE or the picture to see the original post on
ieatishootipost.sg facebook page and the comments
Within minutes of that post, there was a deluge of comments, including some who commented that I had wasted taxpayers' money for not continuing to practise medicine and instead choosing to be a cook, whilst others said they supported my choosing to chase my passion. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry.
And with that single post by Leslie, my not wanting to let the whole world know that I am now a cook went out of the window.
Come to think of it, I would never have started this blog if that facebook post by Leslie didn't happen. Because since it was no longer possible for me to continue a low key, low profile existence quietly cooking away in the kitchen, I decided to embrace this doctor chef role and no longer hide or run from it, but instead turn it and use it for good. I decided to share my various experiences in this current journey as a doctor chef as well as the many other eventful journeys in my career so that others may learn from my successes and especially more from the many mistakes I have made in my journeys, then they will not be journeys wasted. And in the months after that visit by Leslie, many other things also transpired which also led me to become the advocate of healthy eating that I am today. I promise I will share the stories of the events that led me to beome a healthy eating advocate in another blog post at a later date
Often we cannot really fully decide for ourselves the direction that our journeys would take, often it would be decided for us by events beyond our control or by other people. And all we could and should do is to embrace and even enjoy everything step that life's journeys bring us to ,whether that was where we had wanted to be at or not. In this instance for me, it was Leslie, it was his one single post that day that turned me into Tat Hon - 'doctor turned chef' , something which I had tried so hard to avoid, but which I have now come to embrace and hopefully also enjoy, I will try.
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