NOTE: This post was first written and shared in 2016.
I have always been a foodie, I love food, I love cooking, I used to compile lists of best places for all the favourite hawker and Singaporean foods and made sure I brought my wife and kids there to try, the longer the queue, the more I would join the queue. And even when we holiday overseas, I would also compile lists of the 'Must-Eats' and made sure we go try, regardless of how out of the way they might be or how crowded they are.
But nowadays, people also recognise me as this doctor turned incidental chef turned healthy lifestyle and healthy eating teacher, coach and advocate, this doctor whose main prescription for his patients who come to see him for weight-loss, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and other lifestyle-related diseases is dietary habits change instead of medication. People nowadays also know me as this 'crazy' doctor who sees patients in his clinic in the mornings, then 'transform' to a cook in the kitchen of his restaurant The Bento People during lunch time , then again 'transform' to a teacher/coach in the afternoons running classes and coaching programmes to get people to eat healthy and then finally 'transforming' back again to be a cook at night at his restaurant The Bento People.
But the reality is that, this transformation happened purely by accident. Because actually all these years, I have never really been overly conscious about nor diligent about 'healthy eating' but something happened in the 2014-2015 that led this transformation to become the doctor/chef/coach/advocate of 'Healthy Eating' that I am today
Let me share.
The Myth - All doctors eat healthy.
Many people think I am passionate about 'Eating Healthy' because I am a medical doctor.
It is a myth that all doctors eat healthy.
Many of my doctor friends, including myself in the past, do not consciously try very hard to 'eat healthy'. We would avoid the obviously unhealthy stuff where possible but may not necessarily be the most diligent in 'Eating Healthy'
So the reason why I now see it as my mission to educate and encourage my customers to embrace a 'healthy eating' lifestyle is not because I am a doctor.
Initially, I actually consciously didn't want to only cook or champion healthy food when I first started out as a full-time chef at my restaurant
When I first took on this challenge, albeit accidentally, of being the cook at The Bento People, I didn't want to and in fact resisted being known or 'stereotyped' as 'doctor turned chef' who churns out healthy but tasty food. I shared about this dilemma in my previous blog post 'The day Leslie (ieatishootipost) came to visit'
In the early days of my life as a full-time chef at The Bento People, friends, customers and many other people kept sticking a 'healthy' label onto my food. It was stressful. The only labels I had wanted people to stick onto the food I created and cook was 'Wah!' 'Yummy!' 'Delicious!' 'Tok Kong!', and not just 'Healthy.'
But somehow, the 'healthy label' and expectations of my food being healthy kept being slapped on me, it was actually frustrating and exasperating.
Don't get me wrong. It did not mean the that the food I cooked was 'unhealthy' , it was just that I didn't like that stereoptype or narrow perspective of my food that I create, cook and serve in my restaurant.
I kept grumbling to God, "What am I doing here as a cook? What is the purpose of my being a cook?"
Cooking and running an F&B business is not easy. The hours are long and the challenges (rental, manpower, competition) are many.
In my career, I've had many challenging 'assignments' or 'roles' and even though I wouldn't have minded an 'easier', less eventful work life, I have also never had problems dealing with hard work or challenges.
However in all my working life, I have always found it extremely difficult to work just for the purpose of work regardless of how interesting or rewarding the job may be, but I had to find and be passionate about the purpose of the work.
This I had great difficulty with during my first months of as a full-time chef. I could not really find or be passionate about the purpose of my work as a chef. I enjoy food, I do enjoy cooking but being a full-time chef and running an F&B business is a totally different matter altogether. I kept asking myself and asking God whether I am supposed to be a cook and running this F&B for this season of my life and and for what purpose was I doing this for.
I kept asking God why? Why am I a full-time chef when I could do so many other 'bigger' things. On one hand, I felt like a child. It was like I was a child assigned to mop the floor by my father. And as I mop the floor, I grumbled to my father asking why I was being asked to do something like that. But my father kept silent, so I just continued moping the floor even as I kept mumbling and grumbling. And on the other hand, I also felt like a father. That having birthed this child, this restaurant, however accidentally, I should do all I can to look after the child. As a father, I would do everything and anything for this child, however difficult, however painful that might be. That's just what parents do. Parents will never leave or forsake their children, no matter what. So I just ploughed on working full-time at this restaurant I birthed, including playing the role as a full-time chef even though I had absolute no culinary training or experience as a cook, even as I struggled to understand the purpose of what I was doing there.
And for months, I couldn't find an answer
I had no answer and so I just ploughed on.
People kept expecting me to cook healthy food.
And during these months, friends and customers kept expecting and asking me to create new 'healthy' recipes. And during these same months, my 2 kids, especially my younger 15 year old daughter, on her own accord, began to want to embrace a 'healthy eating lifestyle' and began requesting for only unpolished grains and healthy proteins and lots of vegetables and fruits in her meals. So I had to begin to look at changing what we eat at home and creating new dishes using healthier ingredients.
I began to wonder why all these 'demands' from different people on me to create and cook 'healthy' dishes were all suddenly happening to me at the same time.
I always remembered what Leslie Tay (ieatishootipost) said to me when he first visited our outlet in January 2015, "Tat Hon, your food is interesting and tasty, but it is not at the 'Tok Kong' level yet. The most interesting thing about this is that you are a doctor turned chef and that your food is tasty and also healthy." I must confess that when I first heard Leslie say that, I did tell myself that I wanted to prove him wrong and show him and the rest of the world who so stereotype me that I can create and cook 'Tok Kong' (as he puts it) dishes, that I can succeed as a chef not because I cook well, and not because of the novelty that I am a doctor turned chef or that my food was healthy. So in the initial months of my being a full-time, I was actually very resistant to turning my restaurant into a healthy food place.
I was still resisting being stereotyped as a cook who cooks healthy just because I am also a doctor. I didn't like that and I didn't want that. I was extremely frustrated.
The day a friend's post on Facebook changed my mind
One day in April 2015, I was just browsing through my Facebook news feed when I saw a short status update from a friend now living in India. This was what she wrote:
'I prayed to God to heal my fatty liver and He said, 'Change your diet' '
What she wrote spoke to me. it reminded me that God does care about what we eat, because what we put into our bodies will affect the health of this physical body that He has gifted us. I began to see how unique and privileged a position I was in, being a full-time chef and also a trained medical doctor, I was in a very unique position to be able to educate and encourage people to be aware of how diet affects the physical body that God has given us, and be able to encourage them to try a healthier diet through creating healthy and yet also tasty food for them.
And from that day onwards I began to see 'healthy eating' in a different light.
I saw purpose. I saw mission. I found my calling.
It didn't happen overnight, it didn't happen in a 'Eureka' moment kind of way. It was a gradual process over months, nudged along by events and conversations, that by April 2015 I began to embrace my unique position as a doctor and also a full-time chef to turn what I had been wrongly seeing as a burden of having to be a full-time chef to do good, to turn it to be a opportunity and a platform to be a blessing to other people. I began to be passionate about making a difference in the lives of our customers through introducing and encouraging them towards embracing a 'healthy eating' lifestyle by what I put on the menu.
I began to dive deeply into the medical research on the relationship between diet and chronic lifestyle-related conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, fatty liver disease and others. And as I spoke to many people. I realised that many were confused by the many dietary info and advice (sometimes conflicting) and dietary fads that are in the vogue at any point in time. I felt strongly that I should turn my restaurant The Bento People into a living classroom to encourage my customers to be mindful of these 4 important aspects of eating healthy - (i) choosing Better Staples for Better Health (ii) getting Plant-Stronger (iii) going Low GI *Glycemic Index) and (iv) choosing Proportions mindfully.
So in 2015, I totally transformed and revamped the whole menu and concept of my restaurant and The Bento People was thus birthed, turning what started out as a simple cafe into The Bento People which has as its mission to be a living classroom to encourage people to learn more about and explore eating healthy.
You can read the story of the birth of The Bento People in this blog post I wrote >>Why and How The Bento People was birthed
This is just the start of the journey. It has been very challenging so far and I am in no doubt that the life and journey of a being a full-time chef and running a small F&B business is going to continue to be challenging and arduous, but now I am up for it, because now it is not just about interest or passion, it has become my purpose, mission and most of all, my calling.
Wish me luck !
- 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 Lifesytyle Medicine Medical Practice
>> The School of Lifestye Medicine
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Why & What I Blog about
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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'
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Doctor turned Accidental Chef - How it all began
The birth of The Bento People
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