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From Humble Hawker to Global Gourmet: The Unstoppable Journey of Chef Chan Hong Meng

Imagine savoring a plate of perfectly roasted chicken, seasoned rice, and rich soy sauce. It’s a symphony of flavors, harmonizing on your palate. Now, imagine that the maestro behind this culinary symphony is Chan Hong Meng, the mastermind of the once Michelin-starred hawker stand, Hawker Chan.

Chan’s journey, taking him from apprentice at a Hong Kong restaurant at 18, to the pioneer of a renowned global brand, has been anything but simple. The flavorful dish that put him on the map? His unique take on Singapore’s de facto national dish: chicken rice.

The year 2016 marked a turning point in Chan’s culinary career. His modest stall in Singapore’s bustling Chinatown Food Center was among three street food eateries awarded a prestigious Michelin star. Suddenly, his $2.25 signature dish became the world’s most affordable Michelin-starred meal. Food enthusiasts queued up for up to five hours just to taste the culinary delight that made Hawker Chan a household name.

Though the Michelin star brought him stardom, Chan’s tenure in the gastronomic spotlight was fleeting. After five years, the Michelin guide dropped his stall from its illustrious list. Despite the shockwaves it sent through the foodie world, Chan remained steadfast.

Losing the star was a blow, yet it didn’t dampen Chan’s spirit. “Whether or not I have the star, life moves on. It doesn’t mean that I’ll get angry or cry,” Chan proclaimed, embodying the unyielding resilience many entrepreneurs admire.

Unfazed, Chan steered his venture towards greater horizons. A year after losing the star, his fast-casual eatery on Smith Street clinched a spot on the Bib Gourmand list. This commendation, awarded by Michelin, recognizes eateries that offer quality food at a modest price point, celebrating simplicity and affordability in gourmet dining.

Now, Hawker Chan is a globally recognized brand, spanning Singapore and eight other countries. His ventures dish out approximately 1,000 meals each day, and there are no signs of slowing down. With plans to test the waters in India with a pop-up restaurant, Chan’s goal is clear, “I want people to think of chicken rice when it comes to Singapore food, and Hawker Chan when it comes to chicken rice.”

The road to success is rarely without bumps, and Chan’s journey has not been exempt from criticism. Amid accusations of declining quality, Chan maintains that the food at his outlets is as stellar as when he first won the Michelin star.

Despite the critiques, Chan remains unfazed. “Some people like my food, others don’t. I take all criticism in stride,” he humbly acknowledged.

Chan Hong Meng’s journey offers a valuable lesson for entrepreneurs and investors alike – it’s not about the accolades or the acclaim, but the relentless pursuit of excellence, the resilience to keep going despite setbacks, and the passion for one’s craft. The world has certainly not seen the last of Hawker Chan, and we can’t wait to see what this culinary maestro will whip up next.

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