The Michelin-starred street food chef who cooks 300 chickens a day
Chan Hon Meng will make his award-winning chicken dish at a Dublin event
Chan Hong Meng: “Receiving a Michelin star is a very humbling experience for a hawker.” Photograph: Laura June Kirsch
Last year has come to be seen as the pivotal point when the Michelin Guide, arbiter of restaurant dining, confirmed it really was all about the food, not plush dining rooms, slick service and luxurious facilities.
In October it awarded one-star status to Heron & Grey, a small, one-room restaurant in a south Dublin flea market. And just three months earlier, the guide accorded the same accolade to two hawker stalls operating in food courts in Singapore.
Chan Hon Meng, who owns one of those street-food venues – the Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle – will be cooking his Michelin star-worthy dish at Tiger Street Eats, a pop-up event at Portobello Harbour in Dublin 8 on July 20th-22nd.
Tiger Street Eats is open to the public (tickets are €10 at eventbrite.ie), and Dublin is the European launch venue for the collaboration between the beer company and the chef. The event was staged in Sydney, Auckland, New York and Kuala Lumpur in November and December last year.
Since his restaurant was singled out by Michelin, Chan Hon Meng has entered into a partnership with Hersing Culinary, a food and beverage services corporation, and is now involved in a number of outlets serving his chicken dish.
The rapid expansion mirrors the roll-out of of Tim Ho Wan, the Hong Kong dumpling shop that also won a Michelin star and is now represented by 38 outlets in nine countries.
Chan Hon Meng spoke to The Irish Times, though an interpreter, in advance of his visit.
What will you be cooking when you come to Dublin?
I will be preparing my signature HK Soya Sauce Chicken Rice. All the fresh ingredients will be sourced locally in Ireland. I will prepare my braise sauce from scratch using Asian herbs and will be cooking it exactly like how I do it in Singapore.
Where did you learn to make this Cantonese dish, and what makes your version so special?
I learned it from another Hong Kong chef earlier in my days while I was working in another restaurant. Over the years I tweaked and perfected the recipe myself to suit the local taste and preference. It is slowly braised at the right temperature with a mixture of Chinese herbs and spices that is unique to my hawker stall.
How many chickens do you cook each day for the stall, and how many individual portions does that amount to?
I cook a total of 90 chickens a day at my hawker stall and 190-200 at the quick service restaurant downstairs.
People queue for up to three hours in Singapore to eat your dish. How does that make you feel?
I am very thankful for the long-standing support of my fans and customers. To me, it is a privilege to serve my humble dish to them. I takes approximately five to six hours to prepare the food, from start to finish. When they queue to try my food, they appreciate the effort that I put into making the dish. It is very rewarding to me.
Had you ever heard of the Michelin Guide before the star was awarded to your stall?
Yes, I had heard of the Michelin Guide before. It is a very prestigious award that is well-recognised by chefs specialising in all types of cuisine. I never dreamed that Michelin would award a humble hawker like myself, as I thought they only gave out these awards to hotels and fine-dining restaurants. It is truly an honour.
How did you feel when you were told you had won a star and when you went to the awards ceremony?
I was overjoyed, surprised and excited; receiving a Michelin star is a very humbling experience for a hawker. I had never been to an awards ceremony, especially one that is so prestigious. It makes me want to work hard and strive to maintain my star.
How has your life changed since winning the Michelin star?
My life changed completely, many doors opened. I was exposed to many different cultures, food and opportunities. Partnering with Tiger has brought me to places I’ve never dreamt of going, like Australia and New York. I was also presented with the opportunity to collaborate with other Michelin chefs and it is an honour to have worked with them.
With the help of Hersing Culinary, I was able to create Hawker Chan, a quick-service restaurant. We have currently three restaurants in Singapore: Chinatown, Toa Payoh and Tai Seng. We also have three overseas restaurants, in Bangkok, Taiwan and Indonesia.
Do you still cook at the hawker stall?
I cook at both the stall and restaurant. I also check on the food quality to ensure that standards are maintained and only the best are served to customers.
Is it a family business?
Yes, I started Liao Fan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles with my wife. I will prepare the dishes, chopping and cooking. My wife handles the accounts; we make a very good team and we have a lovely daughter.
Where are you from?
What do you know about Ireland and about Irish food?
Ireland is a beautiful country with lush greenery and natural scenery. I would like to explore more about the people and its food culture.