Shen Tan – Own Self Make Chef | what it takes to be a private chef
Shen Tan is a private chef in Singapore famous for what she terms “mod-sin” cuisine: modern Singaporean. She first made a name for herself as a street food hawker, then with her 30-seater restaurant the Wok and Barrel. She now hosts weekly, cheekily named dinners such as Go Pig or Go Home and Make Mee Great Again, and provides consultancy services to F&B entrepreneurs.
We chat to Chef Shen about her background and what it takes to be a private chef.
A chef portrait of Shen Tan
You didn’t start out as a chef – what is your background and how did you get into cooking?
I got into cooking when I was a Masters student in Sydney and missed Singaporean hawker food. I got back to Singapore in 2001, and started cooking again because it was a great way to de-stress. My background was in events and marketing and my last job, before I quit to become a hawker in 2008, was Events Director at Forbes magazine.
Relaxed and casual – Shen Tan’s cooking style
Who do you cook for now?
I now cook at my private dining experience, Own Self Make Chef (www.ownselfmakechef.com), which is for 12 pax every Saturday. The menu changes every week, there are different themes, such as aPORKalypse, What The Duck, Rice To The Occasion, Lock Stock and Broth. I also cook for private corporate clients at their events.
What has been your most challenging cooking event? Why was it difficult?
The annual TEDx event, which has 600 pax. The sheer volume requires a lot of logistical planning and manpower. We also match the theme of the talk with the food and styling.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I’d say relaxed and casual.
Singapore has varied food cultures; do you draw on these different culinary traditions in your cooking?
Very much so. Being Singaporean, I grew up eating Malay, Indian, Chinese and Peranakan food. These use herbs and spices from all over Asia, including turmeric root, blue ginger, cloves and cassia.
How difficult was it to get your name out there as a private chef? What marketing did you do?
I was lucky as I already had a following from my days as a hawker, and at Wok & Barrel. I used mostly social media and digital marketing to spread the word.
Do you think that being a self-taught chef has impacted your work in any way?
I don’t think that it makes a difference either way. It’s really up to the individual. I have not had any pushback because I am self-taught and I don’t think chefs that have come up through culinary school or the line face limitations in creativity. Creativity knows no bounds.
Thanks, Chef Shen, and we wish you continuing success with your own creative approach to Singaporean cuisine.
Are you also a passionate chef? Tell us your story!
Are you a restaurateur and do you still not find your restaurant represented on Cook Concern?
Show us your restaurant! Register free of charge and present yourself.
Find more exciting chef portraits here!