Makansutra: Serving up a second chance with steamed Cantonese dishes
Award-winning Chef Chik is back on the straight and narrow with a hawker stall specialising in steamed Cantonese dishes
When a talented person takes a wrong turn in life and takes a fall, it can be said that the hawker centre is one of the best platforms for salvation.
I have met many a former convict who found a new calling by happily helming a little hawker kitchen and getting back on the grid.
Award-winning chef Chik Ka Chung made some bad decisions about a decade ago when he headed Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant at Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.
He pocketed money from a seafood supplier in return for continuing orders, and was sentenced to four months in jail for taking bribes and ordered to pay a penalty of almost $178,000.
When asked about the case, I could still see the remorse on his face as he glanced downwards.
But when the topic was changed to his small hawker operation, Chef Chik at Haig Road Market & Food Centre which he now runs with his wife Joanne, he lit up.
Chef Chik has actually been working at the stall since 2012, after his incarceration, and I had overlooked it all these years.
At a glance, I noticed he specialised in steamed Cantonese dishes like fish and seafood, double boiled soups and claypot rice.
The only item he works the wok on is kailan vegetables, and he does a mean job on it.
He uses a restaurant-class deck steamer and out comes fish and some seasonal seafood which he offers off-menu when he finds good supplies at the wet market just beside the hawker centre, adding that it is so convenient.
If I had a bigger group, I would have ordered everything on the menu but instead landed just eight items.
The Steamed Threadfin Belly (market price) was a delight - softly textured, not fishy and doused with a classic soy ginger sauce.
Ditto for the Fish Head/Belly (market price) in black bean sauce, with the sauce being bold yet comforting.
Then came the Claypot Rice, and at $8, you can afford to eat this alone. Although he uses gas instead of wood fire, the aroma was present and the crispy crust below was appetising too.
The toppings of Chinese sausages, chicken and vegetables were lifted with waxed pork belly, something you do not see in the usual claypot rice offerings.
The Kailan (from $6) was next, and you could tell how skilled the chef was just by seeing how the vegetables were firm yet soft to the bite.
It sat high and proud on the plate, not like a flat wet mop drowning in brown sauce.
I was also taken by the Black Fungus Steamed Chicken ($8).
The fowl was smooth and soft in the light sauce with soft crunchy black fungus - a childhood pleasure for me.
By now, I realised I also needed plain rice, because up next was the Salted Fish Pork Patty (from $3.50).
The flavour was on point, and I noticed he chopped instead of minced the meat.
But it was a tad over-tenderised for my tastes as I usually like this dish to have some bite.
Chef Chik's soups are his signatures too.
The Cordyceps White Fungus Chicken Soup ($6) was as any soup maniac would expect - all the flavours melded into a savoury broth.
And if you like Bitter Melon Pork Soup ($4.50) that has just the right amount of bitter tingle, this is the one to beat.
So continue to hold your head up high, Chef Chik.
Everyone deserves a second chance, and a hawker centre could be just the place to get it.
#01-36, Haig Road Market & Food Centre
Noon to 7.30pm
Closed Sundays and Mondays
* Hedy Khoo's Hed Chef is on a break. The column will return on Oct 3.
Get The New Paper on your phone with the free TNP app. Download from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store now