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Young Entrepreneurs: Driven to mix taste with tradition

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Continuing our series on young entrepreneurs, we meet a young chef who chose to start out in Singapore rather than study in Paris

Setting up his own business was a way to earn money without letting go of his culinary passion.

Charles Tan, 25, chose to open Fat Cat Ice Cream Bar at Bedok North Avenue 2 with his sister, Ying Qi, 28, instead of heading to Paris to train and work under Michelin Star chefs.

Fat Cat was a success, thanks in part to hit, social-media friendly dishes like the charcoal waffles drizzled with salted egg yolk sauce.

Almost three years since Fat Cat's opened and the young chef has added yet another notch on his culinary belt - Stray by Fat Cat at Orchard Central.

Stray goes a different path from Fat Cat, offering redefined Chinese cuisine. Even the desserts incorporate Chinese elements.

The siblings run their businesses single-handedly. While Mr Tan is in charge of the kitchen, his sister holds down the fort in all other aspects.

Each detail in their ventures is decided on by the two.

"We don't engage any interior designers, or marketing. We did our own construction. We sourced every single thing. We are very detailed," says Mr Tan.

It might also come as a surprise that Tan had trained as a savoury chef. Pastries and confectionery was just a hobby back then.

But given that his first job was at the highly regarded Restaurant Andre (which was recently ranked as 14 in of the World's Top 50 Restaurants) he was able to glean a lot of industry knowledge.

The young chef would use that to work on his passion and bring dessert bistronomy (the hot term for casual fine dining), to the heartlands.

In fact, while many may suggest that the sibling's young age is a disadvantage, the chef begs to differ.

"You will definitely be able to slog more, and the mind is a lot fresher."

The added energy is definitely a plus, given the hours the Temasek Polytechnicculinary graduate puts in.

His days typically start at 6am, and he is busy in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning.

Although he laments about not having eight days in a week, his job means the world to him: "It's not just a job, it's my life. I enjoy it!"

His days off might not even be considered as such: "Even on my day off, I'll be in chefs pants scolding people. I don't want to get out of here."

The purported saturation of dessert bars and cafes does nothing to faze Mr Tan: "I think it's a good thing! It challenges me to raise my standards and it's like a warning as well."

This is seen in how he approaches his special desserts. Each has their own story to tell, and tells of the standards he imposes on himself.

As a young entrepreneur, Mr Tan runs his kitchen in a different more egalitarian way.

This boss often tosses out challenges to create new dishes or give advice on dishes that anyone, even the dish washer, can feel free to contribute to.

His advice to budding entrepreneurs?

"Be weird. It's the same thing as being original."

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