Helm a cafe over a weekend?

(Seated from far left) Mr Jerome Lam, co-owner of Two Men Bagel House and Mr Jonathan Ong, a former head chef at SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar, with Monniker Cafe's co-owner, Mr Tia Siew Jun (standing).
(Seated from far left) Mr Jerome Lam, co-owner of Two Men Bagel House and Mr Jonathan Ong, a former head chef at SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar, with Monniker Cafe's co-owner, Mr Tia Siew Jun (standing). ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Monniker, a cafe- turned-event space, is inviting home cooks and chefs to take over its kitchen on weekends

Fancy helming a cafe over one weekend?

Monniker, a cafe-turned-event space in Balestier Road, is inviting home cooks and chefs to take over its kitchen on weekends. They have free rein to plan the menu, cook and interact with diners.

A "permanent pop-up restaurant", which features a list of chefs who rotate weekly, Weekends at Monniker is the brainchild of Mr Tia Siew Jun, 32, a co-owner of Monniker.

The 27-seat cafe, which served Western brunch fare, closed down in January after operating for close to 1 1/2 years.

Mr Tia, who has a day job as a bank portfolio management analyst, says: "We saw a decline in business as cafe fatigue is happening. People are getting tired of typical brunch food, so we needed to think of a way to stand out from other cafes."

It started last Saturday, with a Going Glocal-themed meal whipped up by Mr Jonathan Ong, a former head chef at SPRMRKT Kitchen & Bar in Robertson Quay, and Mr Jerome Lam, who co-owns Two Men Bagel House in Tanjong Pagar. About 100 diners tucked in to dishes such as gochujang pasta and squid ink dumplings.

Mr Tia is also crowd-sourcing for new dishes from a burgeoning pool of cooking enthusiasts here. About 30 home cooks, whom his team has approached through mutual friends and social media platforms, have come on board. They have to cook in teams of two or three.

A two-course meal costs $32 while a three-course meal costs $39.

This weekend, two home cooks will present a "soul food menu" with dishes such as pulled pork kong bak pau and chicken etouffee, a Cajun rice dish.

One of the cooks is full-time national serviceman Tay Jin Rong, 21.

He says: "My inspiration for cooking has hit a plateau. By joining these sessions, I can push myself to cook more creatively and efficiently."

From April 14 to 16, diners can enjoy a chocolate-themed brunch with dishes such as pork belly with chocolate red wine sauce and stout beef stew with chocolate.

Mr Tia says: "We want to provide an avenue for home cooks to express their passion and creativity. With ticketed pop-up food events becoming trendy, diners are more adventurous and they seek unique dining experiences and want to interact with the chefs."

Before cooking at Monniker, home cooks need to undergo a selection process where they have to present their menus and food to Monniker's management team.

While they need to pay for a basic food hygiene course and for ingredients, they can get about 65 per cent of the revenue earned from these sessions.

The cafe will provide wait staff, beverages, contacts for wholesale food suppliers, advice on menu and manage the online reservation system.

To prevent home cooks from incurring losses, the cafe ensures that at least 50 people have made reservations for each day to ensure that it is possible for them to break even.

The dining sessions are only by reservation, which starts four weeks in advance.

Diners need to order their food online in advance and pay a security deposit of $30 a diner to guarantee their attendance.

Mr Tia says: "This minimises food wastage as the home cooks know exactly how much ingredients to order for a weekend."

He is confident that this concept is sustainable as "there is a wide and untouched pool of home cooks here to tap on".

Besides home cooks, professional chefs can also use the kitchen as a testbed to introduce new dishes for their upcoming businesses. Says Mr Ong, 30, who plans to start a noodle bar with his friend, Mr Lam, 25 later this year: "The feedback from diners on my new dishes is more valuable as I can observe how people are eating and experiencing my food."

For home cooks, the experience would give them a taste of working in a commercial kitchen, from using professional equipment such as a sous vide machine to cooking under pressure.

Marketing associate Lutfi Isnin, 26, will cook a Mediterranean- fusion feast on April 22 and 23.

He says: "This is like going through Hell's Kitchen without Gordon Ramsay and it challenges myself to prepare and cook food on a larger scale beyond my family and friends."

• Monniker is at 387 Balestier Road. It is open on weekends from 9am to 5pm. For details, go to experience.monniker.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Helm a cafe over a weekend? '. Print Edition | Subscribe