The A-Zs that rocked 2021: Kings of food

King of Fried Rice owner Lester Li at his Serangoon North stall. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - When the pandemic ravaged the food and beverage (F&B) sector, some chefs left their jobs to start their own ventures.

Having helmed the kitchens at top hotels and restaurants, they believe their signature dishes are the best in the land. And how do they set themselves apart from the competition? By proclaiming themselves "kings".

At least three chefs have incorporated the word in their business names.

With 17 outlets to his name in three years, Mr Lester Li, a former chef at seafood chain Jumbo Group, feels he has earned the title of King Of Fried Rice. The brand is known for its pork cutlet fried rice ($6.50).

The 24-year-old started his first outlet at Golden Mile Tower in 2018. But after it drew long queues throughout the pandemic, he went on an islandwide expansion spree. His latest outlet is slated to open in Bishan before the year is out.

He plans to add another 10 more outlets next year to cement his empire. "I hope to be the king of fried rice by giving consumers restaurant-style fried rice at affordable prices," he says.

Another rice dish that became popular during the pandemic is pao fan (poached rice).

King Of Pao Fan, managed by G Kitchen Holdings, first set up shop in Queen Street last October, and now has three coffee-shop stalls and a cloud kitchen - all run by former restaurant chefs.

It was named after its aspiration - to let customers "dine like kings". Mr Keith Chua, 47, director of G Kitchen Holdings, says: "We use premium and fresh ingredients such as live lobsters to give customers a taste of restaurant-style food at our stalls."

There are plans to open a standalone air-conditioned outlet next year.

Mr Chua adds: "King is not a term people would casually use in a business name. Those who do must have confidence in their product."

Another self-styled "king" - co-owner Oh San Oui of King Of Hong Kong Rice Roll - agrees that customers have higher expectations of F&B joints which invoke royalty.

Mr Oh San Oui, co-owner of King Of Hong Kong Rice Roll in Tampines Mall. ST PHOTO: HEDY KHOO

The 59-year-old spent almost four decades working in restaurants and hotels before leaving his last position as a hotel sous chef last year. He started his own chee cheong fun stall at Tampines Mall in August.

His business partners chose the stall's name as it is catchy and rides on the trend of self-styled kings of certain dishes.

Mr Oh says in Mandarin: "Several customers told me they came to try my food to see if I can live up to the stall's name. It is gratifying when they say I deserve the title."

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