Foodie Confidential

Egged on going cage-free

Freedom Range Co founder Adrian Chong says the chickens get a better life and produce tastier, richer yolks

Who: Mr Adrian Chong, 35, founder of home-grown, cage-free egg producer The Freedom Range Co, which retails its eggs at selected Cold Storage and FairPrice supermarkets, as well as on online grocery platform RedMart.

Restaurants that use The Freedom Range Co eggs include bistro chain The Providore, two-Michelinstarred restaurant Odette, the Prive group of restaurants that includes Bayswater Kitchen, and restaurants under The Lo & Behold Group, which include OverEasy.

Mr Chong's wife Nikki Phua, 32, helps with the marketing and administrative aspects of the business. The couple have no children.

You do not have a background in agriculture. In fact, you studied economics at the University of Exeter. How did the idea for a cage-free egg company come about?

The global financial crisis hit in 2008 when I was working in the shipbroking industry.

And it was around that time that I also started wondering if there was a way to get cheaper cage-free eggs in Singapore with a lower carbon footprint. Cage-free eggs were expensive then because of air freight charges. I wanted to see how I could provide better value for consumers.

When did you start The Freedom Range Co and what did it entail?

I founded the company in 2010, but it took me about a year to get it up and running.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • An omakase sushi feast at Sushi Saito in Tokyo with my wife.

    I have never eaten there because it is almost impossible to get a reservation, but I have heard very good things and I am sure it will not disappoint.

I was new to the farming industry so I had to do a lot of research on the egg business. I had to understand more about the conditions for the hens, the type of feed and find the right business partners.

When I started, I worked with an egg farmer in Lim Chu Kang to produce cage-free eggs with 4,000 hens. In the first year, we produced 100,000 eggs. In comparison, Singapore's largest egg farms produce about one million eggs a day.

Why do you believe in cage-free eggs?

I think it is a better way of life for the chickens. The hens have more space to move around, socialise and exhibit natural behaviours that they would not necessarily be able to do in a cage setting.

As a result, the yolks are richer and tastier, in part due to the conditions in which the chickens live, as well as the feed we give them, which is high in plant extracts.

What is production like these days and what are your plans moving forward?

Response has been good. We opened a farm in Johor in 2015 and now have 10,000 hens. We hope to double that number by the end of this year, which would take output to about six million eggs a year.

We also plan to retail our eggs in Hong Kong.

Do you cook much?

My wife and I cook two to three times a week. Dishes include roast lamb and vegetables such as roast beetroot and pumpkin.

Last year, we braised a goose for a Christmas party. It was served alongside prunes stuffed with liver, braised beef short rib with a red wine jus, brussels sprouts with Chinese liver sausage and African kale with turmeric and cumin.

What is the first dish you remember cooking?

I have a voracious appetite, which has been the case since I was a boy. So my mother told me I had better learn to cook for myself.

When I was growing up, I enjoyed pounding things with a mortar and pestle.

I was about four or five years old when I pounded garlic, which I then mixed into butter to make garlic bread.

Have you had any kitchen boo-boos?

I planned a Thai feast for my then girlfriend, now wife, as part of a date-night surprise.

I decided to make a clear, spicy clam soup, a spicy yellow curry with prawns and pineapple and Cambodian beef with kampot pepper. And I wanted to make everything from scratch.

Nikki got home and was hardly impressed because I had messed up the whole kitchen.

It was 11pm by the time we finished arguing, cleaning and cooking and sat down to dinner. But as she took her first taste of the curry, she teared out of joy. That made all the effort worthwhile.

What ingredients are always in your fridge?

Freedom Range eggs, different kinds of chilli sauces and sambal made by friends and artisanal salt.

What are some of your favourite cookbooks?

Julia Child's Mastering The Art Of French Cooking and Thai Food by Australian chef David Thompson - which is my Thai food bible.

I enjoy cooking Thai food. It is about finding the perfect balance between the sweet, salty, sour and spicy that makes the dish come alive.

I also use online recipes.

Recently, we re-created a braised pork dish based on New York chef Masaharu Morimoto's recipe.

Where are your favourite haunts for local food?

I love Ah Chuan Fried Oyster Omelette in Toa Payoh Lorong 7 for its crisp omelette. I also like the laksa at Sungei Road Laksa in Jalan Berseh for its consistency and balance of flavours. I also go to Happy Crab in Geylang for its pepper glazed cold crab.

What is your greatest food indulgence?

In 2016, my wife and I convinced a friend to host a caviar and uni party at his home, where eight of us polished off 20 cold smoked lobsters with pasta, two tins of caviar, one box of uni, a few steaks and 13 bottles of wine. We spent about $1,000, excluding the wine.

• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'Egged on going cage-free'. Print Edition | Subscribe