Makansutra founder to train new hawkers

K.F. Seetoh's Street Food Pro 360 course targets next-generation entrepreneurs

K.F. Seetoh (third from right) with the master chefs and participants of the new Street Food Pro 360 course. -- ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO
K.F. Seetoh (third from right) with the master chefs and participants of the new Street Food Pro 360 course. -- ST PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO

Makansutra, better known for its street food guide, is going deeper into developing the hawker scene here.

In the last quarter of this year, its founder K.F. Seetoh will roll out the first phase of its new Street Food Pro 360 course to train the next generation of hawker entrepreneurs.

The 30-hour programme will give participants an overview of street food business operations, skills training and an understanding of the culture of Singapore's food heritage.

Participants will learn from some of Singapore's best chefs, as Mr Seetoh has roped in the owners of local brand names to conduct cooking classes and demonstrations.

They include Mr S. Ramanan of Casuarina Curry and Mr Hooi Kok Wai of Dragon Phoenix Restaurant, who is among the Four Heavenly Kings of Cantonese cuisine here.

Mr Richard Tan, head of the hawkers department at the National Environment Agency (NEA), will speak about hawker management skills.

The course will be conducted at various locations as well as on-site at hawker centres and restaurants. Mr Seetoh, 50, says participants will have opportunities to open stalls or have internships with food and beverage establishments.

Makansutra's initiative adds to other programmes which aim to train the next generation of hawkers, as Singaporeans worry about the lively street food scene here when hawkers grow old and close shop, because their children do not want to continue the business.

The Hawker Master Trainer pilot programme, which started last October, has also roped in famous hawkers to impart their skills. It is a collaboration among the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, NEA, property firm Knight Frank and The Business Times.

There is also Dignity Kitchen, a hawker training school for the disabled and disadvantaged.

Makansutra's programme is looking to enrol about 20 to 30 students. A second phase, for those looking to specialise in certain aspects of the street food scene, will be ready in a year.

Street Food Pro 360 - which costs $3,000 a student - was designed in partnership with the Employment and Employability Institute, an initiative by the National Trades Union Congress. It will provide a 90 per cent subsidy for Singaporean and permanent resident participants.

The course was created in conjunction with the World Street Food Congress, an event dedicated to street food and its culture, which debuted last year in Singapore. Citing location issues as the problem for staging this year's congress, the event will return in April next year, says Mr Seetoh.

Some young hawkers looking to join the programme include Mr Jaybee Cheung, 27, who gave up his career as a visual graphic artist with Lucasfilm Singapore to join his father Cheung Sun Kwai, 64, who runs Fatty Ox Hong Kong Kitchen in Chinatown Food Centre.

The younger Mr Cheung says: "When I was younger I had no passion or interest. It kicked in only when I started working. I would like to build my culinary foundation and use my technical knowledge to grow the business. Since I have a passion for the arts, why not culinary arts?"

Mr Douglas Ng, 23, who runs seven-week-old stall The Fishball Story at Golden Mile Food Centre, selling traditional handmade fishballs, hopes the hawker course will help him develop his business to be "more effective and productive".

He says: "Right now I only work and sleep, and even when I sleep, I dream of work. But I love hawker food and I think young people don't dare to step up to do something. I have the passion and, with the skills, I will be able to go further in better managing work-life balance."

Next month, eight students from ITE College West's culinary arts course will work under some of the master chefs.

Mr Alvin Goh, its deputy director of culinary arts, says: "We hope our students can learn the original recipes and perhaps do something different. The issue of a stagnant street food scene was discussed, so we really need to start somewhere."

Addressing the issues plaguing the hawker scene today, Mr Seetoh says: "Some lack the basic operating skills, some don't know what they are doing. They only do what their father or grandfather told them to do. They don't know how to improve and use better and greener approaches.

"The Koreans may have their K-pop, but we can be known for our hip hawker culture, especially since we already have the ingredients to do so. We should stand up and sing about it."

For more information or to register for the course, e-mail

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