He had just two months to go before the opening of the first Singapore outpost of one-Michelin- starred ramen restaurant Tsuta from Tokyo, and Mr Brian Chua had only one staff member on board.
The 35-year-old vice-president of investment company Hersing Corporation says: "It was very stressful because the brand was not well known. We needed at least seven people for the first round of training."
A full crew was hired just three weeks before the 18-seat restaurant's opening at Pacific Plaza today, after job-seekers approached him following the announcement of Tsuta's opening in late September.
Hersing's food and beverage arm, Hersing Culinary, is behind Michelin-starred dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan and recently partnered one- Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Complex Food Centre on the new Hawker Chan restaurant, slated to open this month in a Chinatown shophouse.
This month, in addition to Tsuta, another outlet of Tim Ho Wan will open at Pacific Plaza, followed by the Michelin-starred Kam's Roast Goose.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
Green tea tiramisu cake.
Mr Chua, a business finance graduate from the University of Sydney, worked as a finance investment analyst before joining Hersing, his family's business, in 2010. His 32-year-old wife is in public relations and store development in the fashion retail sector. They have no children.
For the past 31/2 years, he has been learning the ropes of the food and beverage industry, with the setting up of Tim Ho Wan, as well as handling international business and franchises.
On the strategy of working with Michelin-starred restaurants, the chief executive of Tsuta Global, which is under Hersing Culinary, says: "The restaurants don't have to be Michelin-starred, but people do pay attention. Plus, we have the two-Michelin-starred French restaurant Les Amis across the street from us (at Pacific Plaza). The area can become a Michelin street."
What are your childhood memories of food?
My late grandmother's home cooking. She was of Peranakan heritage and her best dishes were buah keluak and chap chye. Unfortunately, we do not have a record of her recipes, but we are trying to recreate them.
Where are your favourite food haunts?
I go to Heng at Newton Circus Food Centre for fried carrot cake. I like the black version as it is sweet and salty.
For Japanese food, my go-to place is Akashi at Orchard Parade Hotel for sushi and sashimi.
I also like to go to Morton's The Steakhouse at Mandarin Oriental Singapore. I've celebrated my birthday there three times.
In Singapore, I go to Ramen Santouka as well, which has outlets at The Central and Cuppage Road.
Which are your favourite foodie cities?
I love to go to Tokyo to eat at Tsukiji Fish Market. I'm not particular about where I go as long as it's a new place every time. I also like to visit yakitori bars and yakiniku restaurants.
In Hong Kong, besides dining at Kam's Roast Goose and Tim Ho Wan, I must eat beef brisket noodles at Kau Kee. I remember that you have to eat in five minutes; if not, the fierce auntie will chase you out.
What is on your dining wish list?
To dine at French chef Joel Robuchon's restaurants in France as well as two-Michelin-starred Noma restaurant in Denmark.
Are you an adventurous diner?
I was tricked into eating balut (boiled duck embryo in its shell). When I was eating it, I was wondering why the egg was crunchy. Had I seen it properly, I probably wouldn't have eaten it. I haven't had scorpions or bugs yet.
How do you satisfy your sweet tooth?
I indulge in matcha ice cream.
What was your best dining experience?
It was at the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh, which I believe deserves three Michelin stars. The wine-pairing dinner took three hours and every dish was a work of art.
Do you cook?
Yes, as I was exposed to a lot of fresh produce when I was studying in Sydney. I cooked pasta and beer-battered fish and chips. I also made roti prata from scratch as I wanted to give my Aussie friends a taste of Singapore. It was edible, but not very well done.
What are your thoughts on the dining scene here?
I think that food and beverage companies are becoming favourites for landlords, who will now give more space for an eatery to open.
Now, compared with fashion brands, people know there will be a strong following for good food brands.
This raises the sense of pride of someone working in the F&B industry.
Once, people would proudly say they worked for fashion company Louis Vuitton, for example. I believe that is changing.
If you could have a meal with someone dead or alive, who would you pick?
The late Apple chief executive officer Steve Jobs.
I like technology and innovation and I would like to pick his brains on how to improve the business and customer experience.
I want to know what he would do if I put him in a restaurant setting. He was always ahead of the curve.