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At the Table With: Eric Neo

24 September 2019 by Food&HotelAsia


Sharing a common vision to nurture and grow the food and hospitality industry, the Singapore Chefs Association has supported Food Hotel Asia for the last four decades to groom local and regional talents. We had a chat with Eric Neo, President of the Singapore Chefs Association recently to find out more about the trends in the culinary scene and his thoughts on the younger generation of chefs.

Singapore’s fine dining scene has been changing rapidly over the last couple of years, with many famous establishments closing down. What’s your take on that?

I think the reason for that is that guests nowadays are spoilt for choice with the number of establishments they can go to; and insufficient planning to sustain the business, for example, in terms of the payroll, costs, profit margins. These could be some of the reasons behind the closing of the restaurants. Another reason could be the difficulty in managing the consistency of the cuisine, as there could be several chefs making the same dish for customers and taste and consistency may differ in different hands.

At the same time, there are chefs who have gone on the casual dining route, and we have seen more casual dining options. Do you think setting up a casual dining restaurant is easier than fine dining? 

The trend of going the casual dining route is correct as it’s more flexible and versatile in terms of offerings or menu composition. It also does not require many people to run a casual [restaurant] compared with a fine dining restaurant; the skill sets required are different too.

Do you think it is easier for young chefs to break into the culinary scene now, compared with 5 or even 10 years ago?

Young chefs have many different platforms to choose a culinary career as compared to years ago. There are now more culinary institutes to learn the craft, and younger chefs are also more entrepreneurial by setting up their own restaurants.

The Singapore national team is well known on the international culinary stage, having won many competitions over the years. What are your thoughts on the level of culinary expertise here?

We are very fortunate to have many great mentors and ex-national team members, whom have been guiding the team, and of course the team is very focused on the training. They continue to improvise after receiving feedback, and this allows the team to be polished and excel in their end results. Having said that, culinary trends are always evolving and we must continue to learn and improvise.

How do you think the Singapore Chefs Association will be working to enhance the skillset and experience of its members/chefs here?

The Singapore Chefs Association is working closely with culinary institutes to enhance the skills of chefs and our members. Moving forward, we may also come up with special master classes to teach and share our knowledge on the skillset required for competitions.

How do you see young chefs contributing to the culinary scene in Singapore and the region?

Young Chefs are the future of the culinary scene and they need to be given the opportunity to showcase their skills. Therefore, we should be involving them in pop-ups as much as possible or even getting them to participate in overseas programmes to expose them to the industry. In return, we hope they will come back with new concepts that could bring more colour and vibrancy to the industry.

The SCA has been a strong supporter of the FHA Culinary Challenges (FCC). How do you see the competitions and how have these challenges helped up-and-coming chefs in Singapore and the region in their careers?

The FHA Culinary Challenge is one platform that allows chefs or young chefs to prove themselves and know where they stand in terms of culinary skills. As this is the largest show in the region, we have distinguished guest judges whose valuable feedback would allow them to learn from mistakes and improve in the future. We also look for potential chefs at the event that we can groom to be the next national team assistants or members. This strongly elevates the chef’s CV and help him/her to be more focused when looking for opportunities in their career.

FHA has expanded and split into TWO MEGA EVENTS, TWO DATES in 2020 – FHA-HoReCa and FHA-Food & Beverage, to provide an enhanced experience and personalised engagement, while meeting the diverse demands of the food and hospitality industry. Can you share with us your thoughts on this expansion?

This only shows that FHA is continuously trying to improve and ensure that the show meets the demand of every visitor. There are so many booths to visits and many new things to discover as every vendor wants your attention and feedback. With the expansion, there is more focus and visitors will have more time to spend at their preferred vendors’ booths. It also allows more companies the opportunity to participate and trade. I feel it is great to see the expansion and am sure it would be another successful show next year.

How do you think the expansion will benefit chefs in the region?

Chefs will not have to rush during the four days, juggling between the competitions and exhibition. The expansion will also expose them to more products that could help in their creative approach towards menu planning. They will also be able to make new friends, which will create stronger bonds among Asian chefs.

Any words of inspiration or advice for all the young and up-and-coming chefs out there?

Do not be impatient in learning a skill, take one step at a time and learn time management. When you are ready, take on a few projects to complete, and in the process, learning to follow up and always communicating with your colleagues are very important. Have passion in your cooking and as I always say: I am proud to be a chef!