One More Chance @ Eighteen Chefs

I am a member in Pink Photographers Singapore, a Facebook group managed by Ourshutterjourney LLP, with 536 (currently and still growing) female photographers; for us to share photos, experiences, photography tips & techniques. On October 16th 2014, a food photography event was organised for the ladies. It was Pink’s 1st outing and the event was a hit with everyone who participated! I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

The venue for the food photography event was held at Eighteen Chefs located at the basement of The Cathay. I was there early and had time on hand. While waiting for the rest of the ladies to arrive, I had the privilege of hearing from the horse’s mouth.

I have seen Benny’s profile photo on Facebook many a time – he is a mutual friend of many of my friends. He had looked intimidating to me in picture and does as well in real life but once proper introduction was made, his exuberant demeanour took over and broke the ice. He was all firm yet charming at the same time. There was no need for pretentious mingling. In photography term, I was able to “point and shoot”. I asked him, “Why Eighteen Chefs?”

Eighteen Chefs

I want delinquents to know that life offers many alternative paths.

“The number ‘18’ is the moniker of the active local gang (in Singapore). I want delinquents to know that life offers many alternative paths. You don’t have to identify as a gangster, you can be a chef.” – Owner & Executive Chef Benny Se Teo

I realised there and then that Eighteen Chefs is not just a local business; it is an enterprise with dreams to “save” those from the crooked ways. A platform for troubled youths and those with conviction backgrounds; providing them a safe and non-judgemental working environment… A chance for ex-offenders who wants to reform and are seeking employment that could be a start to something positive. Benny has written a tell-it-like-it-is book, “One More Chance”- The story of Benny Se Teo from heroine addict to restaurant boss – and its official book launch will be held at Singapore’s Writers Festival @ Festival Pavilion on 1st November 2014.

Eighteen Chefs

Benny made a vow that if he ever become a towkay (boss), he would make second chances in life a possibility for those who seek it.

Benny himself was an ex-offender and knew how difficult it was to integrate back into the straight and narrow. He promised himself that should he become a towkay one day, he would make it easier for those who have fallen off the mainstream. Then someone told Benny about a chef who shared the same ideals and had already started a similar program.

“The idea of cooking as a potential career path for young unemployed people – specifically those who had fallen out of mainstream education and were in need of a fresh new start in life.” – Jamie Oliver (The Naked Chef)

When Benny Se Teo told me how he had to hound Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen Apprentice Programme almost daily to let him work and learn, before he finally wore them out and Jamie accepted him, my mind quickly drifted to the bible verses below:

“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”- Luke 11:8

“And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.” – Luke 18:3

Yup, Benny went to Fifteen in London, came back after his apprenticeship and started Eighteen Chefs! That was 7 years ago with his first outlet in Simei. Was Benny’s F&B venture smooth sailing all the time? No, he said he had tasted the sour of defeat, before Eighteen Chefs took off.

I think one of the biggest reasons so many restaurants fail within the first three years is because owners do too LITTLE or they do TOO MUCH. It is easy as a restaurant owner to want to do everything yourself, from the cooking, to the marketing to the bookkeeping to repairs and maintenance. However, trying to do everything, whether out of financial concern or simply because you don’t think anyone can do it “right” will quickly run you and possibly your business into the ground . Remember, you are a restaurant owner, not a superhero. You can’t do everything and be everywhere at the same time. I must say I had a “Great” team! – Benny Se Teo

I have not been taking food photography seriously (my frame of mind) much lately and thus felt out of practice when Allan said we had to submit 5 photos from this outing. Let’s see what I came out with during this session. I did not want a menu type of photos and went with the theme of “pictures of food” rather than about the food served and I will not be reviewing the tastes. One last question for Benny before I left him to deal with the dinner crowd, “What should I order?” Benny recommended “Heart Attack” – a garlic fried rice series which you can have with egg, or a side of beef or roast chicken.

Service was fast and before long we were snapping away with our cameras. There’s a waffle dressing demonstration at the end of our meal, too. Camera, roll and… Action!

Eighteen Chefs

I was quite thirsty after interviewing Benny and before my set meal came (which includes a drink and soup of the day) I ordered this Ice cold lemon tea.

Eighteen Chefs

Soup of the Day that came with my set.
There’s also a side of Garlic Toasts that came with the soup.

Eighteen Chefs

Heart Attack is Garlic Fried Rice with beef (in rice) and a side of beef steak (about 400g – let the staff know the done-ness to your desire). There’s chicken if you prefer poultry.

Eighteen Chefs

Garlic Fried Rice.

Eighteen Chefs

Heart Attack Garlic Fried Rice with Egg.

Eighteen Chefs

Benny Ng, my photography and makan kaki, loves the beef here.

Eighteen Chefs

Definitely heart clogging, lol…

Eighteen Chefs

Heart Attack Garlic Fried Rice with half a bird of Roast Chicken.

Eighteen Chefs

One promising staff at Eighteen Chefs demonstrating waffle decoration for us at the event.

Eighteen Chefs

Jobs are delivered with pride and passion, no matter how meagre you may think.
It is after all a new beginning for most of them.

Eighteen Chefs

“Social entrepreneurship is a buzz word now. Young people are really keen on it, but there are also many problems and pitfalls I suffered on the way. I want them to know about these, so that they can get in with their eyes open. Society may not have given me another chance at first, but I gave myself one. Enough people believed in me and now I can give others that one more chance.” – Benny Se Teo

To err is human to forgive divine. Sometimes, forgiveness has to come from within first before one can move on. Give yourself one more chance!

In a way, Benny has the greatest gain. For in helping others, the biggest joy belonged to him 😉

Eighteen Chefs is flourishing with many new outlets opening. I was glad I came to the event. I had a great time and even won a prize, a wrist watch, during the lucky draw.

Eighteen Chefs @ The Cathay
No.2 Handy Road.
Singapore 229233.

Telephone: (+65) 6733 8089.

Opening hours: Daily
11am – 10.30pm

P.S. Schmidt Marketing (Metz) sponsored the goodie-bags & the top 3 lucky draw prizes for this event. Thank you!

Other similar F&B outlets that reaching out to ex-offenders and delinquent youths:
Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh 顺发肉骨茶 @ 302 Bedok Road (Simpang Bedok)

7 Responses to “One More Chance @ Eighteen Chefs”
  1. Great Story… I had a similar experience, helping those who needed a second chance,
    not food, property maintenance.
    How many members showed up ???
    Great post, change can be a good thing.

    Love, hugs and keep on clicking… ME and the Boss

    • Sam Han says:

      Being able to contribute is always a wonderful feeling and I am always envious of those in the position to help. Yes, the story behind the food at 18 chefs seemed more interesting to me, too! I counted 15 members but there could be more 😀

  2. renxkyoko says:

    I’ve read of something like that here in the US. Some own bakeries, and those offenders are so good in baking… they make the best of it because that is their lifeline.

  3. I think enterprises like this are so inspiring; I hope with more of these popping up and more ex-delinquents being employed will help change the social stigma towards delinquents. Eric Tsang set up a restaurant that employs youths with disabilities such as Down Syndrome.

    • Sam Han says:

      Thank you for sharing Eric Tsang’s story. I didn’t know that. It is very inspiring indeed and makes us want to follow suit and do more good. 😀

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