Chef Chat: Juwanda Hassim of The Fabulous Baker Boy tells us where to get the best masala thosai, how to get great service at any restaurant, and the trials of sambal goreng.
The Fabulous Baker Boy isn’t just the name of the restaurant; it’s also the nickname of chef and owner Juwanda Hassim, the man who runs it. It was in fact his close friend, the actress Pam Oei, who said, in reply to his wondering out loud what he would call his first bakery, “The Fabulous Baker Boy lah!”
(It wasn’t a case of thick skin. They’d just seen a retro musical.)
The restaurant, which turns three in August, is well known for good, unpretentious fare that includes classics like duck confit and steak frites, and, of course, the cakes. The menu has recently been updated, not in a bid to keep up with food fads, but to include more comfort food. Nothing particularly elaborate, but everything is laboriously prepared. The chicken and leek soup, for one, takes two entire days to make.
On any given day, you’ll find at least 16 different cakes at The Fabulous Baker Boy
I catch up with TFBB the man at TFBB the restaurant, located at the shady foothill of Fort Canning Park. (It’s that bit of park just across from Liang Court, but you won’t see it unless you look for it.)
What do you love best about being in the restaurant business?
“There is not one mundane boring day. I thrive in a creative environment; working the back end of F&B helps me just do that.. constantly thinking creatively to problem solve, to service procedures, think up recipes and presentations, train my staff… my day doesn’t stop. Working the front end allows me to put into practice what I spend time doing in the back end. It’s exactly like theatre and I run my restaurant like one.”
Favourite local dish?
“My Favourite local dish is masala thosai (not really local) and the best place to eat it is at MTR1924.This place is along Serangoon Road, with very happy servers and absolutely delicious happy vegetarian food. It’s my favourite restaurant.”
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever learned to prepare?
“My mother’s Javanese sambal goreng… so many ingredients, so many ways of prepping…and so long to cook! The sambal goreng takes a full day, from start to finish. But I prep very fast so if you are slow…maybe two days.”
Who would you cook for, given the chance? What would you cook?
“I choose three: Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater… (I’d make) my very own version of claypot chicken rice.”
Share a restaurateur’s insider tip with us.
“Smile at your waiters/servers/bartenders and smile a lot if you want really awesome service… and watch your tone. Make them feel important. You should, as they have the power to make your night awesome or downright awful.”
The Fabulous Baker Boy (6694-8336) is at The Foothills, #01-15, 70 River Valley Road.