Born into a family of chefs, Gwennon Teng found her own niche in the F&B industry.
Facing a fork on her career path, without an inkling of what to do next, Gwennon Teng, decided to draw closer to God and enrolled herself at City Harvest Church’s School of Theology in 2006.
During this time, some of Gwennon’s friends advised her to pursue a culinary career given her penchant for food. She was not convinced until she heard one of the SOT guest lecturers’ opening statement to his whole week of teaching, that “food is an expression of love” and proceeded to teach using food as an analogy.
“Food has always given me joy and I love to make food for my loved ones. But hearing it this way, it felt like God was giving a nod to my next step,” Gwennon admitted. The Building and Real Estate Management graduate then decided to enrol herself at the At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy three years after graduating from SOT, during which she met many inspiring culinary giants such as Daniel Boulud, Christophe Megel, Pierre Hermé, and Julien Bompard.
Armed with a Diploma in Culinary Arts a year and a half later, Gwennon took the plunge into the culinary world. Her journey began at Brasserie Wolf, one of Singapore’s award-winning French bistro as an intern. Seven years later, Gwennon saw herself helming the kitchen at Jones the Grocer @Mandarin Gallery, as Head Chef. More opportunities came and Gwennon took them up as she continued to sharpen both her culinary skills and business acumen.
CONTINUING HER FATHER’S BUSINESS
Growing up in a family of cooks, Gwennon was no stranger to cooking for people. Her parents have been running Dong Ji, a well-loved char kway teow stall at Old Airport Road Food Centre, for many years, and Gwennon had grown up helping them. When her father had to go for surgery in 2018, it suddenly dawned on her that perhaps it is time to help in the three-generation family business.
“Cooking char kway teow requires a lot of skills, techniques, and experience. Because of its complexity, few are willing to go into this business and it is quickly becoming a dying trade in Singapore. It takes time to learn, and if I don’t start now, the skills that my Ah Gong passed down to my father will fizzle away,” Gwennon recounted how she made the decision to share the business’ responsibility with her parents.
“It was tough for the first two years, but Chef Daniel Boulud’s advice that ‘chefs must learn to control fire’ stayed with me since I met him at the Academy, and that helped me through the innumerable plates I had to fry.”
THE JOURNEY OF STARTING OUI CHEF
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Singapore, Gwennon realized that some of her friends in Food and Beverage industry were severely affected. At that time, she already had the idea to create a new venture, offering food that most people love yet are too tedious to make. Having the support of two ex-colleagues, the trio decided to start the new business to help their friends in the F&B industry tie over the unpredictable period.
Enter Oui Chef in May 2020–a food business offering well-loved food items usually accessible at restaurants, such as cottage pie and caramelized onions, run entirely on social media. The name bears their collective hope to relive the fond warmth and unity of their previous “kitchen Ohana” they had bonded over. The word Ohana in Hawaiian means “family”.
All was well as Gwennon juggled both her family business and Oui Chef, until a curveball came unexpectedly in the form of endometrial cancer, within the same month she started the new business.
Gwennon recounted, “I was shocked to see the hospital’s appointment reminder, notifying me to report to the National Cancer Centre for my health test results review. Upon hearing the doctor’s diagnosis the next day, I cried for a whole day. But I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, and I felt the peace of God washed over me. God also reminded me of the lyrics to an old song Trust His Heart– ‘when you don’t see His plan, when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.’ So, I decided to trust God, since everything is in His hands and there is no need for any striving.”
Upon further examination, the growth turned out to be at its early stage and there was a high chance for full recovery upon surgery. Gwennon then decided to pause her plans at Oui Chef and took a break from her hectic schedule to fully rest and recuperate, after her successful surgery.
September came and CHC’s SOT 2020 batch was soon due to return home upon their graduation. Having served at Missio Dei Harvest for some time, Gwennon is no stranger to missions and has made friends at some far-flung places. “I believe that food truly is an expression of love and I wanted these SOT 2020 students that MDH hosted, as well as their families, to know how much they are loved by friends in a foreign land, so I decided to cook a hearty seafood pot for them before they had to return to their respective homes.”
The meal became a turning point as it laid the path for Oui Chef’s new “seafood in a pot” concept, cemented when Gwennon saw how sharing such hearty helpings of food “plated on the table” unfolded priceless moments, rekindling heartfelt conversations, connecting people, and forging relationships around the table.
Since then, Oui Chef has made hearty seafood pots for at least 200 unique tummies. “We are only able to serve for dinnertime now, as we want to offer the freshest seafood to our patrons. Our seafood is freshly cooked the same day it arrives in Singapore and is delivered to our patrons by dinnertime. That is why we are only able to take limited orders in a day,” explained Gwennon. “We hope to make a difference in restoring relationships and establishing bonds since the generous serving portions also meant the meal is to be shared with others. Oui Chef’s motto is to celebrate lives, one table at a time.”
Looking back, Gwennon reflected that although her life had taken some meandering and seen some challenges, she saw how God has always been good to her and He has never left nor forsaken her. “My life’s inspiration has always been God, and my eyes are fixed on Him. I am convinced just how much God loves me, and I hope that others can come to know of His amazing love I have experienced, through the food I cook and serve. Oui Chef will serve our ‘seafood in a pot’ for as long as the Lord wills, but we will do (and go) wherever He leads as all I want is to follow Him. I am also hopeful that He will make my lifelong goal of feeding a million tummies in my life come true. To Him be all the glory,” the enthused Chef shared with a smile.
When asked for advice for young foodpreneurs and chefs, Gwennon graciously offered her thoughts, “Life may present many detours, it doesn’t matter how and when you start. What does matter is to find the work that gives you joy every day? When you have found it, stick to it, and get yourself through the necessary yet often difficult phase. Thereafter you will find yourself having the accumulated skills, knowledge, and experience to excel in it, even if you are a late bloomer like me. There is no perfect job in the world, what makes it all worthwhile and meaningful is the joy that the work gives you and others around you.”
Find Oui Chef on Instagram @ouichefsg and check out their menu, order schedule, and special loyalty program. Don’t forget to feast your eyes on the copious visuals of mouth-watering, delightful, and plentiful ‘plated tables’ taken by mostly Oui Chef’s patrons!