Tan Ken Loon pays it forward, so as to develop the local food scene.
His seafood restaurant is where tops chefs on this island unwind after a grueling day and are touted by industry insiders as the place to go for the ultimate prawn noodles. To be sure, six-year-old restaurant Naked Finn – the first of its kind to celebrate seafood through stripped-down, contemporary dishes – does not have gleaming Michelin stars or a place on international rankings. It has something better: The stamp of approval and unwavering support from those in the know.
The man behind it, Tan Ken Loon, is an unlikely restaurateur, with an education in fine arts and a previous career in IT. Yet, he manages to pioneer change within the F&B industry – perhaps in a way only one with the clarity of being an “outsider” can.
Last year, he created Magic Square, a year-long popup that will end this month. Designed to give three young Singaporean chefs the opportunity to helm a restaurant, the project garnered not just the attention of diners, but also the chef community. Many a prominent name in the local fine-dining scene are regular customers. Hideaki Sato of Michelin two-star Ta Vie in Hong Kong even took time out to mentor and cook with the budding talents.
“All my life, I’ve had to fight for my place in the world,” says Tan, analyzing his passion for developing talent. “Growing up, I did not come from a privileged background. And as a grown-up with a fine arts degree majoring in painting, I practically have no relevance to the world today.”
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