A delightful BBQ dinner at Ownself Make Chef by Chef Shen Tan
Updated: Jun 8, 2021
Chef Shen Tan is no stranger to most Singapore foodies. If you’re a fan of the popular local YouTube show Food King, you’ll probably have seen her making regular appearances on its episodes.
But she was already making waves in the local culinary scene long before she appeared on the show. After leaving her corporate job 13 years ago, chef Shen started selling nasi lemak at Maxwell Food Centre. She then opened restaurant The Wok & Barrel, where she gained recognition for her creative modern Singapore dishes like ba chor mee pasta and beef rendang pizza.
In 2018, chef Shen pivoted to private dining at her Queenstown HDB flat with Ownself Make Chef.
I found out about Ownself Make Chef as it was listed on several media articles as a home dining experience. I ended up booking one of her public dinners when browsing her website.
These are held several Saturdays a month and feature intriguing themed menus like aPORKalypse (10 courses of pork!), Sinfully Seafood and even a dinner where each dish features an ice-cream and savoury dish pairing. The best part is you don’t even need to gather a group of 4 to 8 diners to go. Solo diners can sign up too and enjoy her food!
As she explains, she doesn’t really do home dining now for myriad reasons. However, you can continue to enjoy her monthly public dinners. I booked her signature BBQ Mai Tu Liao dinner, featuring 8 courses of meat. All public dinners are priced at $128 per pax.
After booking, the experience was somewhat shrouded in mystery. I had no idea what the dining layout would be or how the dinner would be carried out. I love surprises so that was no issue for me!
On the evening of the dinner, I headed to its location in a warehouse building at Seletar Aerospace Heights.
I initially thought the dining would be a long table communal format, but was pleased to find that each dining party was separated. I would describe the style as fine-dining, with service staff to tend to you and serve dishes. The table set-up was simple and elegant.
The servers were extremely attentive too, especially when it came to getting us drinks and clearing our plate after each course. Some even engaged in friendly conversations with guests.
After a while, chef Shen appeared and gave us a tour of the premises’ garden. Here, they grow many of the plants that are used in the cooking process. For instance, herbs for nasi udang, turmeric leaves for rendang, spices like ginger flower and other plants like butterfly pea, roselle, and Chinese violet.
A full-time gardener is employed to take care of the plants, and there are plans to move the dining area to the garden so it’s a truly farm-to-table experience.
Back at our table, we were also served welcome drinks. You’re given the choice between a cocktail or mocktail. The cocktail we were served was a mix of kombucha (consisting of fermented green tea) and rum sourced from local producer Compendium Spirits.
As for the mocktail, it was made with kampung honey from Malaysia, though I can’t recall what the other ingredients were. I would say I prefer the mocktail, which was pleasant and well-balanced. I did wish there was more rum added to the cocktail as it felt a little diluted.
Chef Shen soon announced the start of the first course - the thrice cooked duck. The servers would plate out the dishes on a table in front, after which they are served to the eager diners.
The duck is marinated in soy stock, tea-smocked, steamed then grilled. It also came served with ginger, soy and balsamic reduction. The duck included burnt edges too - kind of like a ‘smoke ring’.
I felt this was a great dish to start off with. The sweetness of the balsamic balanced well with the richness of the duck. The duck had a pleasant char too, and I found the fruity vinaigrette on the salad refreshing.
Our second dish was the BBQ laksa quail, served with smoked quail eggs and laksa leaf pesto. As chef Shen loves supporting local producers, the quail she uses is grown in Singapore by farmer Mr William Ho, affectionately known as ‘Uncle William’.
Quail is spatchcocked, marinated in laksa rempah and then grilled. Like it or not, quail is difficult to eat, as it takes time to get the meat out with cutlery. I enjoyed chef Shen’s rendition though. The laksa seasoning on the quail was subtle and not too overpowering, with a pleasant spiciness. The quail was tender too, and I could also chew and swallow the wing bones.
As for the egg, it was well-executed and not overcooked. The pesto also paired well with the dish, being smooth and mildly chunky. It was not too oily, and there was no hint of nuts like classic pesto.
Next up was the grilled king prawns with nasi lemak. Given how chef Shen is famous for her nasi lemak, I had high hopes for her signature offering. And it didn’t disappoint!
According to chef Shen, the rice itself has 8 ingredients and takes 4 hours to make. It was a delight to savour, with the rice being fluffy, fragrant and not too oily. The accompanying sambal was sweet and very spicy, but it complements the rice.
I did find the grilled prawns a tad dry. Unfortunately, grilling had taken out some of its moisture. Nevertheless, it was still flavourful.
The nasi lemak was followed by slow roasted briyani spiced kurobuta pork ribs. This dish reflects chef Shen’s love for all things pork. The briyani ribs are slow-cooked in an oven, and marinated in briyani masala spices, yogurt and ginger. Ribs are then charcoal grilled. Chef Shen also mentioned that the yoghurt is made locally.
I couldn’t really taste the briyani flavour, and some parts were a little too burnt for my liking. However, the ribs themselves were very tender, and the pork pulled apart easily. It was also juicy and not overwhelming ‘porky’ in flavour.
I liked the fact that all the meat dishes come paired with vegetables, adding a nice balance and contrast to the meal. For instance, the pork ribs came with cucumber and tomato salsa. Whilst I’m a total carnivore, it’s always great to have some greens on the plate.
Another pork dish came next - the double cut kurobuta pork chop. Or as chef Shen likes to call it, the ‘Bad Boy’ with truffle and ikura (salmon roe). This pork is marinated for 48 hours in chef Shen’s ‘secret sauce’, cooked in the oven to pink and served in ikura for that salty brininess.
Two thumbs up for the pork chop! Loin cuts can dry out quickly if not cooked properly, but this one was extremely tender and juicy. The pork had a very robust sweetness, and went well with the earthiness of the truffle.
The rending dry rub wagyu short ribs was served next. This was hands-down my favourite dish! I admit that I’m biased towards beef, but that also means I get disappointed if beef isn’t cooked well. Chef Shen offers a unique take on beef - it is sous vide for 24 hours with a dry rub of rendang, and then finished on a charcoal grill. The accompanying achar is made by the chef herself, and there’s also cauliflower puree at the side.
The shorts ribs were divine and melt-in-your-mouth tender, with the beef pulling part easily without a knife. It was extremely flavourful and I could taste the richness of the delectable rendang. I absolutely loved the rich and buttery cauliflower puree, which was well-seasoned.
The wagyu beef noodles was actually another strong contender for best dish! The dish consists of grilled miyazaki A3 wagyu, with oyster pasta made by chef Shen. The beef stock is a very clean and healthy mixture of carrots, onions and celery. The dish is also topped off with shaved truffles and ikura.
I savoured every bite of the noodles. They were really well-cooked with a chewy ‘QQ’ texture that reminded me of the delicious beef noodles I had in Taiwan. The broth was perfect too, expertly-seasoned and not too thick or rich. It tasted like nourishing, comfort food that your mum would make. The wagyu was cooked to perfection as well, being moist and tender.
The night ended off with ice cream made by The Milky Way. This dish is named ‘BBQ Your Banana’, and features grilled bananas, gula melaka ice cream, gula melaka butterscotch, torched coconut meringue and lard butter tart.
I liked the local twist given to this dessert, though I did wish the gula melaka ice cream was a little sweeter and stronger in flavour. The coconut meringue was a treat, as was the rich and crumbly crust.
It’s pretty obvious that I was full and happy at the end of the night. Even though the food is barbequed, none of it was greasy at all. The portioning was just nice too, neither too much or too little.
I also found chef Shen to be really friendly and relatable. She would walk around to each table between courses and chat with diners casually. Her passion for food is obvious, and I love how she strives to support local food producers as well.
If you’re keen on trying her creations, sign up for her public dinner dates at her website. She’s also working towards opening a new place selling her nasi lemak, so keep you eyes peeled for that!