Interview: Shen Tan of Wok & Barrel

Having just turned forty, I’ve been doing lots of introspection. It’s so easy to get sucked into the rat race and get hung up on materialism.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt is not to be so angry anymore and not let myself get worked up about small, minor things.

I read anything and everything from brainless mystery thrillers to books about cooking and food to medical- and health-related stuff.

Happiness is highly overrated.

Simplicity in life is hard, so my philosophy is to live well, live for the moment and be kind. I just do what I love and try to be healthy.

I’m like the princess of The Princess and the Pea. I hate crumbs on the bed and if there’s something as small as a particle of sand on my 1000-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, you can be damn sure I’ll hunt it down.

One of the toughest things in my life was losing a very dear friend last year. It’s been nine months, but I still don’t think I’m really coping.

Cockroaches terrify the crap out of me. I can’t even scream, I just run.

I was a big wine and whiskey drinker, but after being introduced to craft beers by a friend two years ago, I’m now a bona fide, true blue beer monster. The first craft beer I had really changed my perception of beer, it blew me away.

Quitting my job as an event director of Forbes to be a hawker was insane. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, with no F&B experience whatsoever. I figured, if I didn’t try it then, when would I take that jump?

When I started, my fellow hawkers in Maxwell really helped me out. I think they looked at me and thought, this ang moh pai, jiak kantang (eat potato) girl needs it. But it was a great experience and there was a very steep learning curve.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman in a hawker center; there isn’t a gender divide in my opinion.

Singaporean women juggle a hell of a lot and I think women tend to think that they have to prove more than ever that we can hack it, but I don’t think that’s necessary.

I’m a total romantic and the sort who cries during soppy movies.

My parents got divorced when I was eight and as with all children of divorces, I think it really affected my future relationships, for better or worse.

Growing up, I had epic battles with my mother during mealtime. It used to take me two whole hours, sometimes more, to eat a meal.

I used to be bulimic and wanted to be skinny and girly. Quite ironic really. Obviously I learnt to love myself more and be more confident about how I look. Frankly, I stopped caring about what other people thought.

My mom’s my role model; she really had to do it all.

When you’re young, everything is so black or white and feels as intense as a non-stop emotional rollercoaster.

My first kiss was when I was 19. He was the hottest, cutest boy in school—oh yeah, I win.

True love’s hard to define, but you should wake up in the morning, look over at your partner and think: “How lucky I am.” That should never change, ever.

Hell would freeze over before I ever become a vegetarian. 

I relish being alone now.

read our restaurant review of Wok & Barrel