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From Working in a Hawker Stall Aged 7 to Chef-Owner of 2 Restaurants: Dad of 3 Dylan Ong

Chef Dad Dylan
EatPost Category - EatEatFamily LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life - Post Category - Cool DadsCool Dads

‘I didn’t blame my situation or how well off my parents were, I learnt through my mother what it means to have the value of dedication and hard work; it’s not how we start; it’s how we end.’

Local Chef and dad of three Dylan Ong had a difficult childhood growing up in a hawker family where his parents struggled financially. Dylan himself worked in the hawker stall from the age of 7. When his dad was taken ill, Dylan became his dad’s sole caregiver, and his mum had to take on three different hawker jobs to keep income coming in but never once complained. Seeing how hard his mum worked and the sacrifices she had to make to keep her family afloat put him off the culinary industry, but a serendipitous experience with a stranger put him on the path to becoming a chef. He now owns restaurants The Masses and the relatively new restaurant Choon Hoy Parlour, which is a tribute to Dylan’s hardworking mother. Chef Dylan Ong opens up about the impact his childhood challenges had on him, how his mother inspired him and shaped his character, how he actively parents his three children (Laurent, 7, Liv, 4 and Leo 2) differently to how he was raised and why after resisting the hawker path for so long, he now feels a pull to keep this heritage alive.

Read past Cool Dad interviews here.

Growing up with a difficult childhood, what challenges did you face that have significantly shaped who you are today?

I faced quite a bit, to be honest. Not having much financially taught me how to be more prudent in handling my finances because money doesn’t come that easily. Seeing how tough it was for my parents toiling the hours as hawkers taught me the value of hard work and perseverance, which has shaped me into the way I am. I’m not afraid to work hard and no matter how hard the world gets, I have fight in me!

Chef Dad Dylan

You were pursuing a career in Engineering – what made you change to a culinary path after deliberately avoiding a career in food?

Growing up in a hawker family, seeing how my parents worked so hard and at the same time the hours spent on their work, we hardly had any time together as a family. The hours they put in did put me off not wanting to be in this line. Also, it’s really blood, sweat and tears kind of work, so that made me not want to do anything with food and beverage.

So I ran away from it and tried to do something different like pursuing engineering. Until one day when I was at a church meeting, one stranger who I’d never met in my life, decided to give me a Victorinox knife set and told me that I should pursue what I knew I always wanted to do but was afraid to, which was to be a chef. And that was the sign! I enrolled in Shatec after, and the rest is history!

Why is your latest restaurant Choy Hoon Parlour a tribute to your mother?

Mainly because I wanted to preserve the dishes she taught me and also to keep her on my mind and in my heart. I too now work long hours that I hardly get time to see her. I hope with Choy Hoon Parlour even if one day she’s not around anymore, the name is always on my lips and on my mind. I hope that I’ll never stop making her proud, and I want to preserve the essence of what she taught me.

Chef Dad Dylan
Left: Dylan and mum; Right: Dylan with wife Julia Lin and kids

What lessons from your childhood do you find most valuable when it comes to your own approach to parenting?

The lessons of being forgiving and patient.
This is something my mum has a lot of, despite me giving her so many issues and headaches when I was growing up in my rebellious years.
The results of her actions thus also shaped me to where I am today.
From her, I’ve learnt to be more understanding, forgiving and patient with my kids.

Chef Dad Dylan

Are you parenting differently from how you were raised and why are these changes important to you?

Yes definitely, as both my parents are illiterate, so their method of parenting was not learned through the viewpoint of the world but rather a hand-me-down method from the traditions of their parents. This had a significant impact on me, but I chose to unlearn and relearn a lot of this and reminded myself to learn from various sources to be a better parent myself.

The changes are so important as in this current age, things are changing so fast that we have to move ahead with the times in how we educate our kids. Though the methods may change, the values still hold the same.

What values or traditions from your upbringing do you wish to pass on to your children, despite the difficulties you faced?

The value of respect and having good manners, being respectful to elders. Generally being respectful in our conduct and always having good manners towards each other.

The tradition that we do our best to practice is that whenever we eat at the table, there are no distractions, just everyone eating and being thankful for what’s on the table and enjoying each other’s company.

Chef Dad Dylan
Do you teach your kids to cook?

Yes, I do! They love to cook. It’s like all fun and games till they’ve been in the real world, haha!

How do you hope your children will perceive your dedication to your mother through your restaurant, and what message do you want them to take away from it?

I hope they see my love and dedication for my mother’s love and the respect I have for her as a person despite not having a lot when I was young. I didn’t blame my situation or how well off my parents were, I learnt through her what it means to have the value of dedication and hard work; it’s not how we start it’s how we end.

Tell us something crazy about yourself.

As mentioned before, I ran away from the food business after seeing how hard my parents worked, and I especially didn’t want to be a hawker. But for the past few years there is a longing. I hope one day I can go back to my hawker roots again and contribute to keeping this heritage alive and write a book about my life journey. A very crazy feat that I hope I get to accomplish!

How do you define success?

To me, it means achieving my goals to help others succeed. Seeing my staff and the impact I can have in this world and the people I meet, that they will grow in their journey and become successful is what gives me great joy.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To fall in love more with reading and the pursuit of knowledge.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Dylan. You have come so far, and your mum must be so proud of what you have achieved and how you are such an involved dad. 

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