Welsh Chef Paul Hallett on juggling his role as chef and daddy duty
Chef Paul Hallett is the Executive Chef of SKAI grill, one of our favourite rooftop dining destinations in Singapore (those views from the 70th floor at sunset are just stunning!). Chef Paul Hallett grew up in a small rural region in Wales, and embarked on a cooking career in the footsteps of his chef mother. We chat to Chef Paul, Daddy to 6-year-old son Morgan and 1-year-old daughter Myfanwy (Miffy for short, as most people cannot pronounce her Welsh name!), on cooking with kids, healthy eating, losing 34kg in weight, his favourite haunts for Asian food, and hanging with the kids.
Tell us something quirky about yourself?
I have a drawer full of Star Wars socks that I wear when training at gym every day. I only squat wearing Darth Vader ones!
Your kids are growing up in Singapore, which is such a different place to where you grew up in rural Wales. What are your thoughts on this?
I am happy with life in Singapore for my children as they have a lot more at hand than I did as a kid, and probably would if we were back in London as well. Singapore is great for kids – it’s very safe and easy to get around and my son has so many activities and things to do. To be honest, he came here at 9 months old, so he has no real memory of life back home and Miffy was born here so for all intents and purposes this is home to them. We go back to Wales every year and the kids have a great time there with family, but they have no real attachment to Wales.
When you aren’t cooking upmarket grilled meats at Skai, what do you love to eat?
I love Japanese food, which I’ve also actually incorporated into the menu at SKAI! I like Tomi Sushi, a little place on East Coast Road close to where I live. I also thought Nogawa Restaurant had some memorable eats. I like Asian food in general, so it tends to make up the vast majority of what I like to eat.
What’s your favourite restaurant or hawker to bring your kids to?
Eng Seng, Joo Chiat Place — we live close by so it has become a regular. Everyone knows my kids there, they get lots of attention and I love the black pepper crab!
Hmmm it really depends. I find if it’s a restaurant that’s more casual and family friendly then they tend to have a children’s menu that’s more suited to real kids! If it’s a more refined establishment then they tend to adapt some of the items from their main menu, which is not what kids eat in general. I think overall kids’ menus are evolving and improving but it’s still hard not to find a menu without the inevitable fried nuggets and chips!
How do you encourage your kids to eat healthy?
It’s not easy and it is very dependent on each child. My son is a picky eater, but my daughter, even at such a young age, will already eat anything. I tend to work on the basis of having very little to no exposure to the very bad foods — we never eat fast-food, burgers etc. and we don’t have soda fizzy drinks. If they don’t know what they’re missing, then they never ask for it! We also eat a lot of home cooked food and my wife and I enjoy eating healthily so lead by example.
Speaking of healthy eating, we understand you went through a personal transformation recently – what prompted this and what did you change?
Yes, three years ago I was very overweight, I was 105kg! I went through a big lifestyle change and lost 34kg, and since then I’ve spent the last few years consistently weight lifting and training. What prompted me is that I was genuinely unhappy at that weight – I didn’t feel good about how I looked.
I always wanted to be a good role model for my kids, someone they can look up to and at that time I was very unfit and therefore not capable of doing the things I felt I should be doing as a parent.
I wanted to get in there and be someone who runs and plays and is active with their children – not standing on the sidelines – so in the end it was a very easy decision to make.
Given you cook all day at SKAI do you do any cooking at home?
This is a famous question! Well, yes, I do sometimes but mostly no actually! My wife Michelle, who is originally from Kuala Lumpur, is a great home cook and like I mentioned we eat mostly Asian food so I’m happy to let her take the reins of cooking at home. I cook on occasion, they all love my lasagna so that comes out now and again and if I’m home on the weekends I cook breakfast and pancakes but that’s mostly it. I love to cook, but I don’t like to take my work home with me too much. Also, a domestic kitchen can be a tad frustrating to a chef!
Do you teach your kids to cook at home?
I do make a few things with my son, mostly for a bit of bonding. He knows what my job is so he will sometimes ask if I can make this or that, so we have played around making cupcakes, chocolate mousse and stuff like that, and whenever he has to bring food to school we make Welsh cakes together, which is like a flat scone from my home country!
Your mother was a chef and was an inspiration for you. What aspirations do you have for your kids?
Like most I think I want them to be happy. I have no desire to push them in a specific direction, just to be there to support and guide them in the choices they make and to encourage them to follow their own path.
What advice to do you give your children about finding their passion?
I just advise them to be open to try new things and do as much as they can to allow them to naturally find that thing or things in life that they are passionate about or good at.
What’s your favourite one-on-one activity with your kids when your wife’s not around?
Bowling or Bouncing; my son and I both like 10-pin bowling so it’s definitely a thing we do when it’s just us. We also love to hit the trampoline park — we have lot of fun trying to outdo each other.
What’s your favourite outdoor spot to hang out with your kids?
Definitely the pool – my kids are water babies, so they can spend all day at the pool. We recently moved, and the main reason was to find the place with the biggest pool possible!
What are your favourite holiday destinations with your family? Any destinations on the bucket list?
We have had many great holidays in South East Asia, but my favorite family holiday destination is still going back home to Wales. It’s a place that we have lots of very close time together, and time to really relax. It’s a quiet place, which for us is a good thing, just to slow down and enjoy the time you have with each other.
On my bucket list is winter in the snow n Japan! I lived in the French Alps for a few years and I snowboard very well, so I want to take the kids to Japan to teach them how to ride. We all love the snow, it’s one of the things I miss most from Europe and I think Japan will offer such a new and unique way of enjoying the snow with post-ski ramen and hot katsu!