You might know him as the person behind the luscious dessert, Durian Creme Brûlée but Chung Deming has also started his own restaurant – The Quarters serves Deming’s unique take on modern Singapore cuisine, including his personal favourite, chilli crab pasta.
1. What did you want to be when you grow up?
A car-rally driver. Or a pilot. It was all about the adrenaline rush and being in a vehicle that provided that feeling.
2. Every boy’s dream but you went into finance instead. How did you get to your first job?
I studied Accountancy and at that time, I wanted to have a profession at the bank so I joined a prestigious outfit, Barclays.
My interest had always been in entrepreneurship, business ideas, business development, how things work. And I was thinking along the lines of building a skill set that was useful to my interests. Working in a bank seemed to make sense.
3. But you started to think about leaving … why?
Money was decent at Barclays.
But honestly, I stayed in a job for four years that I wanted to leave in 3 days. I wanted to do things that mattered. In the four years that I was at Barclays, I felt I accomplished nothing.
Even if I had changed departments or moved to another function or similar role, that would not have challenged or interested me.
I started to think about how I would feel 10 years on if I had stayed on. Yes, the money would be there but my self-worth wasn’t just based on this. Also I didn’t want to overspecialise and become too comfortable with a nice pay check.
4. So you turned to cooking? Was it always your passion from young?
Looking back, I’ve always enjoyed food and cooking. Even when young, I had my own rendition of instant noodles. I used fresh aromatics and did my own sauces. I wasn’t super intense or super-excited about cooking. It just became easier to find reasons to cook especially with all the cooking shows happening at that time. And it became something that grew with time.
I started cooking for my church and private dining gigs and while I was on a quest to create the perfect creme brûlée, Durian Creme Brûlée came about.
5. How did you then jump to a fully-fledged restaurant? It’s a big leap.
I don’t say no to worthy challenges.
It was just one of those things that made sense. I did entertain the thought of a dessert cafe but I shelved it as I thought it was impractical.
I had an overwhelming desire to create my own recipes and put my own interpretation to modern Singapore cuisine. There’s so much bad examples of modern Singaporean cuisine but I’m genuinely excited with my food.
We’re working on something new right now. Lots of modern cuisine is about deconstructing. We are going to reconstruct a local favourite by borrowing different ideas and combining them into one product. Like we are looking at a new type of binding agent and we found inspiration in the oyster omelette.
6. Not very risk-averse, are you?
It’s impractical and illogical but I believe if you stick to something long enough, it’s bound to work. I’m a long-term optimist.
I also have a strong belief in myself. And while the end point might not be certain, I believe with the right support and hard work, I should be able to wing it.
There will be challenges. Lots of challenges. But if this is the journey, this is the journey. If it’s meant to happen, it will happen.
7. What do you do when faced with an obstacle?
It has taken many miracles to get to this point in time. Even now, I feel like I need more miracles.
Road blocks came up but somehow we managed to side step it or get over it. There are so many parts of a business – staffing, cash flow, customers, marketing and it could have just fallen apart at any point.
Getting enough money to do this, finding the right place. Finding the team in place, getting the word out.
Even just where the cafe is based now. I never expected to have a space within a mall (The Quarters is located within Amara Hotel). I had seen a few places but if the rental was within reach, the layout didn’t work for us, or if something was right, something else wouldn’t be.
Then I saw this space and it all just fell together. It was nice and big, the landlords were friendly and it was relatively near a crowd.
8. So basically, pray for a miracle?
At crossroads, make sure you have done your best and then pray damn hard. Wait it out.
When it’s not so rosy, when it gets challenging and depressing, you go on the whole spiritual route – faith.
You need to believe without having the belief. This is the ultimate trust. I literally have no choice except to trust. I have been at cross roads where there was nothing to do, and all you needed was divine favour.
The fact that all has not sunk, is testimony to this.
9. What have you learnt most about yourself?
That I pretty much have an indomitable spirit and a can-do attitude. I am not afraid to walk the talk!
I can also be dead-ass disorganized. I know how to organize but I struggle with this. I guess its also the kind of creativity I enjoy. So it’s just a matter of understanding my weakness as well and managing it.
10. What are you most proud of?
There’s a certain amount of satisfaction with coming up with your own recipes.
My Durian Creme Brûlée will always be special. It’s how it all started. It’s quite difficult to discover a food item which has got the same amount of texture and experience all at one go. But I’m excited about a new product that’s going to be launched soon as well.
And who knows what else will come up in the future. You never know how things will evolve.
11. What career advice would you give your child?
Follow what you really want but make sure that you start living life everyday. Experiencing life, doing more things, as many things as you can. Only then can you develop faster, better. Only then can you know what you are not passionate about and what you are passionate about and hone that interest.
12. If five years ago, someone had said you’d be running your own cafe today …
… I’d day that they were humouring me. I mean, I had entertained thoughts at that point but executing it never seemed possible.
The Quarters is located at Icon Village, 16 Enggor Street, #01-09 (next to Cold Storage). To make a reservation or for some amazing food porn, check out the links below. Be warned, images will create massive appetite.