What do you get when you throw two funny girls and a serial restaurateur into the mix? The birth of a 180-seater American Street Food joint filled with laughter, good foods and drinks, fuelled by a constant flow of positive energy.
Making the shift from acting to Food and Beverage business, actresses Michelle Chong and Cynthia Koh are serving up some mischievous acts under the guidance of former radio DJ Daniel Ong. Their current hot eats, Mischief, is creating the entire buzz online and offline, and judging by the looks of it, things can only get hotter!
Out of comfort zone
Having made their marks in the entertainment industry, there was no reason for actresses Michelle Chong and Cynthia Koh to pile an extra load onto their full plates. Not until former radio DJ Daniel Ong threw an exciting idea across the table – an American Street Food joint at one of Singapore’s iconic spot, The Explanade. “It was a warm night and we met up with Dan for dinner. He proposed the dining concept to us, gave us a day to consider, we went with our gut instincts and the rest was history”, quips Michelle Chong, better known for her characters as Lulu and Barbarella in The Noose, a Singapore comedy television series. It turns out; the good thing in life doesn’t require much waiting. In less than a month, Daniel Ong had seen to the completion of the 180-seater restaurant’s renovation, as well as the recruiting of a team of dedicated service staff. “Dan is very experienced and efficient. He wastes no time once a decision is made. If he hadn’t round us up, we would still be in our comfort zones, living our lives without attempting this new gig”, laugh both the actresses. As the conversation flowed, we found the secret ingredients that have contributed to the success of Mischief – it’s more than efficiency, hard work and a good chemistry.
“We are like three peas in a pod and this synergy has made things so much easier when it comes to running a business as a team. And it certainly helps that Dan has lots of experience in setting up Food and Beverage businesses from scratch, and that he’s very much a trooper”, admits Michelle. With the restaurateur handling the bulk of the groundwork, the girls are left with very little to worry about. Business decisions are usually made via group chat messaging over the phone given their hectic schedules. The marvels of modern technology! The minimalistic interior of the restaurant is a reflection of their chemistry – the trio had pretty much agreed to a decor of concrete cement flooring and eclectic fixtures and furnishings from the around the world, flanked by a large bar – right from the get-go. “We’ve decided to put up a menu that appeals to the younger crowd at the Explanade; one that offers the theatre and musical goers something refreshing, a quick bite and a playful vibe. Hence, the American Street Food offerings”, says Cynthia. “Our patrons seem to love beer and because of that, we have a wide selection of drafted and bottled beers. The two of us are foodies, not drinkers, so we can’t advise you on our favourite alcoholic drink”, confess both the girls. “But if you’re talking about dessert, it has to be the Nutella Addict – a mix of toasted hazelnuts and mixed berries. It’s so awesome, you just have to try it to believe me”, insists Michelle. As part of our job perks, we did get to try the dessert (on the house) and we have to admit that it is worth every calorie intake. On the side note, we urge you to try their Chicken Waffle. The appetiser is a divine blend of sweet-and-savoury, with perfectly deep fried chicken in a secret ingredient batter on a bed of waffle, topped with Chef Rizan’s very own Maple Bacon Butter. Trust us, for those who have worked up an appetite, you’ll not settle for a single portion.
On their management style
With staffing being a top concern of most retailers and F&B chains, the trio seems to have found the way out to this problem. “I hardly do any work here; I’m the Poster Girl of Mischief. But when I do pop by, I treat my staff extremely well in an attempt to give them a relaxed and fun atmosphere to work in”, jokes Michelle. Their belief that staff should be treated fairly and given the confidence to voice up ideas and opinions has paid off. It’s not unsual to see the service crew breaking out into a dance (Gangnam Style) from time to time – a sign of optimum job satisfaction. A further probe with Mischief’s Head Chef Rizan reveals an inspiring side of actress Cynthia Koh – on most Fridays and Saturdays, it’s a common sight to see the levelheaded actress working the floor as a service crew; taking orders, serving patrons and clearing the tables. “There is so much I can learn from my staff and adopting a humble attitude is a good start”, shares the actress. Word has it that Cynthia once mixed up an order – switching up both Fish and Chicken Tacos. The actress was determined to right the situation; she went up to both the tables, confessed her blunder and apologised. Her sweet-and-humble demeanor had the patrons settled for the wrong orders, and the staff, a newfound respect for her as a boss. Leading by example, the actress has built a team of staff that works with passion and commitment.
Meet the chef… And the foods.
What started out as a holiday job in the kitchen turns out to be a gig that paves the career for Chef Rizan. “My dad is also a chef and I used to help him out in the kitchen, washing dishes, during my holiday breaks”, says Chef Rizan. Those moments prove to be time well spent as the twenty-something takes on the footstep of his dad, carving out a career in the Food and Beverage industry. “I started out as a bartender and those days were a lot swankier. I got to meet interesting people from all walks of life, yet there was something deep down within me that drew me to the kitchen”, confesses the chef. The calling within has seen the driven chef coming up with the menu for Mischief within a short span of time. ”I spent a lot of time researching on American Street Food and fine-tuning the dishes”, says the chef.
The American Street Food offerings at Mischief take on a quirky spin. Diners are always treated to sweet surprises, gently teasing the palate. You’re allowed to leave etiquette at the door with the Philly Cheesesteak. Meaty, gooey and delightfully messy, one should always attempt this dish with caution thrown to the wind. The food truck sojourn isn’t complete without the classic Tacos. With a choice of Korean beef, fish and chicken to choose from, the health nuts will be relieved to know that the Tacos pack enough greens to balance the meats. Gently ask for yours to be served without dressings should that be a concern. Torn between sweet and savory? How about both? Chicken Waffle gets you the best of both worlds with maple syrup lightly drizzled over a bed of crispy waffles and secret recipe chicken thighs. The highlight of the dish is the must-try decadent Maple Bacon Butter, a concoction served up by the chef. We thought the sweet-and-savory dish might be weird until we took a bite – it was heaven! Enough said. TFJ
If you could invite only one person in the world to dine at Mischief, who would it be and why?
CK It’ll undoubtedly be Mark Zuckerberg – so that he can offer us some insider tips on making our social media channels work twice as hard for Mischief!
MC I’ll skip the distance and go with Eduardo Saverin since he’s now relocated to Singapore. As one of five co-founders of Facebook, I’m sure he’ll have some good advices for us as well.
Name us one of your most memorable cooking experiences.
CK Although I hailed from a Peranakan heritage, I hardly cook. The tedious and meticulous food preparation process has made it seems too complex for me to attempt.
MC There was once I had to cook Chilli Crab for a big crowd when I was studying overseas and the process is still edged in my memory. I went through a factory line process to butcher up the live crabs with a cleaver (some 20 of them!) before stirring them into a big pot of sauce. Thank goodness the crabs required very little cleaning unlike our local mud crabs.
What’s your favourite dish that you absolutely can’t live without?
CK Popiah! I love that it’s healthy and you can eat as many of them as guilt-free.
MC I love my dad’s cooking. He cooks up a storm whenever I am home for dinner. He makes his Niang Tou Fu from scratch and he is always looking for ways to perfect the dishes.
What’s the most challenging thing you had to do for Mischief?
CK & MC Coming up with the guest list for the launch of the restaurant. We left out some names due to forgetfulness and we’re still facing the brunt of it.
What would you be doing if you hadn’t started Mischief with Daniel Ong?
CK & MC Wallow in our comfort zones and keep doing what we do best – acting!
The Food Journal wrestles chef Rizan for his secret Taco recipe and pits the actresses in a cook-off to suss out their culinary skills. Find out what the girls are truly like behind the scene, under intense heat and pressure in an industrial kitchen.
THE BIG DOG SOFT TACO
4 shells of Taco
400gm Korean-style beef short ribs cut
200gm soy sauce
200gm brown sugar
50gm yellow onion (diced)
2tbsp minced garlic
1 pear finely grated
– Pulse all ingredients for sauce in a food processor.
– Marinate beef with it for at least one hour or overnight if time permits.
– Heat up a non stick skillet. Add oil to pan. Once its smoking, add beef & cook
for 10 seconds on each side.
– Heat up taco shells on another non stick skillet till it warms up.
– Divide beef equally and put it on each taco shell.
– Place pickled cabbage & garnish on top of beef.
– Drizzle Siracha aioli to finish.
1/2 white round cabbage
1 spanish onion
1pc bay leaf
300ml white vinegar
Sugar, salt, pepper to taste
100ml Siracha chilli sauce
1/2 lime zest & juice
Salt & pepper to taste
Combine everything in a mixing bowl & mix well.
Red chilli Julienned
Consider that it’s the girls’ first culinary attempt in an industrial kitchen; we give them an “A” for effort. As one might have guessed, they had more fun whipping up mischief in the kitchen then serious cooking. Have said that, the plating for the Taco was well done and the doneness of the crispy fried chicken for Chicken Waffle is spot on!