'No student should go hungry': Professional chef sells affordable canteen food at Deyi Secondary School

"The most enjoyable part of running a stall is when I see the same faces coming back to purchase my food."

Fiona Tan | June 09, 2022, 03:42 PM

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30-year-old Cyrus Phang is a chef who runs a noodle stall at Deyi Secondary School's canteen.

30-year-old "uncle"

His student customers, however, refer to him as "uncle", as they do not know that Phang is merely 30 years young.

Phang does not seem to mind, nor does he seem to correct them.

Image from Chan Chun Sing/Facebook.

Image from Chan Chun Sing/Facebook.

He simply shrugs it off, and told Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing, "Haha, I don’t mind that they call me uncle lah."

Chan was visiting Deyi Secondary School when he met Phang and got to know his story. The Education Minister subsequently shared Phang's story on Facebook.

Formerly a hotel sous-chef

Another thing that Phang's young customers may not be aware of is that he was formerly a professional chef.

Speaking to Mothership, he said he had worked at hotels for a few years before the Covid-19 pandemic. These hotels, which Phang disclosed in confidence, are rather reputable.

Image from @cyruspjx92/Instagram.

Image from @cyruspjx92/Instagram.

Phang's role at the hotel was that of a sous-chef, according to Chan. This meant that he was the second in command in the kitchen, just a rank beneath the head chef.

But this achievement is no surprise, as Phang always had a passion for cooking.

He entered the food and beverage industry when he was only 17 years old, and subsequently proceeded to formally pursue a Diploma in culinary skills from SHATEC in 2009.

Opened canteen stall because of Covid-19

When Covid-19 hit and borders were closed, however, Phang had to leave the hotel line and find another job due to the dearth of tourists.

This was when his girlfriend suggested that he try to open a stall in a school canteen so he could continue doing what he love.

After consulting his parents and with their encouragement and support, he decided to go ahead with his girlfriend's suggestion and opened his noodle stall in January 2021.

The menu changes depending on which day it is at Phang's noodle stall in Deyi Secondary School's canteen.

Image from Chan Chun Sing/Facebook.

Menu options include Laksa, curry chicken noodle, shredded chicken hor fun, to dry Maggi which can be paired with an assortment of tasty sides.

Phang shared that he brainstormed the menu with his family members, while keeping in mind the Health Promotion Board's guidelines, and leveraged on his 13 years' worth of culinary experience to create the dishes.

Image from Chan Chun Sing/Facebook.

Happy to see repeat customers

Phang's culinary experience, combined with his passion, is perhaps what keeps his young customers going back to his stall for more.

He said seeing the same familiar faces is what he enjoys the most out of running a canteen stall.

"The most enjoyable part of running a stall is when I see the same faces coming back to purchase my food."

And it seems that he has also developed a rapport and grown closer with these repeat customers in the one and a half years since he opened his stall, so much so that he now regards them as his "second family".

"No student should go hungry"

This affinity that Phang shares with the students at Deyi Secondary School is perhaps what spurs him to keep his food affordable – he prices the meals at either S$2.00 or SS$2.20. He remarked, "No student should go hungry."

Image courtesy of Phang.

He also operates a buy now, pay later honour system to help students who find themselves cash-strapped.

Chan quoted Phang, who said, "For some students who run out of money, I tell them, never mind, you just pay me another time – and they always do."

"We are all part of the school community, and it’s only right that we look out for one another," added Phang, who said this was only the right thing to do.

Promises to continue working hard

He thanked his family members, girlfriend and Deyi's principal and staff for their "unwavering support" and promised to continue serving the school to the best of his abilities.

"I will carry on working hard to serve the school as it’s like a second family to me."

You can read Chan's Facebook post below.

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Top image from @cyruspjx92/Instagram and Chan Chun Sing/Facebook.