I have spent 30 years of my life trying to look corporate and yet many people tell me I look like a Pai Kia (“gangster”) instead of an occasional lawyer.
And this is when I am relaxed and trying to look affable, and even when I am trying to be charming and playing the Business Development role.
I guess I don’t blame them – I used to be volatile and have a terrible vile temper. What was alarming even to myself is that when provoked, I feel this blinding rush of rage from 0 to 100 and I will be shaking and clenching and trying to control the demon.
My ex wife told me that when it happens, she can see my eyeballs darting wildly and I am muttering to myself in complete oblivion.
I stayed away from situations where I would erupt. I knew that if I got into an altercation, it would be a point of no return so I have spent my entire life walking away when this rage comes.
And so far, touch wood, no one has stopped me walking away.
It doesn’t help that I walk a certain way and look like a hardly evolved belligerent ape when I don’t smile which is most of the time.
Then I met him
My little Soho Kitchen
So when I met Benny for the first time relatively recently, I was intrigued. He looked the part and his naturally belligerent stare was textbook alarming.
And with his famous 18 chefs pose, you would think twice before starting an argument with this guy.
I am not going to go into his amazing background, how he struggled with adversity fighting his demons, and his special mission in this world which very few people will see or read about.
His amazing story has been captured in many articles and I can do no better than to list some of them out here for you:
1. Former convict cooks up social change with restaurant chain
2. The Life! Interview with Benny Se Teo (14 April 2014) Former drug addict cooking up social change
3. Benny Se Teo – How to Turn Your Life Around From a Heroin Addiction
Employing Ex Convicts
The point about having the fortitude to employ ex convicts and the delicate balance you need to strike in trying to get the best out of them is not lost on me, and I appreciated it very much.
In the 4 years I was out of the legal profession as a regional COO in the business world, I have experienced some of that as we hired some ex convicts under the yellow ribbon project.
I have had to step in and discipline some of them when the managers could not control them, and I have had to speak to them in a language they understand or accepted.
In those situations, everyone was tense as they either accepted my authority or I would get stabbed.
The weird thing is that one of the ex convicts, a hard core and still very much “live” secret society chap told my managers that he saw the wild eyeball thing too, and was convinced I was slightly unhinged.
I have seen quite a few of them rally behind me after I have established a connection with them, only to see some of them collapse and the police coming to get them, after they relapsed into their life of crime.
It is certainly not a role for the faint-hearted and kudos to Benny for persevering in this difficult role.
Good Morning Sinners
What I find really interesting about Benny is the human side to him – his faith, his thoughts, his significant other who is obviously his compass and his rock.
And since we only met once and from then on interacted only through Facebook, it was his Facebook postings that I turned to to collect some glimpses of his humanity.
This is a truly deadpan funny guy with a self deprecating wry sense of humour.
It makes my day to read the Benny sermons that starts with “Good Morning Sinners”.
His “sinners” thoughts are always profound but sometimes laced with a cryptic tinge that makes one laugh out loud. I love the juxtaposition between what he sees are God’s teachings and our human failings and it makes one reflect and take stock:
Other profound thoughts
He also has other postings which always brings a chuckle or two – some irreverent, cheeky and flippant, some serious and imbued with a wry, profound and cynical view on life.
His postings tend to be personal and humble, and allowed you to see slivers of his struggles, his thoughts, passions, and his simple pleasures in life.
There is a phenomenon I have observed over the years. The bigger or more powerful the man, the harder he falls. For his significant other.
I have met giants and captains of Industries. Men so Alpha that they hold others in their same league almost in contempt. They respect no men as their equal – such is their unerring belief in their abilities.
In most cases, it is not misplaced arrogance or folly. It is just who they are – they see no man as their equal and their unwavering confidence is inherent and exists without ego.
Almost in every case, there is one constant. The only human being such men have regard for and sometimes bring them to their knees, is their significant other.
It is almost endearing to see them fall – that significant other will become the reason they exist. They treat them with a tenderness no one understands.
Benny seems to be no exception.
He met his kryptonite Chan Mei Kam late in life and married her when he was at the age of 54. He got to know his better half when they both volunteered at a soup kitchen called Willing Hearts, where volunteers cook, pack and send food to residents of one-room HDB flats.
His postings regarding his wife are always enjoyable. It is filled with hilarious provocations and wilful cheekiness.
A hilarious recurring theme is this picture of him preparing to sleep on this couch on his balcony – the doghouse so to speak.
I called him Mr balls of steel in his postings of Mei Kam but it is clear that through it all, she is his rock, safe harbour and compass.
18 Chefs and The MeatHouse
F&B is a difficult industry and Benny has had his shares of ups and downs. But he has done extremely well and have scaled up successfully to now have 13 outlets islandwide in Singapore.
The restaurants are halal certified, family friendly and the menu is extensive covering simple, unpretentious but tasty food. It has quite a cult following amongst teenagers and young adults as the pricing is not prohibitive
I went with my Son a couple of times to a few of Benny’s 18Chef restaurants and observed it clinically from an operational point of view, and was impressed with how it was run.
Processes had clearly been put in place such that your food came out fresh and fairly prompt, the flow of the restaurant made sense. and the environment was not lavish but pleasing enough.
The MeatHouse by 18Chefs
Benny and his investors have also opened a restaurant called The MeatHouse by 18 Chefs. The restaurants are fitted with the Josper grills and you will be savouring grass-fed Australian premium black Angus beef at an extremely affordable price.
A 600g Porterhouse Steak ($60) is good for two to share, and you can even order a Premium Tomahawk ($12 per 100g, each piece is between 1.2 to 1.6kg) for sharing.
Other meats offered include the Premium Ribeye Steak ($36), which features a 300g corn-fed certified black Angus from USA, and Carpetbag Steak ($48) which is corn-fed certified black Angus filet mignon from USA, stuffed with oysters.
The MeatHouse by 18Chefs
Address: 2 Tampines Central 5, #05-04 Century Square, Singapore 529509
Phone: 6260 1752
Opening Hours: 11 am to 10.30pm daily
53 Ang Mo Kio Ave 3 #04-03 S(569933)
200 Victoria Street #04-06 S(188021)
Bukit Panjang Plaza
1 Jelebu Road #02-19 S(677743)
2 Jurong East Central 1 #02-13 S(609731)
1 North Point Drive #02-128/129 S(768019)
1 Pasir Ris Close #02-330/331 E!Avenue S(519599)
1 Tampines Walk #02-90/91 S(528523)
1 Vista Exchange Green #02-22 S(138617)
Yew Tee Point
21 Choa Chu Kang North 6 #B1-29/30 S(689578)
Djitsun Mall Bedok
445 Bedok North Street 1 #01-05/06 S(469661)
23 Serangoon Central #01-57 S(556083)
3 Simei Street 6 #01-12 S(528833)