Interview with Aericurl Chng: From Pharmaceutical Science student to Dessert Hawkerpreneur

AericurlChngPhoto credits to The Straits Times

Digital Senior is proud to meet and interview aspiring young hawkerpreneur, AericurlChng, who took it upon herself to start a Dessert stall in the hawker centre of Ci Yuan Community Club.

1) Share with us about your education journey.

Before I entered Republic Polytechnic (RP), I was studying Food Science and Nutrition at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College East.In ITE, I was the President of the Daiko Club (Japanese Drum) and was awarded the Singapore Food Industry Scholarship for good grades and outstanding leadership. On top of all these commitments, I also got a chance to travel to Mongolia to plant trees for two weeks. The service learning trip was part of the Youth Expedition Project I joined in ITE. In that year 2010, I still vividly remember Beijing experiencing very bad air pollution.

After getting my Nitec results, I applied to study Pharmaceutical Sciences instead of continuing to study Food Science as my results did not make the cut for admissions into a Diploma in Food Science. On admitting to RP, I confess that I did not partake in numerous school activities or get involved in any commitments as I wanted to focus on my studies. Another compelling reason for not being as active in RP as I was in ITE was the fact that I had to commute for a very long time before reaching the campus of RP. I remember putting in an inordinate amount of effort and time in my education in the three years at RP.

In my third year at RP, I was attached to Aeras Medical Pte Ltd for one semester where I was trained to be familiar with the use of a glucometer for diabetic patients. During my time at the attachment programme, I took this opportunity to read up more on the topic of diabetes and participated in the World Diabetes Day to promote the glucometer product to the public. Additionally, I was tasked to improve the sales of the product and had to go and meet different clients from various outlets to establish good rapport with our clients.

Despite being attached to a small company, I was glad that I managed to learn quite a fair bit of knowledge and skills from the attachment programme.

2) Share with us key takeaways you took from Republic Poly?

In RP, we do not have lectures and tutorials. Our learning styles differed from the other polytechnics. We adopt the problem-based learning approach where we solve problems in class after learning a particular topic. This approach pushes us to be independent learners instead of being spoon fed by our lecturers. We had to solve 15 problems every semester and changed teams around three to four times each semester. This is to enable us to learn how to work and communicate with different people while honing our people skills at the same time. This learning style equipped me with interpersonal skills and I benefited tremendously from it as I really stepped out of my comfort zone.

In the laboratories, the work trained me to be precise and systematic, and these skills really helped me when I needed to follow certain standards of procedures (SOPs) at work. Furthermore, it was a bonus as I needed to follow SOPs for the desserts’ recipes.

3) Why did you decide to start a dessert stall under the Fei Siong Food Management entrepreneurship programme?

I was extremely thankful that I chanced upon the advertisement about the hawkerpreneurship programme in the papers as it has always been my dream to be an entrepreneur. Armed with the knowledge on food science and pharmaceuticals, it immediately became very clear to me that this knowledge was going to be very useful and relevant in my upcoming endeavour.

I left my job as a clinic assistant and jumped head-on into the programme. At that point in time, I decided to set up a dessert stall as I felt strongly that it was easier to learn and prepare desserts for a green horn in the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry. Furthermore, I felt that I could pick up the skills easily as my parents often cooked desserts at home and they were very supportive of my ambition as well.

4) Share with us the challenges you faced from managing your business?

One key challenge I faced was not having any prior experience in the F&B sector, much less on the hawker trade. The other challenge was having a tough time commanding respect from my staff as they were all between 40 to 60 years old. Affirming my leadership role in the stall was paramount as I had to make my presence felt. Besides that, I also had to learn how to manage the frontline service of the stall and practice communicating well to the customers about our various desserts. We do receive compliments on some days but we also have our fair share of nasty customers. I tell myself to take it easy and do my best to improve our services step by step from the advice we were given by the public. Simultaneously, I learnt to be receptive to feedback and attempted to upgrade our cooking skills consistently. For instance, I conducted a massive amount of research and development on the ingredients used for the desserts and found out that it was healthier to use rock sugar instead of normal sugar as rock sugar could better stabilise the desserts.

Gradually, I was able to overcome the hurdles and improve the menu and tastes of the desserts.

taste of dessertAnother challenge was finding the right supplier as I had to ascertain the suitability of the suppliers on top of price negotiation.

5) What are your future plans for the desserts business?

Currently, I am looking forward to expanding my menu and gaining more experience in making desserts. I would like to add new desserts to our menu, roughly about five to six more cold desserts. I may cut down on making hot desserts as they are generally more time consuming to make and generated more food wastage than cold desserts. I find it a great joy to be able to be a young person preserving the hawker culture, and enjoy preserving the authentic local hawker culture.