Meet the 24-year-old bringing ‘Yaowarat’ milk buns into Singapore and giving it a local twist
The flavours, such as rojak, mango and chestnut, were curated by MasterChef champion, Johnathan Chew.
A 161 sq ft rental unit, $14,000 from savings and a love for Yaowarat milk buns – that was how aspiring entrepreneur Wong Wee Man embarked on his journey to set up his very own bakery, The Bun Club.
Born to a Thai mother, these milk buns were his favourite Thai snack growing up.
Made popular in Yaowarat, a road in Bangkok’s Chinatown, the buns are grilled bread stuffed with filling such as chocolate or custard.
The now 24-year-old shares that starting his own bakery was something he had “been wanting to do” for a very long time.
When asked what sparked his passion for cooking, Wee Man recounts going over to friends’ houses to cook meals with them after school.
“That’s when I realised I’m into cooking and baking.”
Since its opening in December 2021, The Bun Club has come a long way. In fact, it has reached yet another milestone – a collaboration with 23-year-old Johnathan Chew, the champion of Singapore MasterChef 2022.
A friendship forged through drinking, parties and a shared passion for cooking, the two joined forces to come up with an assortment of flavours for The Bun Club as part of its October special.
Johnathan, the third-year Dentistry student from NUS, shares: “I found out that he has his own bakery which is quite cool because we’re both so young.
“When MasterChef ended, I thought that this would be a good time to do a collaboration.”
Recently launched on Sep 22, the series of three buns include flavours Chestnut, Mango and Rojak.
While on the competitive cooking show, Johnathan was known for his love for desserts as well as local cuisine.
As such, he came up with the idea to combine the two and create dessert-like custard fillings for this collaboration.
The Rojak, unlike what one would expect, is sweet tasting. It features pastry cream mixed with fermented shrimp paste and century egg bits. It’s then topped off with roasted peanuts and potato chips.
Johnathan says that rather than the taste of rojak which most would be familiar with, the Rojak Bun is more of emulating the various textures in the dish.
As for the Mango, initially, it was meant to be with sticky rice but the team later took that element out as it would turn dry when customers reheat the buns. The final version includes mango custard made from mango puree and fresh fruit slices.
The last flavour of the series is Chestnut which Johnathan claims he came up with solely because he likes the taste.
Inspired by the chestnut mochi from Japanese confectionery store, Chateraise and chestnut-flavoured pastries from his holiday in Paris, the Chestnut bun includes a light tasting cream with chunks of chestnut for that added crunch.
For the most part, customer feedback has been great, with the limited-edition flavours selling fast, according to Wee Man.
However, the two are facing several challenges.
For Johnathan, he’s tied down by school commitments and doesn’t have a free enough schedule to do as much as he’d like to.
“It’s difficult because (brands) reach out to me for collaborations but I have to turn them down because it falls on a weekday which is during school time…there were also a few kitchens that asked me if I want to be their private chef but it’s really not my thing. I feel like I don’t have the capacity for that.
“Honestly, I’m just figuring things out as I go.”
As for Wee Man, The Bun Club’s kitchen lease will end this December and he has yet to come up with a concrete plan on how to move from here.
“I sense a theme going on,” he jokes.
That said, the youths have a clear idea of what they wish to accomplish in the future. Coincidentally, both of them hope to open a brick and mortar store.
“Because for F&B, for sure you got to be out there,” says Wee Man.
Currently, The Bun Club operates mostly online, with orders made from a rental unit in Kovan which Wee Man considers to be the kitchen. However, as Wee Man enrols in university next August, he will probably have to put his dream on hold till he figures out how to juggle the two.
Similarly, Johnathan is waiting till he graduates from NUS in two years before he sets up his own bakery.
“I’m really just taking things one step at a time. The previous MasterChef Derek Cheong took a Leave Of Absence from school like me and he recently withdrew from school to do (cooking) full-time. There’s definitely that pressure (to do the same).
“But then, at the end of the day, there’s no competition. As long as I’m okay with how things turn out based on my decision, then it’s fine.
“I feel like at our age, we want to see how things turn out. We say we have no plan but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. It just means that it’s flexible.”
You can now purchase Johnathan’s Box of Six via The Bun Club which is available till Oct 31.