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Kampung boy made good

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin8/10/2022 05:03 PM GMT+08  • 10 min read
Kampung boy made good
The PasirPangjangBoy — made up of Tinoq Russell Goh (left) and Dylan Chan — have gone from private dining mavens to collaborations with restaurants where they create limited edition menus fusing culinary styles
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Make-up maestros, fashion advisors, culinary wizards and social media influencers … the PasirPangjangBoy — made up of Tinoq Russell Goh and Dylan Chan — are many things. But if their signature flaming pink hair have you questioning their credibility as chefs, we will have you know that patrons of their private dining includes everyone from celebrities to socialites, politicians and even Michelin-starred chefs who have touched the walls of their small Tiong Bahru flat and savoured their homestyle heritage cuisine.

From the succulent Beef Rendang to flavourful Prawn Noodles, the kampung (village) style dishes by PasirPanjangBoy are based on Tinoq’s childhood memories of the food he ate in the 1960s. A meal here is always intimate and homely where part of the experience is also being taken on a tour to Tinoq’s organic flower and herb garden, where one can discover more about the plants and vegetables used for cooking.

Among those that have visited PasirPanjangBoy include veteran Singapore diplomat Prof Tommy Koh, who ate there for his birthday. Most recently, it was Kyle Connaughton, the chef from the three-Michelin-starred SingleThread restaurant from California’s Sonoma Wine County. “We are so blessed to host so many wonderful guests at our private dining space. It’s an affirmation for us that what we have been doing is truly magical,” gushes Tinoq.

Officially launched as a private dining business in 2018, the name PasirPanjangBoy is a nod to 58-year-old Tinoq’s childhood neighbourhood in Alexandra Lane, where he grew up the youngest of eight to an Indian father and Chinese mother. Life then was all about tending to the garden, rearing farm animals and eating. Every time Tinoq returned from school — even before he reached home — the neighbours would ask if he had already eaten. And if the answer was no, they would force feed him, he jokes.

As the youngest in the family, Tinoq’s homemaker mother had very little time for him, so he ended up spending a lot of his time with neighbours or at the now defunct Batu Berlayar School in Pasir Panjang and picked up useful cooking skills like cooking Briyani, Mee Soto and Mee Rebus. By nine, he was already making kueh and Nasi Lemak to sell in his village. “I learnt how to cook from pushcart hawkers, neighbours, my parents and my godmother Shirley Tay, a true Peranakan celebrity chef who has been our pillar of strength,” adds Tinoq.

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‘Bitten by the beauty bug’

After serving National Service, Tinoq did all sorts of odd jobs — to be self-sufficient — from stocking shelves at convenience store 7-Eleven, manning the cashier at fast food chain MacDonald’s, working as a banquet waiter at Shang Palace to even dog grooming. By the 1980s, he found his calling in the fashion industry where he took on numerous styling jobs and became a self-taught make-up artist.

“My first make-up job happened serendipitously when I had to fill in for someone who could not make it for a photoshoot at the last minute. And since then, I’ve been bitten by the beauty bug,” says Tinoq.

“I chose make-up artistry to help others become even more beautiful than they are. I love that I can amplify someone’s inner beauty with simple strokes of the brush. I love that with the application of some colour to the cheek, a rosy liveliness can be brought back to a person’s face,” he adds.

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A former regional make-up artist for Yves Saint Laurent, Tinoq has worked with various magazines and painted the faces of dozens of models, celebrities, socialites and brides for close to 40 years.

Through his make-up jobs, close connections with his beauty industry clients have opened up several opportunities for him to pursue his one true passion — cooking. Very often, his clients would invite him into their homes to cook for them as a private chef. But he would not take their money. He just wanted to feed people.

“Make-up fuels my creativity, but cooking feeds my soul. It is through feeding people that I am able to show my appreciation and let them know that they keep me grounded and help me stay humble. I genuinely feel such a keen sense of joy when the people around me break out into wide smiles from enjoying my lovingly prepared food,” he says.

Becoming PasirPanjangBoy

Life and work took a more upbeat turn when Tinoq met his future business partner Dylan Chan in 2010, at the fashion magazine section of the now closed Borders bookstore. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Dylan graduated with a diploma in maritime business and was pondering his next career move having cut his teeth in an oil and gas company. Tinoq suggested joining the beauty industry, and the rest was history.

Together for over a decade, the pair have worked as a hair and make-up duo for photoshoots, weddings, corporate events, concerts and gala dinners. Marketed as a pair, they even developed their own branding where they attend events dressed in matching outfits and vibrant hair colours.

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Being the younger of the two, 39-year-old Dylan handles the more operational aspects of their business such as administration, budgeting, social media and scheduling all their daily appointments. “I help mostly to make sure that everything stays on track. It can get really hectic juggling make-up appointments, attending events and cooking,” he says.

Private dining takes place in Tinoq’s home — a two-bedroom apartment located on the ground floor unit of a sleepy neighbourhood in Tiong Bahru — which has a back door that opens up to a spacious grassy knoll. Here, he has brought back some semblance of kampung life with a burgeoning herb garden in which he grows edible flowers, spices and vegetables to use in his dishes.

His small but cosy vintage-inspired home looks more like a mini Peranakan museum or theatre props room filled with colourful fabric, cushions and trinkets collected over the years. The dining area furnished with comfy banquet chairs can virtually seat no more than 10 people with just enough wiggle room for the chefs to weave in and out to present their dishes. To the back, their narrow kitchen is fitted with branded but essential appliances to create their mouth-watering dishes.

We wondered, does Tinoq plan to upgrade to a bigger house to allow for larger groups of diners? “We were hosting at another venue for a much bigger group but it lacked intimacy. Somehow the magic was gone! While we still do big-scale events upon request by our customers, we prefer the vibe of our current place. The ambience and food is curated by us, and our kitchen is facing our garden which makes cooking so inspiring,” he counters.

Celebrated in Hong Kong

Tinoq and Dylan’s affable natures and jovial down-to-earth personalities are reasons why people are drawn to the pair. Through meaningful conversations with diners, they have forged many solid relationships that have ultimately turned into business partnerships, one of which took them out of Singapore and into Hong Kong to open a Peranakan-themed restaurant.

“Hong Kong received us with open hearts. Wherever we went people would recognise us. They called us the pink-haired chefs. Journalists would just appear at the restaurant unannounced. Even our management was shocked at how much buzz we created,” says Dylan.

The learning curve for the pair was steep to say the least. Not only did they have to step out of their tiny private dining bubble, the boys had to manage a staff strength of 20, while dealing with supply chain and import issues. “No matter how much experience one has, nothing prepares you to set up a restaurant during the pandemic. It was very challenging and unpredictable,” adds Tinoq.

“Our experience in Hong Kong itself was on-the-job training. The whole time I felt like I was carrying the Singapore flag and had to smile and look professional at all times. People in Hong Kong have a lot of respect for Singapore brands. We really put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we cannot fail our investors and our country.”

“It was a very uncertain period for the whole world, but I think we decided to give Hong Kong a go, because we didn’t know if this chance would ever come along again. And we’re so proud that we did,” says Dylan.

“Life is very short. If I don’t seize the moment and take the leap, I would die a coward not knowing if I could succeed. In my mind, I want to do everything that everybody said I couldn’t do,” adds Tinoq.

Their overnight celebrity status also paved the opportunity to produce a homeware line in collaboration with Hong Kong design agency Maeli Studios. Sold exclusively on maelistudios.com, the items for sale include a cheeseboard, tea towel set, coasters, apron and gloves designed in bold and bright hues with a peacock or mosaic motif. Currently, they are working with a Singaporean company to produce a new collection of tableware.

In the future, Dylan says that he would like to see the PasirPanjangBoy homeware line develop into something Singapore-made with a focus on our heritage and culture.

Collaboration kings

Since their return, the duo have been keeping very busy fulfilling a two-year wait list of private dining reservations, as well as collaborating with various dining establishments to create limited edition menus that fuse culinary styles.

Among the list of high-profile partnerships include co-creating menus with Japanese-French restaurant Rêve (helmed by one-Michelin starred chef Kawano Masahiko), fusion restaurant Morsels (headed by World Gourmet Summit Female Chef of the Year 2022 Petrina Loh) and Mediterranean restaurant Riviera. The pair even made a trip to Whistler — a town north of Vancouver, Canada — to consult on the opening of an Asian restaurant.

“We’ve been very lucky with our collaborations. Whoever we’ve partnered with have been very accommodating and we’re learning so much from them. It’s a very interesting process where we discover new ingredients and flavour nuances and find a way to complement our styles without losing the essence of each culture,” says Tinoq. He continues: “Food is just like make-up — it is a form of edible art that is a labour of love that results in something that looks so vivid and tastes beautiful.”

Their longest collaboration has been with Raffles Hotel Singapore, where they had a one-month pop-up at Raffles Courtyard from March to April 2021. “It was our homecoming. We sold out every night,” remembers Dylan.

This fruitful relationship continued with the creation of a trio of specially made sauces for Raffles Boutique in January. Made to complement any dish, the limited edition range included Sambal Tumis, Hae Bee Sambal and Buah Keluak Sambal.

Moving forward, PasirPanjangBoy will continue with their private dining venture and beauty engagements, but the long-term plan is to become professional sauciers and produce consumer goods for the mass market.

As Tinoq says: “We would like to thank everyone who believed, encouraged and supported us through this journey. We are indeed very blessed to be given an opportunity to do what we love. We’re taking our time to do more research and look for manufacturing partners. You know us, we can never keep still and always have something up our sleeves.”

Main Photo: Albert Chua/The Edge Singapore; Makeup: Michelle Sew using MAC Cosmetics; Hair: Vince Toh from X’pect Studio using @VirtueLabs; Wardrobe: Chef jackets by @binlinlinen; Batik pants by @OzelSG; Admix runner sock by @onitsukatigerofficial

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