Aminurrashid Hasnordin (Mint to friends), traded his comfortable office for a hot charcoal oven, prompting family and friends to ask if he had lost his mind. This Social Outcast has since found his family of friends has grown, drawn to his Texas inspired grub.
Mint is not your typical Singaporean. He’s not a “highflier” in the corporate sense either. His success is measured in the joy he brings to people with his cuisine. Passionate, curious, facile, his entrepreneurial spirit was sparked during a trip to Japan.
Finding fresh seafood, meats, and vegetables available at every corner of Tokyo, his inventiveness birthed the idea of meats grilling over wood burning charcoal. Backed by a supportive life partner, The Social Outcast was born.
Not many Singaporeans pick up this trade, what drew you into it?
Cooking has been my life. Throughout my life, laughter, levity, and fellowship, have all revolved around food and the kitchen. Many Singaporeans are brought up to believe that success is found in the corporate world and the 5s. What I found was melancholy in the corporate rat race.
Swapping out a comfortable office chair, stable income, and the yearly bonus for a life in F&B would be distant when you consider the alternative is long hours, perpetual grease, extreme heat, and pressure.
When I started to cook on the weekends, I found peace. A dish was like a blank canvas painted in vibrant colours and flavours, bringing me back to a place in time that I missed. Once again, I felt like that child with bright eyes, imagination and creativity. To express myself in ways that people enjoy my food and creativity is the greatest compliment and satisfaction that money can never buy.
How did you pick up the skill?
I picked my culinary skills up from being the little Sous Chef to my Tok (maternal grandma). She was an instinctive cook; she would tell me to “agak agak” (estimate) the ingredients using my senses. As the eldest in the family of four other siblings, it was my responsibility preparing the mis en plus (aka ingredients) and preparing lunch for my younger siblings.
What I learned was cuisine cannot be found in quantified recipes but rather an art. Even with the precise amount of ingredients, I am quite sure one can never be able to recreate the same flavour and experience. The special ingredients in each dish are the heart of the chef.
What are some of the most challenging aspects to master?
We cook dishes that fills the soul, not just the stomach but being a chef and an entrepreneur in the Singapore market where overheads such as rental, food costs and manpower are ever rising is a major challenge.
I do not want to compromise with my ingredients and flavour. Once, we engaged a business consultant who was a chef himself and he emphasised profit, numbers and “bottomline data”. He told me that my food costs were too high and advised to use cheaper ingredients while selling at a higher price. I was told to quit dreaming. Unfortunately, or fortunately, pride does not allow me to lower my standards, so I persisted. He no longer advises us, and I am very grateful that my business partner believed in me.
What are some of the things to take note of in separating good from great cuisine?
I am sure there are many chefs that are either technically and artistically better than me out there. But I believe my food has soul and that is the key point to separating good from great cuisine. Travelling the world, I discovered that great chefs are everywhere even at road-side stalls, you can taste the soul, passion, joy, and love in their makeshift stalls.
“I wonder what my life would have been if I haven’t been this stubborn”
What’s your favourite thing to make?
I did not grow up with a silver spoon. My staples were Rasam (a South Indian spicy soup) and potato salads. I enjoy cooking these simple dishes and recreating the memories of my childhood.
What would you recommend to those who want to take up this trade?
Get your basics right. It is the foundation on which to build your skills from. Always look for the soul and put heart into your cooking. Building a business is not only about your products, it also takes a lot of hard work and digging your heels in. Food connects people, hence the ability to tell your story with your food to your guests is as important as your presentation. Most importantly, is to have a supportive partner to keep you in check, cheer you on and to keep you grounded.
Mint is in the midst of brining his signature woodfire smoking and charcoal grilling technique to his new concept restaurant in Bukit Timah Grandstand. For further updates follow The Social Outcast on Facebook.