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Gunning for success
IF you're running a cafe and your kitchen suffers a sudden blackout, don't panic so long as Christophe Megel is one of the customers patiently waiting for his espresso in the half-lit premises. When the young barista eventually tells him that the electrician can't come until that afternoon, Mr Megel notices his distress and gently offers detailed instructions on how to fiddle with the circuit board to pinpoint the faulty switch.
The youngster looks unconvinced but disappears into the kitchen. Within a couple of minutes, the lights come on and Mr Megel gets his espresso - on the house and with a shy smile of gratitude.
When you've been a chef as long as Mr Megel has, nothing fazes him where F&B is concerned. He's been there and done that: whether as a front-line chef, juggling numbers and dining concepts as the executive chef of the Ritz-Carlton; and until January this year, guiding young chefs as the chief executive of At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.
Now, Mr Megel, 45, is back with a new mission - "to consolidate my nearly 30 years of experience and put that knowledge, exposure and intelligence to be at the service of others, that is, to share what I know".
That, he says, is the basis of his F&B consultancy A-munition, in which he counts chefs Stephane Istel of Bar-Roque Grill, Patrick Heuberger (ex-Le Bistrot du Sommelier) and Frederic Deshayes of the brand new French bakery do:main as his client-partners.
In the food business, all too often "the chef kills the finances or the finances kill the chef; the idea kills the funding or the funding kills the idea", says Mr Megel. "So why don't I bridge that? I've been on both sides. I've been a chef and I've been on the business and marketing side, and I know that turning a creative idea into a financial transaction is not as straighforward as people think."
The aim of A-munition, he says, comes from the French word "munition" which refers to the support shown for army troops in battle - not so much in terms of weapons and ammunition as in the English equivalant, but rather food, supplies and other non-violent elements.
In F&B terms, it means offering this kind of behind-the-scenes back-up for chefs who are too busy concentrating on the business at hand to think about anything else.
Istel, for one, has been successfully running Bar-Roque for over a year but approached Mr Megel in April for support to grow the business organically. Meanwhile, Patrick Heuberger - who made his name with homemade charcuterie and pates at Les Bistrot du Sommelier - sold his shares in the restaurant and is now in the midst of opening his own charcuterie Pate & Co next April with Mr Megel's guidance. In turn, former Lenotre pastry chef Deshayes will open do:main Bakery in Tanjong Katong next week, serving artisanal french bread and pastries.
The businesses will complement one another rather than compete - with do:main eventually supplying bread to Bar-Roque and Pate & Co, while the latter supplies smoked meats and rillettes to the other two. Mr Megel has other projects up his sleeve, too, with the common bond being that all parties share the same core values and approach to cuisine - to use impeccable ingredients to produce real food that stays true to tradition and heritage.
" 'Quality' is a very abused term," says Mr Megel. "To me, 'quality' means defect-free - that is, a pig that has been out there eating acorns and rolling in the mud and raised as a pig should not be sitting in its own waste for six months before it's slaughtered, transferring its stress and toxins into the meat that ends up on your table."
That's why he hopes to build a community of like-minded chefs and entrepreneurs "who are vision-driven but business-based" such as Heuberger - a perfectionist who is given free rein to source for the best raw materials possible while Mr Megel focuses on making his vision come through while creating a viable business. And at the same time, a healthy and inclusive working environment for employees. For Bar-Roque, the plan is to spin off micro-concepts or overseas outposts to grow the brand, while do:main offers a transparent baking process for customers to see exactly what they are getting.
While money is important, it's not the ultimate goal, says Mr Megel. "We're so busy doing things that we forget to dream and think. For us, it's about dreaming realistically, so that along the way, we can make it happen."