Benny Se Teo (Singapore Chef)

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Benny Se Teo
Benny Se Teo profile.jpg
Born12 March 1960
Known forFounder of Eighteen Chefs
Spouse(s)Chan Mei Kam (m. 2014)

Benny Se Teo (12 March 1960) is a Singaporean chef and the founder of Eighteen Chefs.[1] In 2018, Benny Se Teo opened a new restaurant called The Meathouse by 18 chefs.

Background[edit | edit source]

Benny Se Teo's recipe book, Honest Good Food. Photo credit to LOCALBOOKS.sg.

Born in 1960, Benny Se Teo was raised in Chinatown, Singapore alongside 6 older siblings. Benny studied at Bukit Merah Secondary School. After failing his O’Levels, he decided to end his formal education.[2]

Encounters with drugs[edit | edit source]

Benny's father abused and trafficked opium. As a child, he helped his father to package the drug for his customers.[3] Benny started smoking marijuana as a teenager.[4] His over-dependence on drugs cost him 10 years in jail and drug rehabilitation centres.[5] After a near-death encounter in 1992, Benny decided to quit drugs for good.[6]

Early career[edit | edit source]

Following repeated rejections by companies due to his criminal record, Benny first worked as a freelance motorcycle courier.[7] By 2000, he had saved approximately S$20,000 from the job. In 2005, Benny co-founded the Chinese restaurant Goshen. However, the restaurant closed within a year due to poor management.[8]

Internship at Fifteen (2006)[edit | edit source]

In 2006, Benny secured a one-year internship at the UK-based restaurant, Fifteen. Owned by Jamie Oliver, Fifteen offers apprenticeships to underprivileged young people. Benny became the first Singaporean to work at Fifteen. He worked with the famous chef Gennaro Contaldo, who was recognised as Jamie Oliver’s mentor. Under Gennaro, Benny picked up cooking techniques and kitchen operation skills.[9]

Eighteen Chefs (2007 - present day)[edit | edit source]

Benny pictured in an Eighteen Chefs outlet. Photo from Singapore's Finest.
Benny Se Teo pictured in the Eighteen Chefs kitchen. Photo from Singapore Tatler.

Upon his return to Singapore in 2007, Benny opened the first Eighteen Chefs outlet at Eastpoint Mall. Eighteen Chefs hires ex-convicts and youths-at-risk, allowing these individuals to a means to support themselves financially and gain work experience.[10] In 2012, 35% of his staff were troubled youth and ex-offenders and by 2015, the numbers rose to 50%.[11]

Growth[edit | edit source]

In 2009, Benny opened 3 more outlets at Yishun, Tiong Bahru and Buona Vista. However within a year, 2 of these outlets had to be shut down due to poor business. Despite these early financial troubles, the restaurants were earning more than S$750,000 per month and more than S$10 million annually by 2014.[12] Between 2007 and 2014, Benny increased his staff’s wages from S$1,100 to S$1,300. As of January 2019, there are 12 Eighteen Chefs outlets islandwide spanning from heartland areas such as Serangoon to shopping districts like Orchard and Bugis.[13]

Career highlights[edit | edit source]

Honest Good Food (2016)[edit | edit source]

In December 2016, Benny published a cookbook titled “Honest Good Food: Bold Favours, Hearty Eats”. The book features 38 recipes inspired by Benny’s life experiences and the insights that he had gained from them.[14] The book retails for S$32.00 on the Marshall Cavendish website.[15]

Awards & accolades[edit | edit source]

Year Award/Title Awarding Organisation Refs.
2015 Notable Award One Asia Awards 2015 [16]
Best Western Restaurant (Chain) RAS EPICUREAN STAR AWARD 2015 [17]
2013 Emerging Enterprise Award The Business Times & OCBC Bank [18]
2012 Social Enterprise of the Year President's Challenge Social Enterprise Award (PCSEA) [19][20]
2010 Simply Dining Award - [21]
2010 SIP Fellow Award Social Innovation Park [22][23]
2009 Spirit of Enterprise (Honoree) Spirit of Enterprise (SOE) Awards [24]

Media appearances[edit | edit source]

Benny Se Teo on stage at TEDx P&G (2016). Photo credit to Benny Se Teo.

Interviews & features[edit | edit source]

Benny Se Teo and Eighteen Chefs has been featured considerably by local publishing sites and TV broadcasting channels like Channel U, Suria and 8 Days magazine.[25] He has also been invited for interviews by international media companies.[26] One of his interviews on HK Apple Daily has more than 190,000 views on YouTube as of January 2019.[27]

Events[edit | edit source]

Year Event Role Refs.
2016 TEDx P&G Singapore Guest Speaker [28]
2015 TEDx JNJ Singapore Guest Speaker [29]
2014 Future Leaders Summit Guest Speaker [30]

References / Citations[edit | edit source]

  1. Eighteen Chefs - Serving up a new lease of life”. Canon. Accessed on 22 January 2019.
  2. Huang, Lijie. “Former drug addict cooking up social change”. The Straits Times. April 14, 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  3. Singapore Restaurant ‘Eighteen Chefs’ Employs Ex-addicts and Convicts in Addiction Recovery”. The Cabin Singapore. November 13, 2015. Accessed on 22 January 2019.
  4. Huang, Lijie. “Former drug addict cooking up social change”. The Straits Times. April 14, 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  5. "CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY". Singapore's Finest. Accessed on 9 January 2020.
  6. Huang, Lijie. “Former drug addict cooking up social change”. The Straits Times. April 14, 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  7. Singapore Restaurant ‘Eighteen Chefs’ Employs Ex-addicts and Convicts in Addiction Recovery”. The Cabin Singapore. November 13, 2015. Accessed on 22 January 2019.
  8. Huang, Lijie. “Former drug addict cooking up social change”. The Straits Times. April 14, 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  9. Chi, Leisha. “Former convict cooks up social change with restaurant chain”. BBC News. 17 November 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  10. Eighteen Chefs - Serving up a new lease of life”. Canon. Accessed on 22 January 2019.
  11. Meet the restaurateur who swapped a thug life for a kitchen knife”. CNN. January 3, 2015. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  12. Huang, Lijie. “Former drug addict cooking up social change”. The Straits Times. April 14, 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  13. "About". Eighteen Chefs. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  14. "Honest Good Food : Bold Flavours, Hearty Eats [Hardcover]". Kinokuniya Singapore. Accessed on 31 January 2019.
  15. "Honest Good Food". Marshall Cavendish. Accessed on 31 January 2019.
  16. Narendra Aggarwal. "Going regional". The Business Times. February 4, 2016. Accessed on 8 January 2020.
  17. Seah, May. "2015’s best local restaurants named at RAS Epicurean Star Awards". Today. November 19, 2015. Accessed on 8 January 2020.
  18. Sing, Melissa Gail. "Hardcore Dreams: Benny Se Teo". Singapore Tatler. June 16, 2014. Accessed on 8 January 2020.
  19. "FACTSHEET EIGHTEEN CHEFS PTE LTD". National Archives of Singapore. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  20. Sing, Melissa Gail. "Hardcore Dreams: Benny Se Teo". Singapore Tatler. June 16, 2014. Accessed on 8 January 2020.
  21. "FACTSHEET EIGHTEEN CHEFS PTE LTD". National Archives of Singapore. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  22. "SIP Fellows". Social Innovation Park. Accessed on 8 January 2020.
  23. "SIP Hosts China Students". Social Innovation Park. July 8, 2011. Accessed on 8 January 2020.
  24. Sing, Melissa Gail. "Hardcore Dreams: Benny Se Teo". Singapore Tatler. June 16, 2014. Accessed on 8 January 2020.
  25. "FACTSHEET EIGHTEEN CHEFS PTE LTD". National Archives of Singapore. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  26. Chi, Leisha. “Former convict cooks up social change with restaurant chain”. BBC News. 17 November 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  27. HK Apple Daily. “黑社會有個好老細 釋囚餐廳爆紅”. YouTube. May 21, 2014. Accessed on 23 January 2019.
  28. TEDxP&G Singapore”. TEDx. Accessed on 31 January 2019.
  29. TEDxP&G Singapore”. TEDx. Accessed on 31 January 2019.
  30. Sing, Melissa Gail. "Hardcore Dreams: Benny Se Teo". Singapore Tatler. June 16, 2014. Accessed on 8 January 2020.