The Ah Beng Who Brought Franco-Asian Cuisine To The Masses

Chef Dylan Ong had a bold dream. He sought to bring French cooking beyond the sphere of fine dining and to introduce it to the masses. It is with this that he opened The Masses, a restaurant specialising in Franco-Asian cuisine, all while paying homage to his humble upbringing.

Dylan was brought up in a family of hawkers. Ever since he was a child, his parents have been selling kway chap, or braised Teochew noodle soup, at Whampoa Market. Immersed in this environment, and having been exposed to the world of food at such a young age, he began cooking at just 13 years old.

How did he open a restaurant?

As a self-described delinquent and ah beng, studies weren’t his thing, he shares. “My report book [was] all red.”

Though he had already started cooking in his own capacity, he didn’t dream of being a chef back then.

Instead, with his experience of playing in a few football leagues, Chef Dylan dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. One day, he learnt about France and French cooking in school. Fascinated by French culture, the people, the language and their food, he fell in love.

In his first step toward making his dream a reality, he took a loan from his mom to start his business venture in a coffee shop.

Admittedly, his mom was worried. “But I think as mothers, they just wanted to put their faith in their children,” he shares.

Why a blend of French and Asian cuisine, then? “As much as I love French cooking, my heritage is still Asian.” His knowledge of French cooking techniques, the flavours of traditional Asian cooking, and even the food that he ate during his childhood, have all converged to form his restaurant’s menu—which he says is a ‘beautiful symphony’ between two cultures and two culinary heritages.

Introducing seasonal produce to the masses

Installed in the restaurant’s main dining space is a mirror, adorned with these characters: 高朋满座. A reference to a Chinese idiom that means ‘the gathering of good friends’, it aptly reflects of the restaurant’s key motto.

“We meet people from all walks of life, and we turn them from guests to friends.”

While The Masses is helmed only by a small team of staff, Chef Dylan’s confident. “I always tell them: small team, big dreams.”

The beauty of their Franco-Asian food lies in their use of fresh, seasonal produce, which is fundamental to French cooking. With a menu that is rotated multiple times a year, The Masses follows the tradition of many French restaurants, adhering to the changing seasons of Europe.

The goal of bringing quality seasonal produce used by high-end restaurants to more people, and sharing great food that brings out the best of these ingredients, is what continues to fuel their spirit.

Signature dishes you can’t miss at The Masses

The Duck Confit ($20.90) is a dish that Chef Dylan has been serving up since 2010. A gastronomic blend of local flavours, created with classic French techniques, is this dish’s biggest draw. The “wok hey” hor fun, or flat rice noodles, is imbued with the smokiness of the flame like many Chinese dishes. With the delicate homemade cured egg yolk, the Duck Confit brings the best of French and Asian cooking onto a single plate.

As for the next dish, Chef Dylan has a memorable anecdote he associates with the Purple Cabbage ($16.90). A customer once asked if they could come up with a better name to ‘glam up’ the dish, instead of simply naming it after the humble vegetable. A dish that comes with no frills attached, the braised cabbage sits in a bed of dashi beurre blanc. Elevated with tender scallop, salmon roe and prawn head butter, it’s delightfully simple and delicious.

Chef Dylan’s ultimate piece of advice?

Till today, Chef Dylan still believes that he should have studied harder in his younger days. He advises:

It doesn’t matter what you study, but just study… learn what you’re interested in. That will propel you to excel in whatever you’re at.

It all began with a Chef-Owner with a great heart for people, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a distinctive and unique concept to cater to all.

Thanks to Chef Dylan’s unwavering perseverance and genuine belief in what he does, The Masses continues to practice its philosphy—of bringing affordable Franco-Asian cuisine with fresh seasonal produce to the masses.