Joseph brings restaurant-quality Western food to the masses at close to hawker prices – and the people are on fire for his affordable charcoal-grilled fare.
On the Smokin’ Joe Facebook page, a reviewer posted: Since I am actually an ang moh, I’d like to think I know something about Western BBQ … Smokin’ Joe does the best steak I’ve had in my 18 months here, and at less than half the price you’d pay for the same thing in a diner.
The review, much to Joseph Yeo’s delight, encapsulates all that he sets out to do at his Western barbecue stall at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre (#01-37).
“I want to bring restaurant-quality, high-value food to the masses at a cheaper price,” he says of the idea behind Smokin’ Joe.
His strategy? Having the acclaimed Josper charcoal grill and oven – a popular professional equipment in restaurants – right at his hawker stall.
It’s the real deal: the Josper grill uses 100% charcoal to produce smoky, rustic flavours in meats, working exactly like a barbecue pit, except that it’s indoors. It also has a vent system for chefs to control the temperatures. Reports have it that Gordon Ramsay uses the Josper grill too.
How Joseph, 29, managed to acquire the hard-to-get, expensive Spanish-designed grill is a story of perseverance, friendship and luck.
His passion for cooking began when he was in primary school. Back then, Joseph’s grandparents were hawkers, dishing out fried carrot cake, and he often helped them out at their stall. Later, he worked for others in coffeeshops, and his willingness to learn resulted in opportunities. One hawker said to him, “Joseph, let me teach you some of my recipes. If you cook well, you can earn more than a university graduate!”
He believed the man. And learn, he did.
To diversify his culinary skills, Joseph enrolled in Shatec, graduating with a culinary diploma. After that, he worked at few restaurants, and during this time, thoughts of having his own business began to brew in his mind. He hadn’t arrive at a strong idea yet, so he continued to ruminate for a few years while perfecting his kitchen skills.
One day, Joseph heard about a second-hand Josper grill that was on sale in Singapore. By then, he had become very familiar with using the grill. Now, here was a rare opportunity to buy it, which could help kick-start his dream of starting his own thing, he thought. Fortunately, it was also a friend who was managing the transaction, making the deal smoother and sweeter.
Eventually, Joseph took what he deemed was a financial risk: he quit his day job after purchasing the grill.
There are no regrets. Business at Smokin’ Joe has been so brisk that Joseph struggled to cope at the beginning. He removed a few items off his original menu to better manage the orders, and what remain are his best-selling dishes.
At $7, the barbecued boneless chicken leg – with mashed potato, salad and garlic bread – is for those who crave Smokin’ Joe’s charcoal-grilled flavours, but want things at a cheaper price. At $32, the barbecued Wagyu grade 5 rib-eye steak, served with salad and fries, is the much more indulgent treat.
Joseph also strives to keep things different. The honey sriracha citrus Norwegian salmon has three sides, one of which is crispy fish skin that replaces the usual fries. As for the cod and chips, Joseph uses Antarctic cod instead of Pacific dory; the latter being the more common option in hawker stalls.
The plating of Smokin’ Joe’s dishes is also not spared from Joseph’s dedication to restaurant quality, and is inspired by his experiences in fine dining restaurants. For example, the mashed potato, as a side, is not served as a scoop, but is pushed, artfully, across the plate with a spoonful of his secret brown sauce. Joseph enjoys presenting a beautiful meal, taking time and pride in arranging the food even as he worries about the growing queue.
And yet, there’s no stopping the man.
“I’m still young,” Joseph says with a grin. “I can experiment with my creations and afford to take risks. This is the exciting part about being a young hawker. Now is the time for me to try things out as much as I can.”
Monday, Wednesday to Sunday, 1.30pm to 10pm
Tuesday, 4.30pm to 10pm