Hawker Hustlers: Former cabin crew Alvan Chew from Bold and Braised on the next big challenge

By Toh Ee Ming April 5, 2024
Hawker Hustlers: Former cabin crew Alvan Chew from Bold and Braised on the next big challenge
Alvan Chew of Bold and Braised. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

Hawker Hustlers is a HungryGoWhere series spotlighting young and emerging hawkers with compelling stories. Read through all the way for an exclusive GrabFood promo so you can try their food, too.

  • Alvan Chew has had first-hand experiences in gruelling work environments, from the airline industry to the hawker trade
  • At Bold and Braised, he serves up delicious braised bowls that have been slow-cooked to perfection
  • Through his food, he hopes to keep the hawker legacy alive

You might have probably heard of the saying, “If you can survive in Singapore Airlines, you can survive anywhere.”

For Alvan Chew, 31, his two year stint as a Singapore Airlines flight steward was a true test of mettle. Within the long hours in a confined aircraft space, he has learnt to work within the limited resources on board, all the while serving passengers with a smile.  

He has cobbled together a birthday surprise for passengers, complete with champagne and decorations. On occasions of accidental spills, he would assemble a thoughtful gift, complete with a hand-drawn Singapore Airlines aircraft as a sincere apology. He has even created cafe lattes and macchiato drinks for his fellow cabin crew for fun.

That sense of resourcefulness and resilience Alvan gained on board are values that he continues to live by today in his new trade as a hawker. Alvan is the founder of Bold and Braised (Bbraised for short). You’ll find the stall draws a steady stream of customers at Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown. 

But the environment is markedly different. 

As a hawker, he’s had to endure twelve-hour shifts in the heat, dishing out bowl after bowl of braised rice.

Now, Alvan wants to pose the same challenge to people. 

He says, “I want to challenge that statement. It should be: “If you can survive in the hawker trade, you can survive anywhere.” I can say that it’s much more difficult than I was in the airline industry — much much tougher.”

How it started 

He had started as a flight steward in 2018 but over time, the long-haul flights began to take a toll on his health.

Then, a chance opportunity came in 2020. A friend asked Alvan if he was interested in helping out at his braised meat hawker stall in Macpherson. Despite not having any experience in F&B, Alvan was up for the challenge. 

After all, he had survived the airline industry — he reasoned that he could “survive anywhere.”

Bold and Braised
Alvan believes that more can be done to uplift young hawkers. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

Through the process as a hawker assistant, Alvan discovered a newfound passion for cooking. Even though it didn’t appear “as impressive as his job at Singapore Airlines,” he felt a deep sense of accomplishment in creating his dishes. 

Thus, he embarked on a deep dive to refine his technique of braised rice bowls, and opened a home-based, modern lor bak rice bowl business.

Eventually, he felt ready enough to start his own stall at Amoy Food Centre in 2023. 

But unlike his more popular neighbours — such as Spicy Wife Nasi Lemak with what Alvan termed “viral social media” — his stall saw low footfall because of its less-than-ideal location towards the back of the hawker centre. 

In Jan 2023, Alvan decided to shift Bbraised’s operations to a new stall at Maxwell Food Centre — a “chicken rice paradise”, Alvan jokes — because of the presence of many strong contenders such as Tian Tian Chicken Rice.

 It proved to be a savvy decision and business picked up considerably.

Bold and Braised
Tourists checking out the stall at Maxwell Food Centre. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

The food 

With braised food items, there is zero wastage as every part of the meat is used in the dish, says Alvan. The braised items can also be kept for longer, unlike other dishes — such as pasta — that has to be cooked fresh, or laksa that has to be thrown away because of the coconut milk.

“I saw the opportunity in it — zero cost-loss and we use every dollar that we spend,” he said. 

In addition, they aim to serve customers as fast as possible, particularly with the time-pressed office crowd. We witnessed this in action during our visit, with Alvan methodically preparing bowl after bowl. 

This quick turnaround time ensures that they can “move the bowls very quickly” and ensure a steady stream of sales. His best record yet? A whopping 200 bowls in a day. 

Everything is kept streamlined here. There are a few key items on the Bbraise menu: Pork belly, trotter and chicken cutlet, ranging from S$5 to S$10 a bowl. Each comes with jasmine rice, braised meat and boiled vegetables, drizzled with luscious gravy. The optional add-ons include tau pok, tau kua and egg.

When we met Alvan at the stall, part of his charm was his disarming warmth and friendly personality, which made us feel like we were old friends.

Bold and Braised
A generous serving of Bold and Braised’s belly bowl. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

I had the best-seller braised pork belly rice (S$5), all tender goodness and melt-in-your mouth fat in my mouth. The meat has been marinated for 24 hours with over 20 spices and then slow-cooked for a tender finish. 

An interesting addition is the braised pork belly with mentaiko sauce (S$6) — an experimental dish by Alvan. 

“People said it’s a weird combination, but after they try it, they think it works,” he quips. To me, though, the flavour profile comes across as way too intense.

Bold and Braised
Bold and Braised’s mentaiko belly bowl makes for an intense combination. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

Alvan has also trialled items such as deep-fried braised pork belly and a peppery bak kut teh, but has since phased this out in favour of keeping the menu lean.

Bold and Braised
A generous serving of Bold and Braised’s trotter bowl. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

This is in line with his “one store, one man policy” and ethos of keeping it simple. 

He keeps the team small, with either his aunt or mother running daily operations. They are “my strongmen”, he jokes.

Bold and Braised
Preparing the mentaiko belly bowl. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

What’s next

In March, Bbraised made headlines for a pop-up with chef Dario Cecchini, who was featured in the Netflix series Chef’s Table and was dubbed the world’s greatest butcher by The New York Times. 

Chef Dario is also the man behind the popular Bottega di Carna at the Mondrian Singapore Duxton and was recently back in Singapore for the collaboration. 

On March 6 and 7, Dario and Bottega di Carna’s head chef Kenny Huang teamed up with Alvan to introduce a braised pork belly panino.

Featuring Bbraised’s signature pork belly, the meat is wedged between the homemade loaves using Dario’s Tuscany pane rosetta bread recipe and served with salt and olive oil imported from Tuscany. 

Quips Alvan: “Basically, it’s a jazzed up, high-end sandwich.”

For Alvan, it was surreal to work with one of the most high-profile names in the food scene. The Bottega di Carna team had been looking at hawkers within the Chinatown community and discovered that Bbraised shared similar philosophies.

”Dario is known for his food philosophy of honouring the animal and using every cut, from nose to tail. Likewise — we have the same principle of using every part of the animal. We can also keep the braised items for a long time with little wastage,” he says.

Bold and Braised
Signage from the March pop-up with restaurant Bottega di Carna. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

Being an employee is vastly different from running your own business, says Alvan.

He’s constantly thinking and worrying about the brand — from how to improve sales, and managing operations and manpower, to navigating rising rentals. This is on top of everything else. 

Even till today, he’s still making tweaks to the recipe, based on customers’ feedback. 

“The process of learning never stops…You have to adapt, keep up with the market and with people’s tastes,” he adds.

Bold and Braised
Alvan at the stall. Photo: Zachary Tang/HungryGoWhere

Today, Alvan has largely stepped back from daily operations, because he has his sights on expanding overseas. He remains fiercely passionate about keeping the hawker trade alive here, especially among the young hawkers. 

“It started from our forefathers and it often feels like a dying trade. But to me, I’m very honoured to say, “I’m a hawker!” because it keeps a rich legacy alive,” he says.

Exclusive GrabFood promo

Good news for our readers who scrolled all the way to the end! Here’s your exclusive GrabFood delivery promo for Bbraise.Sg – 1 Kadayanallur Street, valid from Apr 7 to May 7, 2024.

How it works:

  • Use the promo code HGWBBRAISESG for S$3 off your basket (minimum spend of S$15) when you order from Bbraise.Sg – 1 Kadayanallur Street
  • Stackable with free Bbraise delivery (up to S$3 off) with a GrabUnlimited subscription
  • While redemptions last, capped at one redemption per person.

Craving other hawker eats? Check out our articles on Bege Rack and Bei-Ing Dim Sum Club. For the latest on the food scene, read our guides on the top stalls for ban mian in Singapore and cafes at Takashimaya and Ngee Ann City

Bold and Braised is on the GrabFood delivery service and offers free delivery (up to S$3 off) with GrabUnlimited. 

Alternatively, book a ride to Bold and Braised.

Do check out amazing deals on the GrabFood Dine-in service

Bold and Braised

Maxwell Food Centre, 01-43, 1 Kadayanallur Street
Nearest MRT station: Maxwell
Opens: Saturday to Thursday (11am to 8pm)

Maxwell Food Centre, 01-43, 1 Kadayanallur Street
Nearest MRT station: Maxwell
Opens: Saturday to Thursday (11am to 8pm)

Toh Ee Ming-HungryGoWhere

Toh Ee Ming


Ee Ming is a storyteller with a love of photography, insightful reads, films, and offbeat and obscure places. Her work has appeared in outlets such as the Associated Press, South China Morning Post, National Geographic, CNBC and Southeast Asia Globe.

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