SINGAPORE: The day before he closes his two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre for good on Feb 14, chef Andre Chiang had an important visit to make to Berseh Food Centre in Jalan Besar.
It was to meet with a special person – 85-year-old ice-cream hawker Ng Teak Boon – to deliver on a promise the chef had made to him last year.
The pair had their unlikely first meeting in October 2017, after Mr Chiang watched a video produced by CNA Insider. It featured Mr Ng plying his trade outside Sim Lim Tower, as part of a series on elderly poverty in Singapore and the region.
WATCH: Remember his story? (5:55)
Mr Ng’s story touched thousands of viewers, many of whom offered to help in cash or kind, pay his bills and support his ice-cream sales.
The story also inspired Mr Chiang, a Taiwan-born, French-trained chef, to come up with his own upscale version of the classic roadside ice-cream sandwich – and it became part of Restaurant Andre’s degustation menu as a “tribute to (Mr Ng’s) character and craft”.
Mr Chiang decided that for every meal sold with the “Ice-cream Uncle” dessert, he would donate S$5 to Mr Ng.
“In a way, he is part of the creation of this dessert and we want to share (with him) the happiness and the guests’ love for the ice-cream,” said Mr Chiang in an earlier interview with CNA Insider.
“If you’re using someone’s image or song, you pay for it right? So since he’s part of the creation, he deserves to get it,” the chef added.
WATCH: When chef Andre first met Mr Ng (5:23)
And on Tuesday, Mr Chiang made good on that commitment – he presented Mr Ng with a cheque for S$11,370, along with a fruit basket and a note.
Among other things, the chef wrote: “We are saddened that the ‘Ice-cream Uncle’ is gradually disappearing from our streets. We wish to show our support and play a small part in the preservation of this important tradition that has become iconic and essential to the Singapore landscape and culture.”
“It is our hope that you will be able to continue to spread the joy, and continue this important tradition and culture that is unique to Singapore,” he added.
One of the moments in Mr Ng’s story that had struck Mr Chiang, among other things, was the elderly man’s declaration that he’d like to live up to 106 and man his pushcart until the end.
Indeed, Mr Ng told CNA Insider that he planned to spend this Chinese New Year selling ice-cream.
At the reunion on Tuesday was chicken rice seller Madam Chia, Mr Ng’s friend who has been helping to care for him (he has long been estranged from his own family).
She said she was glad that chef Chiang made good on his promise, because after the CNA Insider story appeared, other members of the public had also approached them with pledges to raise funds for Mr Ng – but then disappeared after taking pictures with them.
“We’ve also turned down other media requests to be featured,” she said in Mandarin. “I don’t want people to think that we are swindling the public of their money,” she stressed.
WATCH: The time Mr Ng had an accident (4:25)
After closing Restaurant Andre tonight, Mr Chiang will be moving back to Taiwan with his family.
But in a press release to the media, he also said that his team is planning “a new beginning … set to open at the original location of Restaurant Andre” at Bukit Pasoh Road in Tanjong Pagar, “towards the end of 2018”.