This Chef Left Her Michelin-Starred Restaurant to Open a Food Stand

Shanice Lim went from riches to rags and is thrilled about her decision.



(AlessandroBiascioli /

Shanice Lim had it made, Business Insider explains. At the age of 23, this young Sinagaporean chef, a Culinary Institute of America graduate landed a dream job cooking meals at one of Singapore’s finest restaurants. Day in, day out, for 16 hours a day, Lim served up plates of the finest gourmet food

However, Lim’s dreams went beyond serving up excellent food at a top-notch establishment. She wanted to be her own boss and to make her flavors and food accessible to the average Singaporean. So, after only a few years at Zén restaurant Lim abandoned her job and opened up a food stand, where she now spends her days cooking traditional Malaysian food at reasonable prices.

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A childhood dream
According to Business Insider, Lim was inspired in her childhood by her grandmother who cooked Singaporean food with her. She wanted to be a chef from an early age. Lim pursued her dream, ignoring her detractors, including a senior chef at one of Lim’s first culinary jobs at a hotel kitchen when she was only 17-years old, who told her that “Females shouldn’t be in the kitchen,” according to the food site HungryGoWhere.

Lim graduated from The Culinary Institute of America in Singapore just in time for the 2020 Covid lockdowns. Unable to find a restaurant job, Lim bided her time working out of her house selling food inspired by her grandmother’s recipes. She called her business “Two Hands Two Woks.”

A Michelin career
As the pandemic eased, Lim found a position working at Zén, one of only three Michelin starred restaurants in Singapore. But, Lim quickly found that she didn’t love working at such a top-tier restaurant, Business Insider reported.

Lim told Business Insider, “I learned that discipline is the most important thing in fine dining, there's a lot of focus involved, and we can't mess things up. There's a lot of pressure…"I wanted to do something that's not fine dining.”

She explained to HungryGoWhere that, “As I went through these experiences, together with what I learnt from my late grandmother, I realized that I wanted to continue pursuing my passion and interest in the local food scene, particularly in hawker food.”

Opening So Lemak
Lim shared her concerns with her father, who, according to Business Insider, invested 35 thousand Singaporean dollars into Lim’s dream business venture, a food stand in a kopitiam, or Singaporean food court. 

The stall featured recipes Lim had learned from her grandmother, including nasi lemak, a Malaysian recipe for coconut rice served with fish and chicken dishes. She named her little business, “So Lemak,” which food historian Khir Johari tells Business Insider, is also the name of the rich, creamy flavor that is characteristic of so many Malaysian dishes.

“Nasi lemak is a very versatile dish and very Singaporean. I can introduce and play with different dishes and components,” Lim shared, in a comment to HungryGoWhere.

It wasn’t easy
After opening So Lemak, Lim went from working alongside the finest chefs in Singapore to hawking her wares on her own. Everything was a challenge — the environment, the workload, and the finances, Business Insider shares.

Working all on her own, Lim found herself preparing hundreds of meals without any assistance, including marinating more than 130 pounds of chicken wings at one point. And, in contrast to the air-conditioned Michelin kitchen she’d left behind, Lim’s food stall only had a fan, in country where temperatures regularly reach 90 degrees. 

“Every day, in and out, I just worked. I was mentally and physically tired and so stressed over wanting to grow my business," Lim told Business Insider. "Working in a restaurant, I didn't really sweat. But in a hawker, it was so hot I fell sick once a month, I realized I had to take care of my body, especially when I was still a one-man show.”

But, after nearly a year on the job, So Lemak became so successful that Lim was able to hire two additional staff members to help her. Nowadays, she serves around 300 plates a day.

Michelin-starred street food
So Lemak was able to succeed in a competitive market, despite charging a little more for nasi lemak than the average food hawker, because her version is incredibly rich and savory.

Elizabeth Chan, a Singaporean food content creator, told Business Insider that she was impressed by So Lemak’s flavors. "It's been a while since I had such fragrant coconut rice," Chan, explained. "The chicken wing was really good too. Was very crispy, and you could taste the shrimp.”

Lim told Business Insider that she is satisfied with her new life. "I wanted to be my own boss," Lim said. "I believe my efforts will reward me, that's the good thing about running my own business.”

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