Local rapper Sheikh Haikel is not one who gives up easily.
For the past seven years, he had been bugging the owners of homegrown burger restaurant chain Fatboy’s to start a halal offshoot of the joint that is famous for its hearty American-style burgers and mains.
This idea was sparked by his insatiable appetite for Fatboy’s country fried steak – a golden, crisp hulking slab of breaded beef ribeye steak slathered in cheesy bechamel sauce and served with mashed potatoes.
Punctuating his rapid-fire speech with sound effects and hand gestures, the 42-year-old, who was dressed in a fire-engine-red shirt and donned a black fedora hat and shades throughout this interview, says animatedly: “The size of this dish is made for me; the deep-fried 180g thinly pounded steak has a great blend of crispiness and creaminess.”
Haikel once ate seven to eight servings of the country fried steak during his birthday party at a Fatboy’s outlet six years ago and made sure that every guest ordered the same dish. “As a Muslim, it is wrong to consume from a non-halal outlet,” he says . “But I have known the owner of Fatboy’s for years and know that most of the meats it uses are from a halal supplier.”
Mr Bernie Tay, 44, owner of Fatboy’s, took seven years to consider Haikel’s proposal as his team was concentrating on perfecting recipes, expanding to 10 outlets here and in countries such as China, Malaysia and Cambodia.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
A country fried steak and my wife’s curry baked rice.
Haikel’s dream has now became reality; FatPapas, which serves halal Western dishes from burgers to milkshakes, opened in Bali Lane three weeks ago.
The co-owner of FatPapas says: “I was so happy that I shed a tear when the news was confirmed.”
The shophouse restaurant has since attracted snaking queues that last for up to three hours during dinner time.
The main draw? Food which tastes similar to the original version at Fatboy’s despite switching to halal-certified ingredients.
Mr Tay spent a year experimenting, hoping to “flip the menu around” for Muslim diners. For example, he recreates the smokiness of bacon by concocting a reduced vegetable stock that is used to season the meats.
About 10 per cent of the FatPapas menu consists of new dishes such as a black peppercorn burger, barbecued beef ribs and the Country Fried Sheikh Burger, a massive burger version of the country fried steak that is also piled with fries and turkey bacon, which is on a “secret menu” posted on FatPapas’ social media sites.
FatPapas marks Haikel’s debut in the food and beverage scene, after more than 20 years in the entertainment industry. He is also a television host, co-owns a sports talent management agency and plans to release his fourth rap album by this year.
He is married to actress-host Anna Belle Francis, 38, and they have three children, Triqka, 14, Abbra, 13, and Juz, two.
Being a food entrepreneur is breaking new ground for Haikel, who is at the restaurant every day to greet and take photos with customers, and make food recommendations. “I am spoilt; I knew only how to eat and be served,” he says. “But now I enjoy serving my customers and do not take the food for granted.”
Growing up, what were your fondest memories of food?
I lived with my grandmother as my parents worked full-time. She cooked every day and came from a time when people cooked without recipes.
She cooked dishes such as assam pedas ikan pari (stingray), sotong hitam (squid in black ink sauce), custard toast and begedil.
Share with us one of your dining quirks.
I like hassle-free food that does not have bones, such as burgers. I like dishes where you can eat everything and return an empty plate.
What do you not eat?
Nasi lemak. When I was 11, I was so greedy that I ate six servings of nasi lemak at one go. On the sixth serving, I vomited. Even when I am rapping these days, I can still taste nasi lemak sometimes.
What is your favourite food?
My wife makes a mean curry chicken baked rice with cheese.
I also like a vegetarian food stall at Serangoon Gardens Food Centre. I always order a mixture of fried kway teow and yellow noodles with an extra $5 worth of fried mock meat and crispy fried soya bean skin.
I also like going to the Killiney Kopitiam chain for breakfast items such as mee rebus, mee siam and chee cheong fun.
When I am at StraitsKitchen in Grand Hyatt Singapore, I will order a whole Peking duck. I love rolling the cucumber and crisp duck skin with crepe, and have the remaining parts of the duck stir-fried with vegetables.
What are your must-have ingredients in a burger?
Sun-dried tomatoes for their sourness and jalapeno, which add a slight spiciness and sourness to the burger. These two ingredients complement each other very well.
You own a music school in Kuala Lumpur. What are your favourite dining places there
There is a hawker stall in Changkat market that sells satay orang miskin, which has alternating cubes of mutton meat and fat. It is so delicious and is only 30 Malaysian cents (nine Singapore cents) a stick.
Another place is Ana Patin House in Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, which serves ikan patin. The fish is served with durian sambal, which enhances the taste of the tender fish.
Are you an adventurous diner?
Yes, I have eaten balut (bird embryo), which tastes rich and is good with black soya sauce. I have also tried crickets, snake, crocodile, emu, kangaroo and ostrich egg during my travels.
Does being a celebrity help in running a restaurant business?
Yes. I come from an era where fans who wanted to take a photo with me had to bring a camera and would later print those photos. With a restaurant, my fans have more direct access to me.