Thanabalan hails from Malaysia, but has lived and worked in Singapore since 1995. Affectionately called “Thana” by the team, he is affable and a joy to be around.
Since joining Singapore Marriott Hotel in 2009, Thana has worn many hats, been busy with catering for high profile banquets and events, to preparing exceptional à la carte dishes. He was instrumental in catering local and international cuisine for the VIP area at the Singapore Formula 1 event since its inaugural celebration upon Singapore shores.
Thana brings with him over 21 years of valuable experience in the F&B industry, including reputable brands – notably on the pre-opening of the St Regis Hotel and Intercontinental Hotel in Singapore. His experiences have placed him alongside the late Michelin-star Chef Santi Santamaria during his promotional visit to Singapore, and Alain Ducasse from 2-Michelin star restaurant SPOON during iconic events such as Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
It was two long weeks before we could finally pull him away from the usual grind, and engage in candid conversation – this one, particularly revealing. Though always generous with his smile and light jokes, his serious passion for his work was striking.
If you hadn’t chosen to be a chef, what do you think you would be today?
A Navy officer. The Naval base was just opposite from where I lived while growing up, and I saw that white uniform every day. I really wanted to be one of them.
So how did you end up becoming a chef?
My mother was a chef. Being the eldest child in the family, I often had to cart down extra ingredients, or do the prep work at home so that she wouldn’t need to. Becoming a chef was natural progression for me; I would watch my mom cook and I could replicate it after seeing it once or twice.
What are your dreams for the future ?
As a Chef, there is one thing I have always wanted: a chance in Europe to learn about seasonal cooking. To learn about dishes that are suitable for spring or winter, and the plants that grow in the different seasons, you know? This is my next goal as a chef.
(Adds) My family has a business in water sports and I’d like to think that my retirement plan includes me going back to it and adding F&B to the business.
What problems do you think all Chefs face?
I have to say the work-life balance can be the toughest issue for any chef. If an important function requires my attention, the flight is cancelled and I pop back into the kitchen. So holidays are often impromptu and unplanned, but I love what I do and it’s part of the job.
Many people must have said this; how do you feel about looking so much like Samuel L. Jackson?
(Laughs and exclaims) Oh my goodness! I am not a Hollywood star, I’m a kitchen star. Yes, people have been making this comment ever since I became an adult. Honestly, I am actually happy to hear it.