From fund manager, to creating memorable dining and partying experiences
Having grown up in a household of gourmands, Yuan Oeij’s exposure to all things food-related started from a young age. “It really stemmed from my late father, who enjoyed his food tremendously. Needless to say, our dining table was always filled with great home cooking,” he says with a chuckle.
A chartered accountant by training and a fund manager by profession, Oeij was working in London in the mid-1990s when his passion for gastronomy was really ignited. Inspired by the city’s vibrant dining scene — particularly the pear tarte tatin at the now-defunct Canteen by Marco Pierre White and Michael Caine, as well as meals at Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine — he began trying his hand at cooking. Soon, he was contemplating switching careers and becoming a chef. “But after a series of explorations — including a kitchen stint at one of the top restaurants in Singapore then — I realised that I was not cut out to be a truly excellent chef,” he reveals. “I wanted balance in life and the way I saw it, being a great chef required complete dedication and obsession for the craft.”
That realisation made the now father-of-one decide that he was more suited for the business aspect of running a restaurant. So in 2006, Oeij started Brown Sugar, a casual bistro located in a former community centre in River Valley. A year later, the opportunity to open a restaurant on Keppel Island came up and the Privé concept was born. Today, Oeij is chairman of The Privé Group, which owns several food and beverage and nightlife establishments across the island. Its latest Privé outlet opens on Orchard Road this month.
What made you decide to venture into the food and beverage industry?
I have always been passionate about food. But it was only when I took a step back and realised that I really wanted to make the most out of this life that I ditched all the conventional notions of what a successful career meant and jumped right in. I didn’t want to end up regretting not having pursued my dreams, 10 years down the road.
How different has it been working for passion?
It’s a world of difference. I don’t jump out of bed every day all pumped up to work, but there is a driving force within me that keeps me going. I am enjoying the moment and filled with anticipation about what happens next.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Starting your own business is an intense experience. Failures are part of the territory — if you haven’t encountered any, then you haven’t been pushing the boundaries enough. But with that knowledge comes the realisation that you can’t control how things pan out. You just have to be true to yourself and give it your best.