From dishwasher to self-employed chef: Dapur Kadoo

Reduan began his career in the kitchen of Istana Nurul Iman before spending 23 years with HSBC. Left jobless after their exit, he dusted off old recipes and started a business from home

The notion of a lifelong career – holding down a single job for life – is increasingly becoming a thing of the past; whether it’s robots automating the workspace, new innovations disrupting old practices or industries shifting across countries in a globalised world.

Reduan Hj Md Tahir, the sole breadwinner of a family of five, was in his late 40s when he was forced to contend with a similar reality. In 2016, global banking giant HSBC announced that they would be winding down operations in the Sultanate, where Reduan had spent more than two decades in, beginning as a general assistant in 1994, before working his way up to becoming a teller and later a supervisor.

“Up to that point I believed that I would retire with the bank,” said Reduan. “When we learned that we would be made redundant, it was a wake-up call. My children were still studying and I had to continue to provide. But finding a new job was hard, I applied to many but didn’t succeed. Being older may have made it harder.. but I didn’t have a degree either.”

The son of a fishmonger, Reduan left Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien College after completing secondary education and began cleaning rooms at National Inn, before being accepted by Hyatt Borneo Management Services in 1998 to work as a dishwasher in the kitchen of Istana Nurul Iman.

Dapur Kadoo’s tandoori chicken being baked. A whole chicken leg with rice is typically $3 – with a minimum order of ten packs – while a whole tray of 18 legs with rice is $60 with pickles.

The scale of Hyatt’s operation left an impression of a young Reduan, in particular, the guile and sophistication of the resident chefs.

“We were buzy on our feet from 6am to 3pm, but it was seeing the chefs in action that was by far the most impressive thing,” recalls Reduan, as he pulls out old group photos of his batch. “They were cooking dishes in ways I had never seen before.”

While he had no intention to sell or cook food commercially yet, Reduan often wrote down recipes and often invited his colleague and sous chef Saidin Ramlee – who he had become good friends with – over to his place in the 1990s to teach him how to cook.

“It (my time at Hyatt) was very rewarding for me,” said the 50-year-old. “I have many fond memories, and with a little bit more time after the winding down announcement last year, I decided to try to cook some of the old recipes for my colleagues at HSBC.”

Reduan’s earliest dishes were mostly Indian cuisine, with his attempt at the classic tandoori – chicken that’s marinated in yogurt, garam masala and peppers then baked – a hit with his colleagues and friends.

“By the middle of last year, I knew that I would be laid off with my batch by the year’s end,” he said. “But I was still struggling to find a job. I thought to myself; I may not be a trained chef, but why don’t I at least try?”

Polite and courteous, Reduan tries to approach Dapur Kadoo’s tasks in earnest, believing that it will allow him to carve out his own share in the food delivery market against stiff and established competition.

In time for Ramadhan, Reduan with the support of his family, began Dapur Kadoo from home, preparing trays of rice with chicken, beef or lamb for takeaways, marketing mostly through WhatsApp groups and later through Instagram, with Reduan always making it a point to ask customers if he can take a picture with them after his deliveries to fill his feed.

When Reduan’s final day at HSBC ultimately came in November 2017, he already had his week mapped out with orders. With his severance, he built an extension for his home kitchen at RPN Meragang for $13,000 and spent few thousand on a freezer and two extra ovens.

Most weekdays, Reduan will rise at dawn, ensuring all orders are cooked the same day they are delivered. And unlike some home-based businesses, Reduan has never limited the time of delivery – he’s been at the customer’s doorstep as early as 6am – nor the day, as he made trips to Tutong last weekend  to cater for Hari Raya orders.

“Where there is an opportunity for rezeki, I will not turn it down,” said Reduan. “Though the business may be very small it has allowed me to provide for my family and that is what makes me happy.”

To inquire or place an order contact +6738909070 or +6738864228. Deliveries within Brunei-Muara are charged $3, Tutong $10 and Belait $20. You can find their menu @dapurkadoo on Instagram.