An interview with Joey Gan of GSH Conserves, a boutique Singaporean food producer

Posted on June 16, 2014 by Aun

7. Fill jars with jam

Last year, while visiting the Christmas edition of Public Garden’s flea market, my wife and I met Joey Gan, founder of GSH Conserves, a local producer of some insanely good sauces. Because we always like to support local artisans, we purchased several jars of Joey’s products and promised, when we had the time, to interview him for this site.

Joey and I conducted the interview at the start of 2014. Which means I owe him one super-sized apology for running this half a year late. Since then, of course, you’ve seen Joey splashed in the pages of The Straits Times as well as several glossy magazines. And the coverage is well-deserved. As I said earlier, his conserves are excellent. My wife and I are particularly in love with his Sweet Chilli Dip. I’ve also had great success using Joey’s yummy Mango & Lime Jam in some rather tropical and tasty cocktails.

Here’s the interview. Six months late, but better late than ever.

CH: Tell me about yourself? What is your background? And how and why did you start your own preserves company?

I started GSH Conserves this year with the intention of continuing my interest in nature conservation. It is something i care about a great deal and it was my entire life and career in my previous 5 years at the National Parks Board . During my time there , I managed the Heritage Trees Scheme and the Young Arborist Programme, and then moved on to look after Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

I have always been intrigued about where our food comes from. The turning point was when i watched a video on how animals are bred on an industrial scale for food and how poor their living conditions were, not to mention their ill-treatment by workers. It impacted me so much that i stopped eating meat completely for awhile, only doing so when it was raised free-range.  It also made me ponder on where our food comes from and how it is produced.

I believe that we humans are a part of nature and not apart from it. As the most intelligent species on this planet, we have a great responsibility to live in a sustainable manner, in a way that acknowledges we have to play by the rules of nature and not strive to manipulate and destroy it. In my daily work at NParks, i realized that many people take what we have on this earth for granted. We expect shade from a tree, but we cannot stand its leaves and fruits making a mess on our cars. We build our house right next to forested areas for its peace and tranquility, but we cannot put up with resident wildlife coming into  our homes. We have become so used to altering the natural landscape to suit our petty fancies. We have lost the ability to adapt our lifestyles to overcome the “inconveniences” that nature poses to us. There must be a radical change in way we percieve the world we live in and what it can offer us. Singapore has much to lose if our current mindsets do not change. Our lifestyles are rapidly outstripping what this section of the globe can offer us. For example, we are the smallest country in Asia but we have the Asia’s largest carbon footprint, much due to rapid and frequent heavy construction , burning of fossil fuels and heavy imports of internationally-sourced food.

Limes
Mangoes

I believe that steadfast, consistent education and outreach can change mindsets for the better. This is why GSH Conserves was started, to lead this change in Singapore. The conservation of nature needs to be at the heart of all our decisions. Decisions that don’t, only work to destroy the very nature in which we live in. So the first obvious question was how do i start this change, what would be a good in-road into the lives of Singaporeans? Food came to my mind: Singaporeans love food and it is deep in our identity. Food also forms a very large part of our daily decision-making. We know how to find the best food, but do we know where our food comes from? Do we even bother in the first place?  We are top of the food chain and we have a real responsibility to this earth and to the food that it gives us.

Fruits offer a good way to start thinking about where our food comes from. Singapore obviously does not have sufficient land capacity at the moment to fully sustain our demand for fruits, so most of our fruits come from abroad. The next best thing for us to do is to choose fruits that come from our neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, just to name a few. Choosing fruits from such locations means that we are reducing the amount of “food miles” incurred by our purchases. Fruits from Malaysia are transported by lorry and results in lower food miles as compared to strawberries from Australia which have to be flown in. GSH Conserve believes that local and regionally sourced fruits are better for the earth and for regional economies. My jams celebrates the greatness of the fruits that we can find in our region, which i think is a nice change from the usual imported varieties we get in our stores.

CH: What has been the hardest part of the process so far?

A big challenge now is for me to up-scale my production. Currently i am a one-man show and so i make the jams, answer emails, do my marketing, attend market events, go for meetings etc, all on my own. As such i can only make a limited amount of jams. This in turn restricts the number of eateries i can approach to work out retail arrangements: i do not want to be in a situation where i am unable to meet demand. So a big task for me next year to look for my own kitchen and hire staff to increase productivity. This will then allow me more time to work on fine-tuning the nature conservation aspect of the business , to write short articles related to food production and nature, meet fruit supplier/growers.

CH: I met you at Public Garden? Where do you retail? Mostly at fairs like this or do retailers carry you?

I do not have a shop, so I retail mainly at market events like the ones organised by Public Garden. I currently sell my jams through a few retailers, namely The Gardens Shop, Overdoughs, Strictly Pastry, Mondays Off, Cat Socrates and Spur, and through two online retailers, Naiise and Hipvan {edited to reflect latest distribution points}.

CH: Of all of your flavours, which one are you proudest of and how would you recommend our readers use it / eat it?

I am proudest of the Spiced Pumpkin Jam as it was the the recipe that I worked out in a hurry, and worked out straightaway. It was  a surprise to me that despite doing it in a rush,   I was able to achieve the balance of flavour and texture i liked at the first go. It definitely helped to boost my cooking confidence.

CH: Are you working on new flavours? What are you most excited about?

Yes, i am working on a new flavour called Sweet Potato & Ginger Jam {this is now available}. It is originally created as a wedding favour for two friends who are getting married to each other next year. The bride , a lover of gingery things, wanted a jam which had  ginger in it. The inspiration for the jam came from  my wife, whose grandma used to cook their family a sweet potato and ginger soup for dessert. I am excited about this as it would be the first time a new flavour has been developed for a couple and it will be the first time my jams will be used as wedding favours.

CH: What are your plans for 2014? Where should the year take you and GSH?

First thing on the list would be to get my own kitchen. I would also like to use 2014 to travel and meet growers so that i can really say i know where my fruits come from. Right now, i source from local fruit wholesalers. I also would like to have my jams sold and served at more local cafes and bakeries.

CH: Besides preserves, what other foodie things are you obsessed with?

I am not too fussy with my food, but I do love a good beer with a tasty quattro fromaggi pizza.  My most memorable food experience would have to be the discovery of ‘pintxo’ when I visited San Sebastian, Spain. I think i left my stomach there haha. My wife and I went on an amazing ‘pintxo tour’ designed by our hostel owner (http://www.pensionsanjuan.net/en/index.html–great place to stay at, if you ever visit San Sebastian). One evening, we asked him to recommend a good place for dinner. He replied by handing us a hand drawn map of the town with a list of pintxo bars and the pintxo that each of them are famous for. So we navigated the cobblestoned alleyways to each bar, ordered a drink (a local draught beer for me of course) and that special pintxo. After we were done, we moved on to the next and the next. It was great fun squeezing through the crowded bars to get to the counter, order a drink and pintxo, and just soak in the local food scene. It was a literal food journey i will never forget!

Another great food experience was in Australia this June, where we caught our own fish in the morning and cooked it for dinner the same day. I think fishing, and gardening, is a great way to allow people to experience the food cycle, where one has to prepare the necessary equipment to obtain food, go out to the place to find it, actually catch it and then cook it for a meal. Fishing also forces you to physically identify the species of fish you catch, making you more aware of what you are eating.

CH: Are you willing to share one easy to make at home preserve recipe?

 

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Victoria June 26, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I’m glad you posted this Aun, I love hearing stories about Singaporeans who are advocates for sustainable living. It’s such a tough ask on an island like this and it’s important that people like Joey can thrive and inspire the rest of us!

  2. charsiew July 24, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    thank you for posting Joey’s recipe to share with the rest of us to enjoy! Wonderful to know that there are people who care about sustainable food and the environment! Kudos to Joey for having the courage to take the plunge to start his own business. Here’s wishing him all the best in his new chapter ahead.

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