Loh Lik Peng, 44, hotelier, restaurateur and now judge on the Eat List Star, a new talent search by Mediacorp to discover culinary stars in the Asia-Pacific region. “I had a little bit of trepidation. Obviously, I’d never done TV before.” Peng — as he’s known to most — who runs the Unlisted Collection group of boutique hotels and restaurants, which includes New Majestic Hotel and Pollen, says, “My expertise, of course, is the commercial side. In the early stages, when we’re looking at [the audition] videos, it has been about wondering if that person has an interesting enough character that really makes him stand out on TV. And whether his food looks interesting, which is very different from whether it tastes good (laughs).”
HOME IS: A three-bedroom condo in Claymore, where he lives with his wife, violinist Min Lee, son Conor, four, and daughter, month-old Cassidy, and a helper.
HIS RIDE IS: An old Mercedes-Benz R-Class which “has six seats and can fit lots of kids.” And an Audi A4 station wagon. “Everything revolves around being able to cram lots of toys and bicycles and stuff into the boots.”
WHAT’S IN HIS WALLET: “I have quite a lot of credit cards. Six, maybe? Including some corporate ones.” He likes to collect points, but despite the number of cards, he doesn’t live a cash-free existence. “I generally have about $200 cash in my wallet that’ll last me about two to three weeks. It’s more to buy incidentals, or lunch. Generally, nasi padang.” He has another wallet: A travel wallet. “Because I travel so much, I have a different wallet with foreign credit cards, currencies, passports and all that. When I travel, I just pull it out so that everything essential is there.”
8 DAYS: Some say it’s not about how much you earn, but how much you save. Do you have any tips on growing wealth?
LOH LIK PENG: To be honest, I’m terrible at giving that kind of personal advice. I’m really bad at those types of things that people tell you to do, like save (laughs). You know what I do, I invest mostly in my own business. I buy insurance for a rainy day and that’s about it. I have to confess I don’t save anything, really. I probably spend more than I should, if I’m really frank. But I make sure I invest in the businesses. To me that’s my form of savings.
Is there anything you refuse to spend top dollar on?
One thing I’ve learnt through the folly of my youth is: Don’t spend on cars in Singapore! (Laughs) It’s the surest way to ignite a pile of cash, so I stopped buying nice cars (laughs).
What nice car did you drive before you came to your senses?
I had an [Audi] R8 [supercar] years ago. You literally lose 30-40 per cent of the value the minute you buy it. Looking back, it was definitely a vanity purchase: “This is such a cool car, I’m single…” I regretted it almost immediately. I realised then that you don’t really derive enjoyment from having a nice car. Maybe you do in the first six hours, but it rapidly wears away.
Do you have any investment regrets?
Not so much regrets but you do learn as much from your failure as your success. Certainly I’ve been involved in things that didn’t work. For example, the restaurant, Braise, in Sentosa. It didn’t work out — we were way too early and in the wrong location. That was one of my first setbacks. Another was Chiharu at Sixth Avenue. It launched really well and then I realised that we need a corporate lunch crowd. It was mostly residential. We did very well for dinner, but we had no lunch trade. And that taught me a lesson in needing a lunch trade to survive in Singapore.
Is there anything that’s particularly heartlander about you?
I think people assume I have very expensive habits. The truth is, in most respects my lifestyle is not that different from anyone else’s. I don’t buy designer clothes, I don’t really spend a lot on restaurants, despite having a lot of restaurants. I eat mostly in my own restaurants. So in that sense I don’t think I live a particularly extravagant lifestyle. Unless I’m travelling for work, I’m quite happy flying Economy. If I’m travelling for holidays I really don’t need all those frills. One thing I do indulge in, and probably spend more than the average person, is collecting stuff.
Is there anything you’re eyeing now?
I always have my eye out for furniture. If something interesting comes along, there’s a good chance if I can afford it I’ll buy it. I’m a very impulsive person. Sometimes when you buy these things, you get one moment of opportunity and that’s it. So you’ve got to make your mind up like that (snaps his fingers).
What was your most recent splurge?
The last time I purchased something that was more extravagant than usual was a push present for my wife. I got her a little ruby ring.