Celeb Dad Bjorn Shen: Changing diapers is like unwrapping rotten Nasi Lemak

Like father like daughter? Hopefully not, says Chef Bjorn Shen about his daughter’s future career aspirations. He tells us why…

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The decision to start your own family isn’t one to be taken lightly especially considering the toll it takes on your life.

Bjorn Shen, 36, owner and chef at Middle Eastern-inspired restaurant, Artichoke, learnt this life lesson early on when he and his wife, Roxanne Toh, welcomed their daughter, Gemma, who’s now 18-months-old. The couple tied the knot in November 2015.

“The toll it takes on your life to have a kid is not something you can explain in words!” says the first-time dad who is also a judge on Channel 5’s upcoming MasterChef Singapore cooking competition.

His biggest parenting pet peeve so far? Changing his daughter’s diapers. “Never in my life have I ever had to touch and clean so much human excrement,” notes Bjorn. “It’s like unwrapping a packet of rotten Nasi Lemak!”

And don’t even get Bjorn started on the amount of laundry you have to do once a baby comes along. He recalls an incident when he got through four different shirts in one day. “The first time Gemma vomited I thought: Yes! Lucky I have a couple of shirts in my car. So, I changed and she puked again five minutes later and I changed again. I walked into the restaurant — 15 minutes later — she vomited again.”

Add to that having to wake up all night, Bjorn notes, “It’s like your life just got turned inside out."

“Never in my life have I ever had to touch and clean so much human excrement.”

But hard work is second nature to this seasoned chef. He may have more than 14 years of experience under his belt, but he started out with zero qualifications and culinary experience. In fact, Bjorn’s first restaurant gig was as a part-time dishwasher at a café in Tanglin Mall, working a 16-hour shift for $4.50 an hour, six days a week. After a couple of months on the job, he was promoted to prepping ingredients (chopping garlic, chilli and onions) and soon progressed to cooking simple dishes.

His love for cooking eventually took him to Australia to study at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney. He ended up dropping out a couple of months later, but stayed on to work at various restaurants and cafes, on minimum wage, to hone his skills.

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Seven and half years later, Bjorn decided it was time to come home. Using his hard-earned money, he started Middle-Eastern Artichoke in 2010.

Reflecting on the long and arduous journey to get to where he is today, Bjorn points out he wouldn’t want his little girl to follow in his professional footsteps. The MasterChef Judge tells us why and gets candid about parenting and life as a chef…

So Bjorn, did you always know you wanted to be a father?

No, I’m not a kid guy. I don’t know how to talk to kids and I’ve never been that kind of guy who wants to carry other people’s kids.

Has that changed now that you have Gemma?

No, I’m still an awkward dad. I don’t know how to sing to her, I don’t know what to say to her, I don’t know how to talk to her. I just make stupid faces. My wife on the other hand can have conversations with her, but of course my daughter’s response is babbling sounds. But for me I don’t know how. So, we’ll be watching the news and I’ll turn to her and ask what she thinks about the Syrian conflict. [Laughs] I don’t know what to say to her. I don’t know what’s going to work, I have zero chemistry with kids.