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An interview with Green Kitchen's head chef

In mid-February, a friend in Singapore gave glowing feedback on a Singapore-based meal-plan provider I hadn't heard of before called Green Kitchen. A couple of weeks later, I ordered a week's worth of vegetarian meals from them and was hugely impressed with the customizability of their menu and the quality of the majority of their meals.

I was so impressed that I reached out to Green Kitchen's founder and head chef, Maxamilian "Max" Mepham to see if he'd like to meet and have a chat about his background, his business and his thoughts on meal-plan providers in general. To my surprise and delight, he was keen to meet, which is more than I can say for FitThree and Grain, who didn't even respond to my requests – read into that what you will!

A couple of weeks later, I was dropped off outside Green Kitchen's new premises (105 Jalan Kembangan) before being greeted by Max, who gave me a whistlestop tour of his new kitchen (plus an introduction to a hard-at-work chef), and then settled us both down in his office for the interview.

About Max

Max has cooked for over 15 years in fine and casual dining restaurants striving for Michelin stars, as well as private members' clubs, 5-star chalets and even private yachts. Now, as the head chef and founder of Green Kitchen, he's settled in Singapore and is on a mission "to rebel against healthy meals being bland and boring". He believes that the key to nutritious and healthy eating is the use of quality ingredients with "freshness you can truly experience with every bite".

Since founding the company in early 2021, Max has taken Green Kitchen from strength to strength, increasing its number of weekly meal-plan subscribers and opening a new and improved kitchen in Kembangan. The future looks bright for Green Kitchen with plenty of investment interest from other F&B companies in Singapore, big ideas for their new premises, and plans to build more beneficial partnerships within Singapore's thriving fitness community.

Now, over to Max, who can tell us more about Green Kitchen in his own words.

How it started

"I guess the simple answer is that I wasn't satisfied with what was on offer in Singapore nutrition-wise. There's a stigma around healthy food that it cannot be flavourful, so I asked myself, can I make healthy food that isn't going to make customers cry?

"I come from a background as a chef so I know how to create good food and I'm always looking for the next level of flavour. I want people to get satisfaction from the dishes I create but I'm also looking for satisfaction myself, both from what I'm doing and what I eat – I'm not someone who can eat the same thing every day. That's especially true in Singapore where I'm exposed to so many new ingredients and wonderful flavour combinations.

"I started scoping out restaurants here to discover new dishes but I was generally unsatisfied with what was available. Don't get me wrong, there are some really good ones, but everything is a little bit 'here and there' and not of consistent quality. It was the same story when I did the research for Green Kitchen, we ordered from several [meal-plan providers] and, sure, a couple of meals during the week were OK, but all the other meals were a real letdown. For example, there's a great salad place in the CBD I like – I really rate them – and they do great quality salads, but sometimes they come in and they're just awful – same thing different day. It's their business model, they're just trying to get as much value as possible from their pre-made salads. But that's what I want to avoid with Green Kitchen, if it comes in fresh it goes out fresh – we don't hold stock for days and days, which is when it starts going bad.

"The beauty of food-subscription services is that we know how many orders are coming in, we don't have to guess how many people will walk through a restaurant door on any given night."

Consistency is key

"When I tried other meal plans I didn't get the flexibility I wanted. Sure the calories and macros were calculated for me across the meals I'd receive in a week but, for example, I couldn't take out fish from my meals if I didn't want fish. Then, if I ordered meals and removed the fish myself, the calories and macros were then incorrect and now it's a waste of my and the chef's time – why even bother including the fish for it just to be chucked in the bin? The journey and experience are just broken. But obviously, that's their business model, it's all about the numbers; they just want to pump out meals and grow as fast as possible and customers get used to a certain level of quality."

[Max is right here, at the time of writing this there are established meal-plan providers in Singapore that still only offer menus for omnivores, such as Nutrition Kitchen. I'd planned to review Nutrition Kitchen but after I'd removed all the meat options from my weekly meal plan of 15 meals, I was left with only 6 meals I would've been able to eat. I'm happy to double-up a couple of meals but this was too much and I decided to skip the review entirely – it's just not good value for money if you don't eat meat.]

"It doesn't matter what restaurant you work in or where it is in the world, being able to produce consistently good food is important because it builds trust. Our customers trust us to create bespoke menus for them which they only see on Monday morning. We're only able to do this because they trust us to consistently deliver them a good variety of quality food each week. Customers can tell us what they don't like or if they have any intolerances or allergies and then rely on my experience and knowledge as a chef to build their menu – they enjoy not caring!"

Staying personal

"For me, being in the 'deep end of the pool' is kind of our business model. Competitors don't mess around with us because they know how hard it is to provide the level of personalisation we offer – and it is really hard to do. But that's part of coming from fine dining, we can do the hard stuff – we're not just flipping burgers. Of course, we do try and make things easier for ourselves, for example, if someone tells us they have a nut allergy we structure that week's menu to exclude nuts from all our meals – it's about working smart.

"We're not really at scale yet, we're delivering to around 40 people per week, so essentially we've got a 40-person restaurant for lunch and dinner. We aim to retain loyal customers and we do that by maintaining this level of personalisation. That's why we're so careful with our marketing and advertising, we're not giving away a free week of meals to every new customer, it's about quality over quantity. The way I see it, Green Kitchen is like a club, once you're in we'll take care of you and offer a level of personalisation that is usually only reserved for those with a private chef in their home.

"It's also important to me that our subscription model is flexible. When people pay us money to receive meals, we allow them to pause their subscription at any time. If they go away and then come back and just need a couple of days of meals, then we'll let them do that – they get more value for their money. We're unapologetic about not being the cheapest meal-plan provider in Singapore because we know that we offer a level of personalisation and service that others don't."

The calculation and accuracy of macros

[I've been concerned with the accuracy of macros provided by meal-plan providers since I saw potential inconsistencies in macros listed on meals from both YoloFoods and Grain. Some companies, such as Nutrition Kitchen, state that they calculate their macros from raw ingredients and get macro data from, which, in turn, primarily sources its data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). But is this the best way to do it? I had to ask Max.]

"I don't want to comment on what anyone else does but when it comes to calculating macros from raw ingredients, well, a sports nutritionist wouldn't do it, so why would we? I've been told by them that they don't go by raw weight because cooking can change the mass of food by up to 20–30%, which is why we calculate our macros from the final cooked weight. I mean, what's the point in doing it if the numbers aren't right?

"We work with 2–3 brilliant sports nutritionists from UFIT Singapore who help ensure our numbers are legitimate. The hardest part is making my recipes fit these 'shapes' in sports science, this many calories or that many grams of protein, carbs and fats. Then there's taking all that information and programming it into our meal plans, which is a complex numbers game. For the first 6 months, I was literally on the phone with Pam, one of UFIT's sports nutritionists, every single day asking for her help.

"Ultimately, I'm trying to ensure we deliver good food within the calorie and macro ranges we're recommended by experts. But if you are working towards a specific goal, then I'm happy to work with UFIT or whichever sports nutritionist or professional you're working with to create a truly bespoke meal plan for you based on the advice or reports you receive."

[Before wrapping up our interview, Max mentioned the Health Screening service offered by UFIT Singapore, which helps calculate a person's fitness, resting metabolic rate (RMR) and much more. I've booked my screening already and will post a review and my full report when I receive it.]

A big thank you to Max

My thanks to Max for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to me. What he had to say not only makes for great content but also enthuses me to keep writing this blog. It's always such a powerful and motivating experience to meet passionate people doing what they love.

I've said it before, but Green Kitchen is the best meal-plan provider I've tried in Singapore so far. I recommend you give them a go, you won't be disappointed.

If you are the owner of one of Singapore's meal-plan providers or have an opinion on any of the topics raised in this interview, please reach out to me – I'd love to talk online or in person. Meanwhile, if you'd like to keep up to date on the workouts I do and the meals I receive, you can follow me on Instagram.


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