It’s easy to miss Kim Jen Ming Cantine within the bustling McGill University Health Centre (MUHC): open to the public in the basement of the sprawling new healthcare facility, the Malaysian-Singaporean offshoot of St-Henri Singaporean restaurant Satay Brothers does a lot with very little.
According to manager Fred Vaillancourt, the idea for a Singaporean comptoir surprisingly didn’t come from the Satay Brothers team. Rather, Alex and Matt Winnicki, the two brothers behind Satay Brothers were initially approached by MUHC to create a restaurant in the hospital in part because of their connection to the medical world. Their mother Kim worked as a nurse at the old Royal Victoria Hospital for 24 years, and brought a number of her former colleagues to dine at Satay Brothers regularly. These strong ties alongside their reputation for serving healthy food with locally-sourced ingredients put together from scratch made them an ideal candidate for the new hospital.
On top of that, Vaillancourt’s experience as a supply technician in a hospital for years prior made him an ideal candidate to spearhead the opening of Kim Jen Ming in October 2016.
The menu at Kim Jen Ming boasts a similar fusion of Southeast Asian cuisines to Satay Brothers, with a similar bent towards Singaporean street food. That includes steamed buns, papaya salad, and tapioca-based desserts. But beyond the few menu items that replicate the St-Henri original, there’s quite a bit of variation between the two locations. For instance, several Kim Jen Ming dishes have been modified to fit the constraints of the small hospital kitchen, with room for a steam table but no grill.
The brothers also had to develop the menu to be affordable, accessible to patients with various dietary constraints, and easy to take away for doctors in a rush. All of the dishes are priced around or below $10, and dishes like the vegan curry, rice pudding, and vegetarian rice rolls are concocted specifically to be easy on potentially sensitive stomachs.
“You need to understand the needs of the hospital,” Vaillancourt says. “People that work here don’t have much time, so everything has to be quick.”
That means some pre-prepared grab and go options like salads and rolls. And Kim Jen Ming isn’t just a service for staff: Vaillancourt strives to make the stand accessible to patients, who are often on strict diets with no meat or dairy.
”They need real, good food. So that’s why they come here and they feel better.”
But what’s particularly noteworthy about Kim Jen Ming is its tasting policy: the staff ask customers (or at least those who have time) to taste their food before paying for it in order to get the dish right, particularly in terms of spice levels. To Vaillaincourt, this is a tried-and-true way of making sure that every diner walks away satisifed, which is particularly important in what can be a dreary hospital environment.
“We make people taste,” Vaillaincourt says. “We want to make sure that people love what they’re getting...the hospital is brutal sometimes, it’s not fun to be here. So that’s why with the team and the food, we’re making this a better place.”
- Kim Jen Ming [Official]