INTERVIEW: Zander Ng from #KindCooks by GoodHood.SG - “Cooking is the ultimate expression of love”

Nurzatiman
Lifestyle Contributor
(PHOTO: Zander Ng)

On 22 June, it was reported that Singaporeans donated S$90 million dollars to Community Chest, the Community Foundation of Singapore's Sayang Sayang Fund, and online donation platform Giving.sg. This amount is made even more staggering as it is equal to donations received in the whole of last year. Which just goes to show that a pandemic not only brings out the worst in Singaporeans, but also the best, and most generous side of its citizens.

And where else does charity begin if not from home—along the corridors of HDB flats, where neighbourly kindness begets a generosity inspired by a sense of conviviality and closeness. It is in this spirit that GoodHood.SG’s #KindCooks was born; an initiative, which, at its heart, centres around connecting neighbours who need meals with neighbours who can cook.

#KindCooks is powered by the GoodHood.SG app that allows people in close proximity at home to connect with each other and seek help be it for food, requesting sundry items, or providing services such as pet-walking and tutoring.

To kickstart the #KindCooks movement on 13 June 2020, winner of the inaugural MasterChef Singapore, Zander Ng lent his culinary expertise in creating Buah Keluak Pasta for applicants on the GoodHood.SG app. He was joined by other home cooks who had committed to cooking 200 meals for their neighbours, in a community involvement effort anchored by oscar@sg fund by Temasek Trust. The oscar@sg fund was launched to support ground-up initiatives responding to significant or urgent community needs in Singapore arising from COVID-19 pandemic.

I spoke to Zander Ng to delve deeper into his involvement with this generous initiative and find out his thoughts on how food plays a role in fostering a world that is kinder and more inclusive.

Zander Ng with founder of GoodHood.SG founder, Nigel Teo (PHOTO: Splash Productions)

What does charity mean to you?

It really boils down to acts of kindness—the actions and sacrifices that we make for others. Charity is selfless and has no geographic boundaries. It can span as far as community development outreach programs on the other side of the globe, right through mentoring a younger sibling or child in our home. 

A lot of people feel like charity work needs to be this massive outreach program that involves thousands of people, but I really feel like it doesn't need to be that way, you know? It can be a really small act to start with that involves just a handful of people, That small act of kindness then multiplies and gets passed on to the next person, almost infinitely.

What role do you think food plays in fostering a kinder and more inclusive world?

To me, food has always played an important role in bringing people together. It paves the way for precious memories that we all hold dearly with family, friends, and even people we don't know too well yet who we invite into our home for a meal. It's like the ultimate expression of love—showing care for someone because when we cook, we put a lot of heart into the dish. It is not just about getting some ingredients together, throwing it into a pan and seeing what comes out of that. 

The preparation of food is also, in some ways, how we express ourselves, our personality, our intention, and that translates across to the people who we cook for. 

What excites you the most about this collaboration with Goodhood.sg and oscar@sg fund?

What excites me most that with these two organizations and the funding provided, we were able to link neighbours who are in need of assistance with neighbours who are in the position to help and are motivated to do so. There are a lot of home cooks out there who do want to lend a helping hand, so I know for sure that there's an untapped source there that can be further explored. What oscar@sgfund does so beautifully is matching that desire to provide assistance with the logistical aspect of charity—who needs the meals the most, how many meals do they need, and how do we get these meals to them. 

This is my first time collaborating with #KindCooks. So far, it has been very enlightening and heartening, especially when I hear a recipient feeling so immensely grateful for the food we provide for them. Maybe they haven't received that kind of care or love, or even have a home-cooked meal made especially for them before. So, for the home cook to be able to bring a smile to people's faces is truly a great joy. That's when you know that your food can make someone feel really good about themselves

Interestingly, the funding provided by this collaboration helps compensate the drives who deliver the food to the recipients. So that's a whole other set of people who benefited from this although not directly, and I think there could be nothing more beautiful than that. 

#KindCooks initiative (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

What is the biggest lesson the F&B industry can take away from the impact of COVID-19? 

That we must all learn to adapt and change the way that we do our business, relook the processes we have in place, and continuously learn and reeducate ourselves. For example, there might be a dish or a menu that, for the last couple of years might have worked, but because of COVID-19, it is not working anymore. Those are types of new challenges that force us to think outside the box.

With the circuit breaker in place, a lot of F&B establishments had to relook food delivery to keep the business afloat. They've had to consider many things they never expected to have to think about such as creating and developing a new takeaway menu, testing it to ensure that when it reaches the home, it still tastes good. And then there's getting new delivery routes, working with delivery partners. All these things are prime examples of how businesses had to quickly adapt and grow to survive in a challenging situation like COVID-19. 

Almost daily, we hear of big dining establishments being forced to shut down due to the COVID-19 situation. What do you think regular dining folks can do to keep restaurants afloat?

Actively make an effort to reach out to your favourite restaurant and find out how you can have them deliver the food to you. But now that phase two has started, get a group of family and friends together and, only if you feel comfortable doing so, make a reservation to dine in. It doesn't even have to be anytime soon—it could be three or four days in advance. 

The moment these restaurants start getting numbers in the books, they can then begin to plan how much stock to bring in, how much staff to provide for, how many cooks are needed in the kitchen. Just getting in your reservations with them would help a lot. 

When you look at the state of dining in Singapore today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?

We are truly blessed in Singapore to have what I think is one of the most incredible melting pot of cuisines and a breadth of dining options. We have unbelievable hawker cuisine in our hawker centres and food courts—traditional Singaporean dishes that are unbelievable and relatively affordable for the masses.

But at the same time, we have these incredibly high-end Michelin star restaurants and chefs here in Singapore who are really pushing the envelope in terms of the cuisine and dishes that they are creating, sometimes using locally grown ingredients. 

For restaurants that are opening in Singapore, they do have to think about our local palates. It's exciting for us because we have chefs who are classically trained in, for example, classical French cuisine or maybe you Italian chefs coming over and they have had to adapt their food to suit our local palate. It's really an exciting time, to be here in Singapore and to be going out and eating. 

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