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Dishing out second chances
A GOOD part of Shirley Tay's day sees her cooking up a storm in the kitchen of The Peranakan in Orchard Road.
Standing for hours on end is no mean feat for almost any 71-year-old, but chef Tay doesn't let her age stop her from continuing her passion - dishing out traditional Peranakan classics.
"It is such a waste if I stop cooking these foods as it is a symbol of the culture as well," she says.
Her colleague, chef Carol Ee, agrees. "I need to work to keep me sane," the 66-year-old says.
The two are part of mostly elderly workforce at The Peranakan, which was set up more than a year ago.
Owner and executive chef Raymond Khoo says: "I have always wanted to provide older people with an opportunity to be employed. Moreover, the Peranakan culture is steeped in such history and heritage that it may be hard to draw the younger crowd, too."
Having helped out at the Prison Ministry for 20 years, chef Khoo walks the talk as well when it comes to giving people second chances.
The 53-year-old also employs ex-convicts and spouses of ex-convicts.
He adds that the wives of inmates - especially those who are foreigners - do not have much support.
"Some of them are in their 20s and 30s. I try to help by giving them a job here, so that they do not feel so lost in a foreign country."
Of course, plans had to be made beforehand. He had to discuss with his staff from the outset about hiring people who were former inmates.
Once everyone was on board, a separate budget had to be set aside to employ and train them.
Flexible timing had to be implemented as well to allow the wives to visit their husbands in prison and take care of the children, if any.
"I think it is a humane thing to do, to give people a helping hand when you can, instead of just leaving them alone to fend for themselves," says chef Khoo, who has been in the restaurant business for about 30 years.
Chef Khoo's determination to do good goes beyond the restaurant, as he also helps needy residents of Lengkok Bahru.
Besides having a group of volunteers to give tuition to 25-35 primary school students three times a week, Saturday@Lengkok Bahru was organised seven years ago to engage elderly residents in the estate.
The seniors mainly live in one-room rental flats and chef Khoo, with his team of volunteers, welcomes over 135 families each week with a free lunch along with a fresh loaf of bread and fruit. Buffets are arranged on festive occasions as "it can get lonely during those periods".
"When you start going into their homes, you realise their living condition. They are all alone and some of them only have one table and a bed. This is Singapore, and we can do more."
Once, when he invited the seniors for lunch at The Peranakan, they came all dressed up.
He adds that even the staff who were initially hesitant about interacting with the elderly due to mistaken stereotypes - that they could be grumpy, for instance - also enjoyed themselves upon realising that they were anything but.
"I think that these gestures create a nice working culture. The staff members know that the company cares and it is not all about the bottom line."
Chef Tay concurs and adds that all these activities and initiatives create an opportunity for them to learn how to interact with people from different walks of life.
- This article is part of a series showcasing companies that prove that size does not matter when it comes to giving. The Business Times supports NVPC's Company of Good programme as media partner. For more information, go to www.companyofgood.sg