Recipes and Cookbooks That Make a Difference
Meet Leow Li-Vern, an investment manager, who talks about working on a cookbook project with volunteer soup kitchen Willing Hearts
A kind gesture, no matter how small, can bring about an impact we least expect. In this ongoing series, we comb through the office in search of colleagues who are making a difference to the lives of others — through the way they live theirs.
Most of us spent our childhoods making a ruckus at playgrounds, playing football at void decks or even hanging out at video game arcades.
But Leow Li-Vern’s fondest childhood memory is spending time in the kitchen with her mother and siblings rolling out puff pastry for chicken pies, kneading cookie dough for cookies and wrapping radish stuffing for soon kueh.
As a child, these were her family’s daily activities.
Leow Li-Vern, an associate director with Temasek who volunteers with Willing Hearts. Li-Vern also helped to produce a commemorative cookbook for the organisation
Her favourite foods are her mother’s Teochew porridge and steamed fish, which remind her of family meals after hectic days at school.
It is no wonder the second of five children from a Teochew-Hakka family felt an immediate connection with Willing Hearts, a charity that cooks and distributes meals to 5,000 needy people in more than 40 locations across Singapore.
When the non-profit sought volunteers to put a cookbook together to commemorate its 10th anniversary in August last year, Li-Vern, whose day job revolves around managing transport and logistics investments at Temasek, jumped at the opportunity.
Leow Li-Vern (left, in pink) and other volunteers packing food for the needy at the Willing Hearts kitchen
An avid photographer, the 35-year-old associate director married her interests in photography and cooking by becoming the cookbook photographer and project manager.
Along with other volunteers, she made these recipes and photographed the end results.
Capturing the food in the most delectable lighting conditions was no easy feat, she says. “I ended up sometimes doing the cooking late at night and then taking the photos in the morning,” Li-Vern adds.
WATCH: A chicken adobo recipe by chef Andre Chiang from the Willing Hearts commemorative cookbook
She then worked with a team of volunteers from all walks of life, to compile, edit, design, print and market these cookbooks. The cookbook was thoughtfully designed with the home chef in mind — it features removable pages to prevent spill stains, and blank templates so that home chefs can create their own heirloom recipes.
Her favourite recipe from the cookbook? Taiwanese beef stew by celebrity chef Andre Chiang.
“But we’re not chummy with the chefs, so I can’t jump the queue at Andre Chiang’s restaurant,” she says, tongue fully in cheek.
The idea of a cookbook first simmered when MasterChef Australia guest judge Ian Curley in 2014 popped by at Willing Hearts unannounced to cook, after attending the World Gourmet Summit which was held in Singapore that year.
Volunteers preparing food for beneficiaries at the Willing Hearts kitchen. The organisation started in 2005 by providing daily meals to 500 local needy individuals. Today, the non-profit reaches out to about 5,000 beneficiaries
The charity founder's daughter, Anne Tay, suggested the idea to him, and Ian Curley enthusiastically responded.
"In the course of one to two years, Anne randomly wrote to all these chefs, not knowing if anyone would respond. Lo and behold, we had 11 chefs who responded," exclaims Li-Vern as she recounted her journey.
She proudly adds that the cookbook contains recipes by renowned chefs like Andre Chiang, whose Restaurant Andre was awarded two Michelin stars, Daniel Boulud of Daniel in New York and dbBistro Singapore, Dallas Cuddy of Freebird Bangkok and Sam Leong of Forest.
She managed to convince T-touch — a Temasek staff-led, ground-up volunteer initiative — to cover the printing costs for the book and all proceeds from the sale of the book will go towards meeting Willing Hearts’ daily
Willing Hearts was founded by Tony Tay (in picture) in 2005
Willing Hearts, founded by businessman Tony Tay, 70, started in 2005 by providing daily meals to 500 local needy individuals. Today, the non-profit reaches out to about 5,000 beneficiaries.
These are mostly elderly, disabled or homeless individuals, or underprivileged families, who, due to medical or financial reasons, are no longer able to cook for themselves.
“It’s quite sad actually, seeing some of these beneficiaries, some of whom have lost their spouses and don’t know how to cook,” says Li-Vern.
The kitchen’s daily challenge lies not just in securing ingredients, but also creating a nutritious meal with what they have on hand.
Volunteers preparing and packing food for distribution at the Willing Hearts kitchen.
The organisation provides meals to about 5,000 needy individuals daily
The donated groceries are mostly ‘ugly’ but still edible ingredients — items that have blemishes or dents, ones that people would normally avoid buying due to their appearance. The vendors, by donating these unsold food items, are feeding the hungry and at the same time, reducing food wastage.
“I thought it was quite cool because I think that it is exactly how home cooking should be; you come up with something using what you have in the fridge,” says Li-Vern.
The next step for the project, says Li-Vern, is to work with the chefs to help raise awareness of the cookbook. Hopefully, this will generate a stream of income for the charity, allowing it to continue providing meals to those who need them the most.
She adds, “It’s not always the heartiest or most expensive of meals, but it serves the purpose of having enough protein and vegetables for these people who need it.”