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Defending local culinary heritage at all costs with Alvin Yapp

The co-founder of The Social Kitchen talks teaching people ‘how to fish’; while preserving hawker heritage.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to tough battles on many fronts: not the least, for the medical staff on the frontlines. Other key stakeholders in Singapore’s economy, big and small, are reeling from the protracted worldwide shutdown of travel and free movement – including Singapore’s F&B scene. 

Larger players, while badly affected, have a bit more wiggling room thanks to shareholders and investors. It’s the little guy – think speakeasies, tiny ten-seater restaurants and the humble hawker store – that are really feeling the pinch. And that’s exactly the kind of people Alvin Yapp, who co-founded The Social Kitchen alongside partner Ang Kian Peng, hope to help.

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Meal preparation for beneficiaries at The Social Kitchen

Meal preparation for beneficiaries at The Social Kitchen

The Social Kitchen, Singapore’s first social enterprise kitchen, operates on a simple premise born out of the pandemic. Food charities were struggling to cope with demand – and some were not versed with catering. Therefore, get a central kitchen, bring in local F&B brands (all struggling due to the pandemic) and train persons from underprivileged communities to create and dole out the very same food that benefits other vulnerable people.  

That way, all stakeholders in the process get the help they need – no surprise, considering that the cofounders are no neophytes when it comes to social work. Both were previously awarded the President’s Award for Philanthropy and Volunteerism because of the work they initiated for vulnerable communities. 

“It occurred to us that the caregivers are always left out of the equation,” says Yapp. “Too often, these caregivers struggle to find gainful employment due to the time they devote to spending with the beneficiaries. We kept them front and centre as we conceived of a cloud kitchen with a strong social cause.”

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The culinary training also provides an avenue for the underprivileged to develop their skills. In essence, having their skills upgraded is like teaching the man how to fish. And we all know how the idiom goes. “More than just skills, it’s about the confidence and dignity that The Social Kitchen provides. Our ambassadors and the quality of food offered receive equal attention, and we hope to chart a career path for them into mainstream kitchens and restaurants,” says Yapp. 

As an aside, Yapp also happens to be the proud owner of the Intan, an award-winning Peranakan heritage home-museum, which just goes to show how dedicated the man is to preserving culture. The Social Kitchen is also done up Peranakan style, especially after considering Orchard Road’s history of being home to many Peranakans.

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LaMian set from Ming Fa Food Industries Pte Ltd

LaMian set from Ming Fa Food Industries Pte Ltd

While dining at The Social Kitchen is one way to support their cause, the cloud kitchen has already begun working with brands and companies to support corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. They’ve also begun their “1000 for 100” campaign where a donation of $1,000 nets a charity of their choice 100 meals.

Some of the brands include Ming Fa, well-known for the fishball noodles, as well as Pin Si, which serves up traditional Chinese fare. 

What about Yapp himself? He’s partial to Five Star Kampung chicken rice and 328 Katong Laksa. When he’s in the mood for pepper crab, Sin Hoi Sai Eating House is his tze char joint of choice. These, along with the black carrot cake and kway chap (pig organs with noodles) he grew up eating, are something he’s absolutely dedicated to keeping alive.

“Singapore will not be Singapore without our local fare. Supporting these businesses with our patronage is vital to keep our hawker culture going.”