Picking up culinary skills from the disabled

Mr Tiong showing participants including Ms Foong (left) how to make rojak at yesterday's workshop organised by Dignity Kitchen.
Mr Tiong showing participants including Ms Foong (left) how to make rojak at yesterday's workshop organised by Dignity Kitchen.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Left half-paralysed after a stroke, rojak seller Tiong Teun Leong had to close his stall at a Tampines coffee shop five years ago.

But his disability did not stop him from teaching a group of participants how to whip up plates of rojak at a workshop yesterday.

Allowing people like Mr Tiong to contribute to the community was one of the aims of the workshop organised by Dignity Kitchen, a hawker training school for the disabled and disadvantaged.

The workshop, the first of two sessions, was part of the two-week- long Lifelong Learning Festival. Trainers were from the school.

"I can't stand for too long, but as long as I can help others, I'll help," said Mr Tiong, 57, who now mans a stall at a food court run by Dignity Kitchen in Serangoon Avenue 3.

"I was taught by my mentors how to make rojak, so now I'm happy I can pass the skill on."

The rojak and siew mai that the participants made were later served to senior citizens from a day rehabilitation centre.

Funding for the event - it was free for participants - came from a $3 million government fund that supports community-led projects that promote learning.

Mr Koh Seng Choon, executive director of Dignity Kitchen, said that while more Singaporeans are learning to accept people with disabilities, they are still cautious when it comes to food. "They won't buy from those with, say, spots on the arms because of dialysis, or eczema," he said.

His social enterprise has trained more than 400 people in food preparation, cooking and service support since it was launched in 2010.

Ms May Foong, one of 70 people who signed up for the workshops, said: "It's very inspiring that Seng Choon is able to help the not so well-off get jobs."

The retired primary school teacher added: "It's also meaningful that the food we learn to cook goes to the elderly."

Another participant, semi-retired trader Loo Kee Sin, 66, said: "What struck me was that there's no end to learning and retirees like me can learn new skills and give back to society."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 23, 2016, with the headline 'Picking up culinary skills from the disabled'. Print Edition | Subscribe