Meet the 10-year-old making sambal tumis for charity

Phoebe Lim, 10, wields a spatula that is taller than her to stir a giant wok of chilli paste for hours. The bottled spice is sold to raise funds for a cancer-stricken hawker

Ten-year-old Phoebe Lim is about a head shorter than the metal spatula she wields to stir 40kg of sambal tumis (fried chilli paste) in a wok after chopping heaps of chillies and garlic.

The 1.4m-tall home-schooler is toiling in the kitchen for a good cause - the medical treatment for Mr Tan Boon Teck of the famous Armenian Street Char Kway Teow, which has two outlets, in Sengkang and Tampines.

Mr Tan, 49, suffers from stage 3 colon cancer and is looking to impart his char kway teow frying skills to an apprentice for at least $10,000. He has not received any offers yet. The Sin Ming Road branch, which he managed, is now closed due to his medical condition.

Phoebe read online about his predicament and offered to chip in after finding out that some hawkers are raising funds through a three-day food event, Open Stoves in Timbre+ at One-north. Today is the last day of the event.

Over the past two weeks, she has raised $13,500 from selling about 800 jars of her fried chilli paste via her Facebook account. Each jar costs $15.

This is not the first time she has raised funds for others. Earlier this year, she collected about $300 from selling about 30 bottles of her homemade chilli paste. It went towards supporting a social kitchen for underprivileged children in Payatas, the Philippines.

Remote video URL

She says: "I enjoy cooking and making my chilli sauce is a way of enjoying my hobby while helping others."

Why chilli paste?

"It keeps well and does not require many ingredients to cook, and I like to have it with nasi lemak and fried bee hoon," she says.

The enterprising girl learnt how to make the chilli paste from Mr Benny Se Teo, chef-owner of Eighteen Chefs, a western restaurant chain. The duo hit it off as they chat about cooking when she eats at his outlets. She and her family are regulars of his restaurants. Over the past year, he has given her recipes for dishes such as chicken curry and nasi biryani to cook at home.

The chilli paste - which she calls PP Dumpling after her and her younger sister's names and their love of xiao long bao - is a blend of nine ingredients including red, dried and bird's eye chillies, tamarind and belacan (shrimp paste). According to Phoebe, what makes it special is that it is sweeter than most other versions.

She had expected to sell about 50 jars at most to help Mr Tan. However, her earnest sales appeal went viral and more than 300 orders flooded her Facebook account.

To help her cope with the high demand, chefs such as Wayne Liew of KEK Pandan Gardens restaurant, came on board to sponsor the glass jars, labels and ingredients for the first batch of chilli paste.

Phoebe sacrificed her play time to cook and bottle the paste, working till midnight on a Friday at Keng Eng Kee Seafood restaurant in Bukit Merah Lane.

She says: "While I was cooking the paste, I was so hot and sweaty. We had to take turns to stir the chilli paste for about two hours in the gigantic wok and I had to look out for hot oil splattering on me."

Of the 318 orders, about one-third went unclaimed but have since been sold after Mr Melvin Chew of Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck And Kway Chap and Makansutra founder KF Seetoh spread the word for her on their social media accounts. The sociable girl had made friends with these chefs at food events.

Phoebe started cooking when she was five years old. She gets recipes from the Internet and cookbooks and has whipped up more than 50 Asian and Western dishes, including fried pin-wheel dumplings, Mac N Cheese, Thai mango salad and soya sauce chicken.

She says: "Whenever I hear sounds of eggs being beaten or chopping, I would rush into the kitchen and ask my mother a lot of questions about what she is cooking."

These days, she helps to cook lunch and dinner for the family five times a week. Her father, 42, runs an online apparel business and her mother, 43, is an education team coach at a cosmetics company. She has a younger sister, Priscilla, four.

A MasterChef Junior fan, she posts her culinary creations on her Instagram account (@phoebes_cafe) and shoots and edits her cooking videos for her YouTube channel, Phoebe's Cafe.

Spurred by the success of her first batch of fundraising chilli paste, she will make a second batch of 500 jars of chilli paste later this week. For this batch, customers had to make payment before their orders were confirmed.

She stopped taking orders on July 25 to better manage the workload. Part of the money raised from the first batch will go towards the ingredients and bottling costs for the second batch.

She will meet Mr Tan to hand him the money at the end of her fund-raising drive. His niece, Ms Cindy Tan, 33, who has ordered two jars of chilli paste out of appreciation, says: "She is such a kind and sensible girl for wanting to help my uncle with her own effort. Not many 10-year-olds can do this."

Phoebe intends to sell kaya next to raise funds for Mr Tan as she wants to "try something new".

She intends to publish a cookbook later this year. It will contain 20 recipes for local dishes such as nasi biryani and chicken rice, complete with her food paintings and photographs of her miniature clay food figurines.

Unsurprisingly, her ambition is to be a chef.

"I want to be a chef and run my own cafe as I enjoy turning raw ingredients into nice and creative food."

•For more information, go to, and go to

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline Meet the 10-year-old making sambal tumis for charity. Subscribe