Social Enterprise

Innovative Cookery School Puts Mothers Back in Work

Singapore’s army of stay-at-home mums are being put back in the kitchen to share the secrets behind their tasty home-cooked food at an innovative cookery school that aims to help women return to the workplace.
Visiting media fellows from five countries enjoy first-hand cooking class experience at Food Playground. The activity is part of a study visit organized by Singapore International Foundation (SIF). Kiripost via SIF
Visiting media fellows from five countries enjoy first-hand cooking class experience at Food Playground. The activity is part of a study visit organized by Singapore International Foundation (SIF). Kiripost via SIF

When conjuring up images of a cooking school, many will think of a place headed by professional and starred chefs teaching cooking classes.

However, this innovative spot in Singapore is an exception. Food Playground is a cooking school with the social mission to help bring stay-at-home mums back to the workforce to teach tourists and corporate staff how to cook traditional Singaporean dishes.

Yih Yin Leow, a mother-of-three, is one of the culinary instructors at Food Playground. She says what sets the cooking school apart from most others in Singapore is instead of hiring trained chefs, Food Playground hires ladies like herself who are not professionally trained chefs, but who ‘do a lot of cooking at home’.

Stay-at-home mums are given flexibility with regard to time and the hours they want to work at the cooking school. The rest of the day, they can take care of their children at home, she adds.

“For some mums who find it a bit challenging to get back to the workforce, I think Food Playground gives a good platform for us to ease ourselves back to a working life,” says Yih Yin, who was a Business Process Analyst in the IT industry before she decided to quit her corporate career to pursue interests in home and family wellness.

Another culinary instructor, Terasa, is a mum of a daughter, 20, and son, 17.

Teresa left the workforce for 16 years to dedicate herself to the family and taking care of the children. When her kids are independent, she wants to get back to a working life.

“I stopped working for 16 years, and after 16 years, I now decide to come back to work, and then Food Playground [does] not need us to be professional chefs,” Teresa says.

Located in the heart of the Southeast Asian city-state’s Chinatown, Food Playground was founded in 2012 as a social enterprise by Singaporean Daniel Tan. His aspiration to set up the social enterprise was inspired by his travels across South America and Southeast Asia in 2011, during which he learned how to cook Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and a variety of Latin American cuisine.

Through these extensive travel experiences, Daniel discovered cooking classes help him understand a country’s culture by connecting with locals and appreciating the stories behind local heritage food.

Through its cultural cooking class, Food Playground offers an immersive cultural experience for tourists and expats to learn and cook Singapore’s heritage food to generate income to sustain operations. It also runs customized team-building programs for companies and organizations to achieve various institutional objectives.

At Food Playground, in addition to home cooks who are mostly mums, active seniors and grandmas are offered a space in the workplace as well.

Inside the cooking studio at Food Playground, Kiripost’s journalist was among a total of 21 media representatives from Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and India to enjoy first-hand the cooking class experience. This formed part of a study tour to Singapore organized by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) as part of the 2022 Impact Media Fellowship Program.

The journalists were broken into three groups of seven, and one culinary instructor was assigned to each group. The class was taught how to cook Singapore’s heritage dish Laksa, spring rolls and dessert. The journalists took different roles and helped one another to cook under the supervision of their assigned culinary instructors. At the end all journalists sampled the fruits of their labor.