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Cooking up inspiration from Sara’s kitchen

When the Movement Control Order was imposed in March, food enthusiast and cookbooks writer Sara Khong and her mother Annie decided to contribute in whatever way to their friends who worked in the frontline.

So doing what they do best – to churn out delicious meals – they decided to cook and pack meals to be sent to a group of these frontliners at the Hospital UKM. But what this effort had stirred up was not just meals for 15 health workers for 35 days, it got infectious and soon some of Sara’s followers in different parts of the world were doing the same.

Magic, so to say, came out of the kitchen of Sara’s cooking school New Malaysia Kitchen and project #nourishMYmedics continued to inspire others to do their bit to help in the crisis. Here’s Sara’s story.

What was the toughest challenge in this exercise?

I think the toughest was logistics as during the MCO we couldn’t simply go out to buy stuff and the delivery booking slots at supermarkets were full.

Sara's edible garden

 We needed to ensure that we had continuous supply of fresh food to be delivered. Finding reliable grocers to deliver to my home quickly, having enough boxes to pack the food, even ensuring that we have enough gas for cooking were new problems we had not encountered  before.

Why did you decide on this project especially when you knew you couldn’t provide for many people?

Actually I didn’t think much about it. I was feeling helpless during this pandemic but I believed that I could do something – no matter how small – with what I know, and what I had.

So I contacted some of my friends who are healthcare workers. I started buying them some GRAB food vouchers to encourage them to eat better. Then one of them requested for homemade lunch. 

It started with just 3 boxes of food using groceries and containers I had in my kitchen. Then my friends and relatives started to send groceries and funds for deliveries to sustain this exercise longer than expected.

Did you and mom feel daunted as the MCO got extended time after time and seemed unending? And despite, your lunch packages remained presentable and an effort of love.

My mum was feeling very upset actually with the extension. She used to wake up in the morning and go to the park to exercise with her friends, do marketing, and then have brunch. I think doing this project, and contributing to easing the pandemic, though tiring for a 60+ year old woman, made her feel better.

My best friend knew that it was a lot of work and sent over some delicious Chang (glutinous rice packets) and homemade bread. That lifted her spirits. 

For me, I was also feeling rather down. I missed the lifestyle before Covid19. But then being in contact with these doctors who are unable to go home to their spouse and baby put things into perspective.

Sara's mum, Annie

Did you have sponsors and how did you manage to buy so much food for preparing the meals?

Firstly, my kitchen is huge. I run a cooking school ‘New Malaysian Kitchen’ from home  so I already have heaps of food like rice and spices. My family is used to stocking up a lot of food. Even before the pandemic, I think food at home can last us at least one month! 

But cooking everyday, for 35 days, for about 15 people adds up. Food runs out quickly. But friends kept sending groceries and funds that covered deliveries. Otherwise it would have been impossible to cook these super healthy lunches for 5 weeks back-to-back.

Besides cooking, I was thinking of how to stretch the funds. At this time friends still donated their hard-earned money and I felt a responsibility to use it wisely. So I also contacted people in the food industry that I’ve worked with and got some donations e.g brown rice and olive oil.

What did you want to achieve besides providing the meals?

I didn’t think much about it. I just wanted to do something at the beginning. Soon, I realise that it had a ripple effect. My friend in New York City who is sheltering in a place also made some lunch for her neighbour, a healthcare worker.

My student from the Philippines who is running a fine dining restaurant too started making deliveries almost daily (including nasi lemak that she learned from my cooking school) to a hospital.

I hope that #nourishmymedics project would inspire others to do the same. Though we are just an individual or with another friend, we are able to feed one (or more) healthcare worker with something healthy.

Tell us more about what kept you and mum going?

I think it was a sense of responsibility. We didn’t think we would and could cook for 35 days non-stop. But friends and relatives kept asking what we needed. They delivered food and donated money. We always had enough to cook for one more week. One week led to another. Then it was 5! 

Packed lunch

We really believed that MCO could end on the 28th April. But it didn’t and that’s when our stamina too ran out. So we’re taking a break now but we’re going to continue to help out in little ways that we can e.g donating food and cooking occasionally for our friends who are healthcare workers still.

For more on Sara’s work and writings, and