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Making a Difference
2 Apr 2011, Kechara Soup Kitchen
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The streets of Kuala Lumpur are constantly buzzing with all sorts of activity, and never more so than on a Saturday night. The sound of disco beats pump from nearby clubs, tired workers gather to catch up with friends and hungry people crowd the outdoor restaurants for a bite to eat.

There’s so much to do that it might come as a surprise to spot a large group of people meeting near Bukit Bintang to spend their night at a soup kitchen. The Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK), despite being formed only four years ago, sees a huge number of volunteers giving up their precious Saturday nights to help distribute food to the homeless. In order to recognise and support this fantastic service, the 2010 Malaysia International Gourmet Festival (MIGF) decided to get its Master Chefs involved and make a difference to the city’s poor.

Hilton Kuala Lumpur Sets the Standard
The first of these excellent charity events saw the KSK volunteers and committee members welcoming food parcels and assistance from one of the capital’s leading hotels: the Hilton Kuala Lumpur. On the night in question, food was prepared and packed in the 5-Star kitchens of the Hilton before the Master Chefs themselves - Chef Michael Elfwing, Chef Chandra Arunasalam and Chef Lam Hock Hin – welcomed by Festival Organising Chairman Dato’ Steve Day – stopped by to chat to the homeless and to hand out the food in their chef whites.

For the MIGF Master Chefs, it was a truly inspiring experience, and a stark contrast from the gourmet meals that formed part of the annual Malaysia International Gourmet Festival, which celebrated its tenth year in 2010. “This is a very humbling experience,” Chef Elfwing admitted as the people queued up to receive their food. “It offers a very different perspective on food. “I do a bit of charity work and it’s nice to support a local charity. Anything you can see and give is always better than cash – you can see where your support is going to and that really matters.” Chef Chandra was equally moved by the experience, especially by the spirit of the volunteers.

“Everyone is so happy! It’s nice to come and learn about this place, now we can make other people realise what it’s about.” Raising awareness was also a big consideration for Chef Lam. “This is a new experience for me and it’s very good. More people should know about this good service!” The volunteers were delighted with the 5-star help and over 500 food parcels disappeared into the night.

Mandarin Oriental gets Cooking
On the second of these MIGF charity evenings, the Master Chefs from the Mandarin Oriental left their luxury establishment to join the team at Kechara. Chef Bong Jun Choi, Chef Marcel Kofler, Chef Rahman and the hotel’s Food & Beverage Director Bastian Breuer arrived with lots of enthusiasm and food prepared in the hotel kitchens!

“I’ve done some small scale charity work before but this is a completely new experience for me,” beamed Chef Bong. “It’s a great opportunity for me to learn more about this organisation and to help out in the best way that I can.” “As a chef, the best way for me to help those less fortunate is to give them food,” agreed Chef Kofler. The happy and ever-smiling Chef Rahman marvelled at what was a new experience for him, but one that he enjoyed. “I like this, the atmosphere here is so full of happiness and togetherness. What a wonderful place.”

The wonder of the organisation is the passion that radiates from the volunteers. “Do you see that man?” Wong, the head of security at KSK, asked, pointing out an older gentleman in a KSK t-shirt. “That is Uncle Ng.” Something of a legend for the KSK, Uncle Ng lived on the streets for 14 years and survived thanks to the help offered by the KSK, eventually offering his services as a volunteer. “We tried to pay him for the work he does but he refused,” says Wong. The KSK managed to persuade him to accept food and lodgings as part of his job.

But the truth of what Uncle Ng receives is far more important than shelter and food. “It gives him a sense of belonging,” Wong adds. Both evenings proved to be an inspiring and humbling experience for all present and a wonderful addition to the 10th edition of Malaysia International Gourmet Festival.

Helping words
The Kechara Soup Kitchen relies on word of mouth to ensure that the homeless people know when and where to get their food, and with so much support needed from volunteers, spreading the word about the KSK is hugely important in helping the service thrive.