The deal behind the meal: An inclusive partnership between MINDS and Holiday Inn

The MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards 2019 on 1st November was a celebration of the extraordinary, and the occasion was matched by a 4-course dinner with a difference.

MSF brought together students from two MINDS schools and Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre to curate and prepare a meal for 400 guests. For the students aged between 16 and 18, this was their first experience in a professional kitchen setting.

As MINDS’ Woodlands Gardens School teacher Mdm Vijeya Maniam and MINDS’ Towner Gardens School teacher Ms Chan Mei Ling noted, the kitchens in their respective schools are akin to those found in homes and do not have industrial-grade equipment.

“When I first saw Holiday Inn’s kitchen, I was worried for the students but they coped and performed so well,” said Mdm Vijeya.

This was in part because of the careful guidance and mentorship of Executive Chef Bobby Saravanan from Holiday Inn, who conducted thorough training sessions with the students on topics like grooming and hygiene.

He also ensured that students had a say in the brainstorming, naming, preparation and the cooking of dishes. “Each kitchen assistant is talented in his or her own way and has something to bring to the table,” he said.

“Our job is to ensure we provide them with the necessary support so that their hidden talents can shine through.”

One student told Ms Chan that he was nervous about cutting ingredients to the specific dimensions required. He overcame his nerves by paying careful attention to instructions and watching the demonstrations closely.

Another student said he was initially overwhelmed by the need to multi-task in the kitchen. To keep up with the fast working pace, he checked frequently with Executive Chef Bobby to ensure he was completing his tasks correctly.

Both teachers noted that the students were excited to have their kitchen assistant uniforms fitted and to be working under the close guidance of a professional chef from the hotel industry.

The uniforms made the students proud to be part of a team, they said.

Ms Chan commended Executive Chef Bobby for being patient and kind towards the students. She noted that he had customised the tasks for the students to cater to their abilities.

She hopes that more employers would also be willing to design and tailor jobs to match the skills of persons with intellectual disabilities (PWID). This would help them to optimise their work performance.

Executive Chef Bobby, too, urged the food and beverage, and hospitality industries to give PWIDs opportunities to develop their full potential “to become the culinary leaders of tomorrow”.

Mdm Vijeya said that MINDS has been teaching students relevant and in-demand skills such as inventory management and housekeeping to help them find jobs in supermarkets and hotels. The teachers also work closely with the students’ families.

“I see our students grow whenever we encourage them to step out of their comfort zones in employment or attachments,” Ms Chan said.

Cooking for an event like the MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards, Mdm Vijeya and Ms Chan agreed, is an experience that cannot be replicated by mere training in school.

Check out the exclusive behind-the-scenes video and find out more about the winners of the MSF Volunteer and Partner Awards here