As those who have recently moved out of the family nest will no doubt attest, there is nothing better than a home-cooked dish lovingly made by your mother. This was precisely how Share Food co-founder Loo Pei Wen came to be missing the comforting herbal soups her mother used to make.
“My mum used to cook soup every single day for me, even during my secondary school days. She was a housewife then, and when she went out to work there was no more soup. It was something I missed the most,” recalls Loo.
Loo’s father is of Hakka descent. On special occasions, her mother would cook traditional Hakka cuisines such as Abacus soup and pig trotters braised in black vinegar.
But home-cooked food doesn’t just taste amazing and come loaded with nostalgia: it also tends to be healthier than dining out. As diners become more conscious about what they eat, they are driving a resurgence in the home chef movement.
Picking up on that trend, Loo and co-founder William Seow gave up their media executive jobs to get Share Food off the ground. In 2016 they launched an app that connects diners to home cooks.
With more than 10,000 downloads of the app to date, the pair is now focused on driving content and community around the Share Food website, particularly through mouth-watering videos of recipes from its contributors.
The site now boasts 300 recipes from 200 contributors, as well as 80,000 likes and followers from its social media pages.
Sharing their kitchen and making a side income
The platform aspires to be the go-to site for people all around the world who want tried-and-tested Asian home recipes.
Loo says a significant number of viewers are tuning in from Australia – most likely recent immigrants from Singapore and Malaysia who are missing food from home.
“We have just started using Pinterest, as there are a lot of Pinterest users in the United States. We have to keep improving the quality and distribution of content as well,” she continues.
About 85 percent of Share Food’s viewers are women aged 30 to 45. Most views come from Singapore, followed by Malaysia. Recipes are mostly hearty meals from Chinese, Peranakan, Malay or Indian cuisines, with the occasional dessert or festive cake thrown in.
“In terms of complexity of the recipes, we try to strike a balance. People are also curious about how traditional foods like soon kueh or ang ku kueh are made,” Loo says.
Share Food also empowers cooks to take ownership of their recipes. By making them publicly available, home chefs have to ensure that instructions are clear and easy to follow, such as through standardised measurements.
Some contributors to Share Food are already seeing the benefits, becoming almost mini-celebrities in the home cooking community. This can enable them to run a small food business out of their kitchen, and also encourages them to become hygiene-certified, take extra cooking classes and invest in semi-professional kitchen appliances.
Former human resources director Ann Leong is one such example. Famous for her traditional Chinese dishes such as claypot fragrant yam rice, she appeared alongside Loo at the Kranji Countryside Farmers’ Market to demonstrate her cooking prowess.
“We bring them to events they talk about their brand. We have the ability to help them bring in some income. And we hope to help more home cooks in Singapore with more collaborations with partners and through bigger events,” says Loo.
“They feel happy to share and for people to tell them that their food is very good and that they want more recipes.”
From handwritten recipes to a video demo
All contributed recipes are tested before they get immortalised into a cooking video. The videos are notable for their high production standards – watching them is guaranteed to make just about anyone hungry.
Loo’s favourite recipes are steamed tang kuei chicken (tang kuei is the Chinese name for a type of herb from the celery family) and black chicken herbal soup.
Both Loo and Seow had no video production skills before launching Share Food and have very much had to learn on the job.
“In the past when we did a production it used to be two hours, then four hours and even eight hours. It got longer because we were improving and we wanted to make our videos better. And that takes time,” she notes.
The pair took two years to hone their skills and nail down a production style. They then moved into a studio of their own and hired a team, becoming a full-fledged production house.
“We were marketing and salespeople and have never touched cameras before. So we asked help along the way. We researched on YouTube and started learning from others,” says Loo.
“We first started filming in an apartment corridor with a foldable table and basic lights. And then we moved to a place under the sun, which didn’t work due to the changing light conditions and wet weather.”
Share Food had some initial challenges soliciting recipes from home chefs. Loo and Seow spent many hours cold-calling and messaging individual chefs on social media to ask if they would like to be featured on the platform.
In some cases, recipes were being passed down through generations as family heirlooms. As a result, some housewives were reluctant to share their secrets.
“There were some home cooks who are proud of their recipes and don’t mind sharing. There are also those who think the recipes belong to them. The older folks want people to remember them for who they are instead of the food they cooked when they pass on. So they were not willing to share the recipe,” says Loo.
“We managed to convince them by letting them know that the recipes will be preserved through publishing them on the site. Their next generation can watch the videos, recreate the dish and remember them in the process.”