Singapore's 'hooligan cook' offers free meals for needy during virus lockdown
By Joseph Campbell
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - As food stalls around him have closed during the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore, 28-year-old cook Jason Chua has vowed to stay open for the many that now depend on him.
The tattoo-covered, former boxer has been serving up dozens of free meals for those in need since early April, when the city-state imposed a lockdown aimed at curbing virus cases now among the highest in Asia.
Known as "Beng Who Cooks", beng being Singaporean slang for hooligan, Chua said that the pandemic has not been great for business although he is getting by.
"Yes, we are losing, we are not exactly taking salary for a few months already, but we still do maybe 10 to 25 orders per day for our business side, so that we can still sustain ourselves throughout this period of time," said Chua.
He was inspired to start giving out free meals after a close friend described his experience of buying food for a homeless man. Now he's making about 50-60 free meals a day through a foundation, "Beng Who Cares," co-run by his friend Sean Hung.
Singapore is facing the deepest recession in its 55-year history, compounded by a lockdown due to last until June 1 that has forced many businesses to close.
Authorities have also warned that unemployment will likely rise due to these strict containment measures and an uncertain economic outlook.
Those requesting free meals, mainly low income families, contact the foundation online via their Instagram or Facebook pages to arrange home delivery or collect in person.
Chua said the foundation refuses to accept donations since they believe it "isn't right" for people to give during current times of economic hardship, but there have been a few "forceful" donors of cash, oil and rice.
Although it's hard work, Chua, a self-described adrenaline junkie, said his biggest motivation is to hear praise from anyone who enjoys his food.
"Surprisingly, the feedback is amazing…It motivates you. I crave a lot of praises, and those praises are what is pushing me and motivating me to do what I really love," he said.
(Reporting by Joseph Campbell; Editing by John Geddie and Michael Perry)