A handful of years ago, the foodie gossip du jour revolved around how many young people were eschewing their parents' career preferences of architecture, say, or medicine, and opting instead for the rather less predictable path of launching a career in food. Fast forward to present day Malaysia, and a handful of these 'foodpreneurs' are once again at it, this time incorporating charity into their corporate raison d'etre. From outright charitable donations being built into their company DNA, to launching initiatives to train underprivileged youth, these are heady times for the culinary landscape as these enterprising individuals lead by example and show that not merely is a career in food a more than propitious choice, it can also include a philanthropic element that will provide their brand with an enduring legacy for years to come.
Arguably one of the first to lead the pack in the charitable charge, bakedkl.com has been pledging 10% of their sales since 2013 to a trove of charities that change annually and have included Persatuan Dyslexia Malaysia, Malaysian Nature Society, the Agathian Shelter for Boys, and Women's Aid Organisation. The premise is simple: order their baked products and you will in turn do good without having to lift a finger. It's a concept that has been tremendously successful since companies like Body Shop first spearheaded it, and that's thanks to the feel-good factor being an arm-chair philanthropist invokes.
But it's the duo who are taking it to the next level on whom we should be focusing. Basira Yeusuff of Root Cellar KL and Ili Sulaiman of Dish by Ili—two friends with an uncanny resemblance to two disparate pieces of a jigsaw that, together, somehow fit perfectly—had been wanting to collaborate for years, but Ili's home-cooked Malay comfort cuisine and Basira's "outside the box" progressive cuisine didn't make for natural companions. Enter Agak Agak. Named for the Malay 'give or take' sensibility of cooking, Agak Agak follows in the footsteps of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, where disadvantaged youth are given a new lease to life with a career in the kitchen. Agak Agak however goes one step further. "Because we've been involved in every step of the industry, from marketing and manufacturing, to packaging and logistics, we felt it made sense to equip our participants not just with cooking skills but everything else related to it, so that they would have a greater range of career choices when they left the program," says Ili.
Ergo, the impending launch on June 7th at Paper Plates of Agak Agak won't just see the serving of wholesome Malaysian food with a twist at the eatery. The pair have given themselves the challenge of raising RM100,000 in 30 days via crowdfunding on pitchin.my to raise funds for the infrastructure of the training programme that expects to introduce its inaugural batch of apprentices in January next year.
It's nothing less than you would expect from a plucky pair who have separately carved laudable careers for themselves. Apart from her catering business, Ili won Food Network Asia's Food Hero contest and is about to start shooting her TV show, while Basira has raised the bar for everything from underground breakfast clubs, to cakes and sandwiches.
Tomorrow on BFM (89.9fm) on my Feeding Time with Fay show, you can hear them speak more about this ambitious but entirely realisable project, but the cathartic value of donating to a worthy cause cannot be understated, so I urge you to follow suit and pledge a sum that you are comfortable with. I'll be doing it as soon as I sign off this column. Won't you follow me?