Hubert Burda Media

Reuben Ang: Doing Good with Food

Always be receptive to new things, says Ang, whose family-run Hesed & Emet Holdings now has a social initiative.

On the last day of Chinese New Year in February, Reuben Ang, managing director of Hesed & Emet Holdings, launched the social arm of his company — The Hesed Table. His cause? To create a sustainable difference through food.

Hesed & Emet, the parent company of catering firms Elsie’s Kitchen and Continental Delight, wants to minimise food wastage and better the quality of meals, particularly those for foreign workers. One of Ang’s initiatives includes convincing food suppliers to donate excess food, which will later be cooked and distributed by either his company or other volunteer parties.

“We are still in our infancy and we’re working closely with the Migrant Workers’ Centre to iron out the details. The launch of our social arm was a call for partnership and the response has been positive,” he shares. “It’s our way of giving back.”

Although Ang has helped out in the catering business since he was 10 — packing bento sets, delivering food and clearing tables at functions that the company catered — it was only three years ago that the now 29-year-old officially joined Hesed & Emet.

One of the first few things he did was to install a proper corporate management system, with the reporting line and scope of responsibilities for the team clearly outlined. “We are already in the third generation of the business and such a structure helps to avoid conflict,” says Ang, who works closely with his sister, Rachel, director of human resources, and cousin, Job Ang, director of food and beverage.

Next came the improvements to its central kitchen, including the purchase of an industrial rice cooker that could churn out 3,000 portions an hour. “This is especially effective when we are catering for big scale events, such as National Day, Southeast Asian Games and weddings. If we are to move forward, these are some of the things that need to be done,” Ang explains.

The affable managing director also believes in responding to prevalent food trends, such as the recent craze for salted egg yolk-flavoured dishes. “We try to incorporate it into our catering menu, as well as the menu at our food court Flavours. We do this while still keeping true to our heritage of local food,” he says of the company that started in 1956, managing camp canteens for the British Royal Air Force.

The next few years will be exciting times for the company, reveals Ang, whose team is exploring new market opportunities, including the setting up of food kiosks and the development of their own brand of cooking pastes and sauces.

Such continued efforts to grow the company is simply all in a day’s work for Ang. “I learnt by example. Growing up, I observed my father and his siblings working non-stop, with no medical leave and barely any rest days. They committed themselves to the business and that has rubbed off. After all, when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t really feel like work, does it?”

From our menu, I’d recommend you try…our Laksa, which is our signature dish at Elsie’s Kitchen. The recipe was passed down from my late aunt, Irene Ang. She compiled a list of recipes in an old notebook from dishes she learnt from my grandparents. 

The first dish I learnt to cook was…mashed potatoes, when I was three. I have been refining the recipe ever since, as my tastes have developed. As a child, I liked using butter and sugar, but I have now substituted them with confit garlic to make it healthier but still tasty.

The kitchen is…a playground. It’s a place where I like to experiment with new flavour combinations and create new dishes. I enjoy tweaking recipes and presenting classic dishes in innovative ways.

An important lesson life has taught me is…there’s no time like now. Having a sense of urgency is important to carry out your dreams. I put off the launch of The Hesed Table for many years as I thought my parents would not be receptive to the cause. But I took a leap of faith this year and I’m impressed by how much interest our initiative is generating.

Success is…about having big dreams. Starting with a clear vision in mind has helped me figure out how to achieve the goals in my life.