It has been nine months since COVID-19 came and changed the way the world moves. For Pastor Yong Te-Chong, City Harvest’s Hospitality Pastor, this was a great opportunity to share his love and skills for cooking—electronically.
“When COVID started in mid-February this year, a lot of our church activities were stalled,” says Pastor Yong Te-Chong, who, as CHC’s hospitality pastor, oversees care for the guests and pastors who visit CHC, and who frequent the guest rooms on weekends and during special visits. “For the Hospitality Department, naturally, Jo (hospitality executive Joanna Yap) and me stopped having guest speakers and weekend duties.”
On a normal weekend before COVID, the Hospitality Department is abuzz with activity: the hospitality staff and their well-trained volunteers greet guests and ensure their comfort, offer them small bites and drinks. And then there’s preparation of hors d’oeuvres, fruit salads, teas of every persuasion, at times, even full multi-course meals.
But once borders closed between countries, the Hospitality Department found itself with time on its hands. “What I miss most is people, people, people,” says Pastor Yong. “Serving the people. Laughing with them. Seeing the guests in the guestrooms satisfied with our acts of service. Even running last minutes errands.”
It didn’t take long before Pastor Yong found a new way to bless the body of Christ. “The idea of Cook ‘N’ Connect was birthed out of my devotional time, sometime in March,” he says. “The initial plan was to visit members’ homes and teach them to cook simple dishes, while fellowshipping and connecting with them.”
Pastor Yong and Joanna would like to see more people cook for themselves. “It’s our desire to see more people pluck up the courage to turn on their stove, use the wok, and feel the pleasure of actually cooking a successful basic dish,” explains Pastor Yong. “Jo and I aimed to flame the fire of the love for cooking. Eating out or ordering food can be very costly if it’s a daily habit. With the same amount of money —or even half—you can buy quality ingredients and cook a very satisfying meal.”
The Circuit Breaker began in early April, putting paid to the idea of meeting members to teach them cooking. That’s when Pastor Yong explored taking the lessons online. Cook ‘N’ Connect with members began late March, while a special weekly CNC session with the church staff began in mid-April.
“I have a small pool of Instagram followers would comment and ask for recipes for the dishes that I post,” explains Pastor Yong. “So I started by asking these regulars ‘commentors’ if they wished, I would be most delighted to walk them through the steps and teach them basic cooking skills. There was uncertainty on both our sides as to how to do it on Zoom, nevertheless we pressed on. The feedback that followed was very encouraging, and we got more confident at asking church members, especially those who are our Instagram followers.”
The idea of Cook ‘N’ Connect inspired Cardio ‘N’ Connect, a gathering of church staff members every weekday morning for an hour-long exercise session. “This immediately gave me the idea to extend our cooking session to the staff,” shares Pastor Yong.
The staff CNC was an exercise in personal growth. Each week as the staff met online to learn new recipes and cooking methods, Pastor Yong and Joanna took note of how much they had improved from week to week. “My dishes are localised and personalised, while Joanna’s dishes lean more towards Korean food—her passion—and Vietnamese food,” describes Pastor Yong. “We would discuss how much the staff had improved and whether the dishes suited their level or not.”
Some of the most popular dishes the duo taught included Lu Rou Fan (braised pork), Char Siew, Claypot Chicken Rice, Beef Stew and Andong Braised Chicken (Andong Jjimjak).
“The Taiwanese Lu Rou Fan was quite widely embraced,” the pastor notes. “I did a session of that with one cell group–that was insane and funny, yet so satisfying to see their families enjoy the dish.”
Conducting a cooking class online takes some getting used to. “Most sessions were conducted one on one, up to a maximum of 10 persons,” says Pastor Yong. “Jo and I realized that, actually, any group above eight persons meant pandemonium on Zoom! Imagine looking at a screen of nine people, each one asking or shouting or raising their voice about their cooking predicament all at the same time!”
Now that Singapore is in its Phase 2 of reopening, CNC is on hiatus, although Pastor Yong is ready to help anyone who asks for it. “Most of those who cooked on Zoom with me follow me on Instagram—I even helped one non-church member, a Mexican! What fun!”
Pastor Yong is now busy serving the church through worship-leading and pastoral work, connecting with Taiwan church leaders, members and his ministry volunteers. “I take the opportunity to encourage a small group of Taiwan Church leaders and pastors, through Zoom devotions and meetings. I also spend time preparing future sermons when missions resume.”
Keen to learn how to prepare these dishes and more? Subscribe to Pastor Yong’s YouTube channel, @HappyCookYong, where he shows you how to do it, step by step!
FROM NOOB TO COOK
Some of Pastor Yong’s disciples were complete newcomers to the kitchen when they first began learning to cook through Cook ‘N’ Connect. CHC worship leader Amos Ang was one such person.
Danielle Ho, who heads City TV and also oversees the church’s social media, struck on the brilliant idea of conducting an Instagram Live session where Pastor Yong would teach Amos to make an omelette. The humble omelette is, in fact, one of the most difficult dishes to make well.
The session was a 90-minute journey where a captive audience watched Amos copy Pastor Yong’s moves: cracking the eggs, chopping the garlic and other ingredients, and then frying and flipping the omelette.
“Before that session I had never cooked a dish, except Maggi Mee with egg,” admits Amos. “It was also the first time doing IG Live for Pastor Yong and myself, but I said yes because it’s not every day you get to cook with a Reverend!”
Pastor Yong laughs, “Yes, that was my first IG Live. We died a thousand fun deaths live! Amos’ cutting of carrots occupied 20 minutes of the live session!”
Being a newbie, Amos was felled by the number of ingredients he needed to buy for a “simple” omelette. “But I chose the omelette because it’s something I can cook every day,” he explains. “I never knew there were so many ways to cut carrots, and smash garlic—it was an eye-opener! You smash the garlic and the skin comes off!”
It may have been long but it was thoroughly entertaining. “We had such a fun and engaging session,” recalls the pastor. “Amos was ridiculously willing to learn and just so teachable. He is an amazing guy, with a humble attitude, and 100 percent effort in his cooking. His egg flip was epic!” The first flip didn’t quite make it back in the pan, but Amos simply went on to try again, and perfected it the second time.
That marked the beginning of the master-student relationship. “Amos became more confident in the kitchen,” says Pastor Yong proudly. “We did one more Zoom CNC, where he learned to make Braised Chicken with Dark Soy-Sauce Egg.”
Amos shares that over the following few weeks after that first session, he also learned to make chap chye and aglio olio from the Reverend.
Now, Amos, who recently celebrated his first year anniversary with his wife Seow Ting, is a regular and confident cook at home. “My wife is very busy, so it was a good time for me to pick up cooking and surprise her,” he says. “It’s my way of showing love.”
His braised chicken has even won fans. “My mother-in-law came over for dinner, and she said ‘Now this is your classic dish—you just cook this!’” He has also been cooking for (and impressing) his zone pastor and his wife.
Amos shares that the experience of cooking with Pastor Yong has given him a deeper appreciation of the pastor. His previous encounters with Pastor Yong were during worship sessions, as both gentlemen are worship leaders.
“Offstage, he would call and give me advice on worship leading,” says Amos. “But now, connecting with him through cooking, that gives you a big picture of why he worships like he does. It’s in the way he prepares, how patient he is—he is so good because he prepares. He is tender and gentle in his manner, and it shows in his worship leading.”
Amos shares three things he has learned since cooking with Pastor Yong: “One, patience. Two, preparation. Three, fire makes things good. It’s like our spiritual life and journey with God. Sometimes you want to avoid the fire, but let’s take braised chicken for example: the longer you simmer, the better it tastes, the richer it tastes. That’s my revelation from this experience: fire makes things better.”