A Chef with the heart to serve. This is the story of Elvin Chew, a commitee member of the Singapore Chefs’ Association (SCA), partner of the Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) that imparts basic culinary skillsets to inmates so that they can support themselves out of prison.
“When I first did Dining Behind Bars (DBB), I was faced with cool exteriors from the inmates – which suggested to me that they were either shy, or unable to express themselves properly. But when it came to the second time, they were all vying for my attention,” Elvin recalls with a chuckle.
At first glance, nothing about him seems out of the ordinary. To a person who has just met him, he resembles your typical run-of-the-mill executive chef who is passionate about food. Just like any other person whose job revolves around the kitchen.
However what many do not realise is, that beneath the surface level, he is also part of an organisation that is dedicated to training inmates with the relevant skillsets. Ones that able them to kickstart their careers with a sense of fulfillment upon release from prison.
Elvin is a good chef, yes. But what makes him great, is his giving nature. And his heart to continually serve the ex-offenders’ community.
As a committee spokesperson for SCA, he has contributed for most of the 7 years in the partnership between the two organisations. And with a wide range of experience in leading a team of chefs at DBB, giving career talks, and even initiating culinary competitions among inmates, he understands this group of people well. In particular, he is aware of the challenges faced as soon as they are released from prison into society. As such, he does his best to ensure ex-offenders adapt to every day life.
It is also easy to assume that once you are out of prison, it would mean total freedom to live your best.
But when it comes to an ex-offenders’ life, the odds are usually stacked against their favour. For them, it is an immense struggle to rebuild society’s trust and return to every day life.
While Elvin is able to provide assistance to ensure they are equipped with the necessary skillsets for them to land a job, there is definitely an adjustment period for ex-offenders to break through in order to gain acceptance from the outside world.
“When I host events such as culinary competitions, inmates get the opportunity to interact with people from the outside, where they learn the world has changed drastically – becoming a very different one than what they were originally used to”, he says.
He adds, “because of that, most ex-offenders are held captive in frequent moments of self-doubt, and more often than not, feel it is easier to return to prison. The prison environment has been what they have known for a pretty long time.”
Elvin has a duty to ensure that the ones deployed to him are properly mentored. Backing them with the right support so they will not go back to their old ways.
“When they are attached to me, I do not see them as an ex-offender in the way I treat them, but I also go the extra mile to guide them so they are able to get back up on their feet and work towards reintegrating into society ”, he says.
And he has.
Recalling a time when he offered an ex-offender some unsolicited advice, he said “there was an ex-offender deployed to me for with no intention of becoming a chef. But I told him to accept the first offer that comes his way and run with it to work towards being financial stable first, and then consider the option of pursuing his dreams.”
That piece of advice went a long way with the ex-offender. And under Elvin’s mentorship, the ex-offender not only thrived in his 9 month stint, but also managed to successfully graduate in a part-time course of his choice.
When asked about his time as a partner of Yellow Ribbon Project, he says
“We have made some improvements as a first step for inmates to be trained to prepare them for their release. I know of some companies who are partnering with YRP and that’s hopeful, but I do think more can be done to ex-offenders become an integral part of society again. We all need to step up to bridge that gap!”