In this episode, Ragnar talks with renowned Chef Willment Leong, Vice President of Thailand Chefs Association, founder of the Thailand Culinary Academy, and judge on Top Chef Thailand. A native Singaporean, Willment has been based in Thailand for the past 20 years. At home and around the world, he’s searching for ways to give back to society.
As Chairman of World Chefs Without Borders (WCWB), a global humanitarian aid initiative by Worldchefs, Willment is driven by a collective mission to help support those in need and afflicted by natural disasters.
Since 2010, he founded the Thailand Culinary Academy, a non-profit organization committed to developing the skills of Thai chefs through training, competitions, and humanitarian efforts.
In June 2011, heavy monsoon rains drenched Southeast Asia causing mudslides and widespread flooding along the Mekong River. Thailand experienced the worst floods in half a century, with many people lacking access to food and clean water.
On the ground with WCWB relief efforts, he was so inspired by what he saw. He witnessed huge generosity and selflessness among those most hard struck by the disaster: “This family, they have nothing. They are poor. But yet they are still willing to share with others. People like us, who have enough to spend, enough to survive, we should not just sit there and watch. We should do something.” This defining moment has continued to inspire him through years of humanitarian work with WCWB.
Now amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he and the Thailand Chefs Association have a new initiative to share what they have, including a model to both employ out of work chefs and feed those in need. Together with the Thailand Culinary Academy, they organized CHEFHUG, a cook-off delivering 40,000 meals to 50 districts in Bangkok. Each day 4,000 portions of rice boxes were delivered to 5 districts.
To accomplish this, a staff of 850 temporary staff were hired, creating temporary income for cooks, packing and distribution teams, and taxi drivers, as well as supporting the small wet market sellers and small foodservice suppliers. The goal: provide hot meals to the hungry and create short term employment for people whose income was affected by the COVID-19 lockdown.
The next global event for World Chefs Without Borders will be held in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Supported by the Cambodia Chefs Association and endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism Cambodia, 100 chef volunteers from around the world will travel to Siem Reap to provide food relief and raise funds for a donation to Siem Reap Children’s Hospital.
The event has been postponed due to coronavirus, for the safety of both volunteers and the local community: “I have to ensure that they have no worries about traveling and personally they are safe in order to help others.”
Willment’s advice: Start in your own home. No action is too small. Make a meal for a neighbor in need, if you can. Survive first. Then give what you can.
Show us what you are doing to support your community. Use the hashtag #WCWBrecovery and inspire others to share what they can.
To learn more about World Chefs Without Borders and to donate or get involved, visit www.worldchefswithoutborders.org.
For more information on the CHEFHUG project, click here. You can also find an article on CHEFHUG published by Reuters here. If your national association or organization would like to replicate the program in your community, you can contact Willment for guidance at email@example.com.
Hear more from Willment in his address at Worldchefs Congress & Expo 2018, viewable on Worldchefs TV here.
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