It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life…

So this is it.

I’m out on my own. And this time, it’s all or nothing.

Several months ago, I decided to walk away from corporate life, not knowing what to do next. All I knew was I wanted my life back, I wanted to feel love and passion again for what I do, if I was going to invest anything from eight to 16 hours a day, day in day out for the rest of my natural life. I wanted to feel alive again, adrenaline coursing through my veins, be high and hyped up not just on caffeine and nicotine but on life and purpose; I wanted to wake up in the morning knowing I was doing something I loved fiercely and wanting to give it my all.

For the first few weeks, I slept all day and sat up all night, read all – well, some – of the books that had been gathering dust by my bedside, binge-watched old and new TV series. I occasionally met up with old friends who kept asking me that perennial question: “So, what’s next?” or “You found new job edy riiight? Tell laaa…” or “Waahhh… retire edy ah? So nice. Got so much money ah?”

I fobbed them off with vague answers. “No lah, just chilling for now, taking a break,” or shrugging it off with even vaguer “See lah, how.”

The truth was, I didn’t know. PR and agency work was no longer it. I had climbed to the top, run two agencies. And the view at the top? Wasn’t that great for me. Inhouse, where some PR people burnt out at agencies go to recover and retire? Nothing rocked my world. Another non-profit? I’ve already discovered a non-profit was not for me. What else is there? Back to writing? Journalism? Already left it for more than a decade. Outgrew it in some ways. Still love writing but let’s face it, at this age, the life of a semi-starving artist or being part of the urban poor was no longer it for me.

Oh, I tried to get my act together. A good friend suggested starting a business communications consultancy together. I nodded enthusiastically. Another friend suggested I work with him to wheel and deal in the commodities market. I agreed even more enthusiastically. The truth was, I came home flipped open the laptop and when I was supposed to be writing proposals, I was flipping through Facebook, aimlessly reading only the gods-know-what articles, generally just letting my mind vegetate and my brain atrophy, feeling empty, worn out and sort of like something even the cat wouldn’t even deign to look at, let alone drag in. I was idea-less. Blank. Not a good place to be.

But a girl has got to eat, right? So while aimlessly trawling through the interweb, I would come across articles on food and food trends. Figured, hey why not? Let’s just do what makes me feel alive. Let’s check out all the latest food trends in town. I discovered that discovering new things made me happy. Okay, that’s a good start. Thus was born #ProjectHappiness.

Then one day, at home with mum, who had made sambal udang kering, which I was snorting down, I asked if she had any kaya. She made a face, said: “No, and I haven’t made in a long time.”

Craving for kaya, I came home and whipped up a batch. It was therapeutic.

Went back to mum’s a few days later, she tasted it, and I came home and whipped up another batch, tweaking the recipe. It made me feel good.

Went back to mum’s, asked for the sambal udang kering recipe and she said: “Oh, finally you want to learn. Good also la, I won’t be here forever you know. Neither will your Ah Ee, and then who’s going to make the acar? And your Aunty Rose, she’s not not getting any younger either, so no more chili sumbat then because you young people don’t know how to make it. Lagipon, these dishes, makan masa. And you all got no patience.”

That got the wheels in my head turning. Like, perish the thought of anything happening to my mum or any of the other old biddies, but she’s right. They’re not going to live forever.

I got into a minor frenzy over the next few weeks, trying to recreate sambal udang kering, getting sambal belachan right, blending and reblending the sambal tumis for sambal sotong and sambal udang. And I flew into a minor panic, thinking, there are so many recipes, and so little time…

And all this while, my poor friends were showered with food, food and more food. Cooks will know, if you’re cooking, you ain’t gonna be eating much. Until one friend – the one who said let’s start the agency together – impatiently told me: “Joyce, your heart is not in starting Agency X. You’re more passionate about the food. Do SOMETHING with it.”

The penny dropped.

What WAS I doing? In not so many words, I had begun curating my culinary heritage. That heritage that I used to try and run away from. Yeah, that one. The heritage of a Peranakan female, making magic in the kitchen.

And that’s what I am now doing. So, dear friends, I bid you welcome into the kitchen of a Malaysian Nyonya (yeah, that would be me), the starting of a journey by a new entrepreneur (that would be me too) and say hello to the Straits Heritage Food Enterprise. The Facebook page will go live on Wednesday. I look forward to your support.


p/s: I’ve also decided to chronicle my journey in starting and growing Straits Heritage Foods and will be putting up the recipes here as well. I hope you will also follow me on this already exhilarating, definitely rewarding yet potentially terrifying road trip.

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