GOURMET Guru is serving up help to low-income homeowners, one cooking class at a time.
The cooking academy is a social enterprise that allows these women to make money by teaching cooking classes and imparting their family recipes of traditional dishes to keen students.
Gourmet Guru started operations in June last year with the help of a group of 20 students from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in the Sife (Students in free enterprise) club, and currently has six low-income homemakers as teachers at their cooking classes.
Instructors earn $100 for every three-hour cooking class taught, inclusive of any ingredients they might need. On average, the academy sees about eight students, who pay $25 each, at their public classes held every Saturday.
The social enterprise is the brainchild of Diana Yusoff, 24, an accountancy major at the Nanyang Business School. The idea for the business stemmed from a desire to be her own boss.
"I did a minor in entrepreneurship, so I was keen on starting up my own business," she said. "Then I saw my aunt struggling to make ends meet with a meagre pay of $400 as a librarian. She wasn't doing what she was good at, which was cooking."
Ms Yusoff said she conceived the idea of cooking classes in 2010 but took about one year to "grow the idea and make it executable". Together with others from the Sife club, they consulted faculty advisers, approached relatives and compiled a contact list.
Finally, they were connected to the Western branch of Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS), a Muslim foundation that helps the Malay community through various initiatives. According to Ms Yusoff, the team discovered that PPIS offered a H.O.M.E programme that imparted skills in cooking, foot reflexology and handicraft to their beneficiaries.
However, she also noted that the women who graduated from these courses were still unable to become financially independent as they had trouble finding a platform that allowed them to use the culinary skills they picked up.
A collaboration was then struck between Gourmet Guru and PPIS. While the PPIS taught the women cooking skills, Gourmet Guru would add value by providing business skills like budgeting and presentation as well as on-the-job training.
"We have a professional chef, Catherina Hosoi, who is experienced and has her own radio cooking programme. She volunteers with us to train our instructors free of charge," said Ms Yusoff.
To reduce costs, Gourmet Guru makes use of an "underutilised kitchen" at PPIS (West) for public cooking classes. The kitchen is rented to the academy at a discounted rate.
Dishes taught at these cooking classes include traditional Malay cuisine like nasi lemak, mee siam and lontong and also desserts like lapis nyonya and kueh dadar. Western dishes such as spaghetti, pizza and cheesecake are also taught during the class.
Ms Yusoff said: "All these recipes have been handed down to our instructors from their grandmothers, so we are also able to preserve their traditional cuisine."
Participants who attend these cooking classes are varied and come from different walks of life, including expatriates, young children who are sponsored by charities and women between 40 and 50 years old who enjoy Malay food. To date, some 200 individuals have attended the Saturday classes at the academy.
Since it started operations, Gourmet Guru has received a one-time grant of $500 from NTU's Student Affairs Office. All meetings are also held on campus, which means the team does not have to fork out money for rental of office space.
Gourmet Guru also emerged winner for the Social Enterprise (Youth) category and runner-up for the Youth category at the 13th Start-up@Singapore last month, winning itself a total of $6,000.
With the prize money, Gourmet Guru hopes to be able to scale up to help more low-income homemakers. The team said they are currently in talks with other organisations, such as the Family Service Centres and Mendaki, to reach out to more people.
"We also hope to be able to increase the number of teachers we have, from our current six, to another 10 more teachers of the same background," Ms Yusoff said.
The academy has also earned about $20,000 in revenue in nine months. But what makes this social enterprise different from others is that the profits do not go to its founders. Instead, all profits are ploughed back into the academy to help it grow and expand.
"At the moment, our team is focusing on the social impact so we don't get any salary," said Tan Hui Ming, president of NTU Sife. "Hopefully we will (get paid) in the future when business takes off further."
As part of Sife, Gourmet Guru also shares its motto of "A head for business, a heart for the world". Ms Yusoff says this is the main reason why the academy would continue to remain a social enterprise in the foreseeable future.
"As a social enterprise, not only would you be able to do something you are passionate about, but you also get backing from many people," Ms Yusoff said.
For the team, Gourmet Guru's status as a social enterprise is a win-win situation that would benefit everyone. Not only would they be able to make an impact socially, but they would also "feel good" when engaging with their beneficiaries.
Ms Yusoff advises young entrepreneurs not to hesitate too long before embarking on a project.
"Entrepreneurs should have the courage to try, or else they would never get it done. Looking back, I realised I spent too much time deliberating," she said. "Don't think so much about the business concept. Just go out and talk to people."