S'porean hawker-chef, 30, on why he doesn't accept donations for charitable cause

GDLL: The chef shared with us the reality of giving back and why he strongly believes in helping Singapore youths.

Fasiha Nazren | December 11, 2022, 10:35 PM

GDLL stands for Give, Donate, Laugh, Love. Trust us, we know how that sounds.

With the amount of  "Who cares?" in our comments sections, we thought, “Hey, we know people who do.”

For every weekend during this festive period, we are featuring local personalities who care, and the ways they do so.

If you scroll through TikTok a lot, you probably would have chanced upon Jason Chua, also known as the @bengwhocooks, on your FYP (For You Page).

The self-professed "ah beng" and chef occasionally shares food recipes in a mishmash of English, Hokkien and Mandarin, sometimes peppered with expletives and his humorous candour.

@bengwhocooksOne pot wonder♬ original sound - BengWhoCooks

This online persona is not a front, though. It is just Chua in his natural element.

Beng through and through

When the 30-year-old visited the Mothership office, he was dressed in a white t-shirt and dinosaur print shorts—a matching pair with his infant son, he told us proudly.

Photo by Fasiha Nazren.

It was our first time meeting after some back-and-forth on WhatsApp, but it felt like catching up with an old friend as Chua cracked jokes between conversations.

But he wasn't here to talk about fatherhood or his TikTok videos. He was here to share about the Beng Who Cares Foundation.

Started since circuit breaker

Here's a little context.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic started, Chua was a hawker selling Singapore-style Poké bowls at Hong Lim Complex Food Centre. This hawker stall was called Beng Who Cooks.

When the pandemic hit, Chua was in a dilemma whether to continue with his business or not, as more people working from home meant a smaller stream of income, especially when the circuit breaker kicked in.

With an increasing number of people losing their jobs to Covid-19, he knew he couldn't sit idle.

"I don't like to stay home, so we started this foundation. But the foundation itself is just an Instagram account... until today, it is still just an Instagram account," he said.

Now, the chef is just selling himself short because it is more than just an Instagram account.

To help those going through difficult times, Beng Who Cooks cooked and delivered food for whoever needed it, no questions asked.

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Beng Who Cooks (@bengwhocooks)

He also offered delivery jobs to those whose livelihoods were affected due to Covid-19.

While the Beng Who Cooks Foundation has no fixed beneficiaries, Chua said that he especially champions children and youths.

"The youths are the future," he explained.

"I have to focus on the future and that's why my focus is geared towards the youths, right? [We have] to help build their character and confidence."

Funnily enough, it was his father that inspired him to advocate for the youths.

Inspired by dad

Chua shared that he grew up in a lower-middle income family and like most Asian parents, his father isn't openly affectionate.

"The old generation of fathers is very old school. To them, showing love is to make sure they [the children] are well-fed and got money," he said.

What Chua didn't know until he was a teenager, however, was that his father lost his job during the 1997 Asian financial crisis and did ad-hoc jobs for three years.

"He kept mum for very long and didn't say anything. McDonald's during my time was very expensive and every day as kids, we wanted to eat McDonald's. So my dad every day also bring us go McDonald's," he recalled.

That's when he realised that parents are a resilient bunch and would do anything to see their kids happy.

Ultimately, he believes in giving back to the youths to relieve parents of their financial difficulties.

"I don't want any parents to keep track of their finances and later got no money until they cannot eat then the kids also cannot eat, or if their kids eat then they cannot eat. That's why [during Covid-19] I gave away free food with no reason. They can just call and take away."

Don't expect gratitude

Oftentimes, one can only see the positive aspects of doing charity on social media.

The reality, as Chua puts it, is not always a bed of roses.

"Don't expect a thank you [from the people you help]," he advised.

"I told them that I cannot deliver anymore because my drivers are back at their old jobs, but if they want they can still come down and collect the food. It's very sad to say but eight out of 10 don't say thank you. And out of the eight, some of them have scolded me and their family."

Some of the beneficiaries argued that if he wanted to help them, he should have helped them all the way, as they still had to find other ways to look for food.

Chua shrugged it off, declining to elaborate further.

"But okay lah. I think I'm a professional at getting scolded. I've been scolded since young, so I'm very good at getting scolded," he joked.

Giving back in the new normal

In our conversation, Chua emphasised that the Beng Who Cares Foundation continues to give back even as Singapore enters the new normal.

In the past two years, Beng Who Cooks has organised pop-up events with other F&B businesses in Singapore, where part of the proceeds was donated to beneficiaries like Singapore Children's Society.

When Beng Who Cooks announced its closure in October 2022, Chua celebrated its last hurrah with a collaboration with local eateries NBCB, Kizuna, and media company The Meatmen.

They hosted a dinner at 39 Neil Road on Oct. 26, the restaurant's final day of operations, to support Calvary Community Care and raise awareness to support marginalised and disadvantaged youths.

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A post shared by Beng Who Cares Foundation (@bengwhocaresfoundation)

Never accepts donation

There's no sugarcoating it, being in the F&B industry is tough.

Since the closure of his restaurant, Chua openly shared that it has been a "tremendously huge leap in lifestyle" in the "most horrible way."

In October 2022, he announced the closure of Beng Who Cooks at Neil Road, due to a manpower shortage and a rental increase of up to 60 per cent.

Even as he faces his own personal struggles, he was clear and firm in his stance: Accepting donations is a big no-no.

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A post shared by Beng Who Cooks (@bengwhocooks)

"If you really want to support us, just give us a follow on Instagram. When we post about events, just reshare or come down and support," he said.

Curious, I asked why he was so insistent on not accepting donations.

He explained:

"I never believe in giving money just to wash away your sins. If you really want to do something good, put in the work [...] There are always tons of ways to do good, it's just [a matter of] if you're willing to do it. The smallest thing you can do, for example, is to pick up litter from your house downstairs."

New venture opening soon

So what's next for Chua, you ask?

For now, he enjoys spending time with his son and witnessing his milestones.

But fans can also look out for something brewing in One-north.

With a new chef onboard, he will open Wild Crumbs, an eatery specialising in sandos with bread made in-house.

However, Chua did say that he won't be putting in as many hours in the eatery so that he can be with his family.

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A post shared by Jason Chua (@jasonbigmoney_bwc)

In a previous interview with Mothership, Chua had said, "I wish to at least to watch my son walk in a few more months before I become a crazy ambitious man again."

Top image by Fasiha Nazren and courtesy of Beng Who Cooks.