2020.. A year in review.. through a crises rises hope and anticipation for a stronger future

To say it’s been a challenging year is an understatement. Every one of us has been challenged in some ways either personally or professionally or both. For me, in the midst of COVID-19, my father passed away and I spent 3 months with my family in Sydney, a blessing in disguise even as it was under less than desirable circumstances. This was the first time I spent a continuous period of time in Sydney since I left in the 1990s to pursue a career overseas.

I had big plans for 2020. It was the year we would finally take Palate Sensations overseas but COVID-19 came along and in a matter of days, anxiety and worry from our participants meant we faced massive class cancellations. In early February, when social distancing started to come into play, I rushed out in a panic and bought the last laser thermometer on the island, braving the traffic and potential infection to pick it up at the pharmacy doing brisk business at People’s Park. Adapting to the changes became the new normal and by early April, we were given a matter of days to shut down the studio, clear out all the fresh produce and decide what to do with our staff.  Just before we closed, the chefs made over 1200 muffins and cookies for frontline hospital and law enforcement staff to boost their morale and to thank them for working so hard to keep everyone safe. 

As Winston Churchill once said “Never waste a good crises”. I paused for 5 minutes and thought whether I should do what many others had done.. ie: throw in the towel or pick it up and wipe the sweat off my face? Despite the curve balls thrown at us in 2020, I remained optimistic that we would and we could weather the storm because we had good business fundamentals…a good product, talented staff, loyal clients who believed in us and last but not least, by and large, we were financially sound. So I dug in, picked up the towel and wiped the sweat off my face. 

I took the opportunity to pause, reflect and examine what was important to us, what we wanted to do and how we would do it, how we would tackle this crises and set ourselves up for the future. 

During Circuit Breaker, I was quick to tell myself the most important things were to ensure we kept our mental health, we kept on exercising and we kept eating well. Those 3 pillars were and still are how I live my life.  I drew up a big piece of paper and recorded every little achievement I made during that period. 

 

First thing we did was to buy a Zoom account so that the team could keep in touch with each other.  We all worked from home and this is what we achieved. When I look back on it, I can’t believe the team and I did all of these in those few short months!

  • Made over 70 short recipe and wellness videos which we added to our Youtube channel
  • Invested in cameras, stands and microphones for our virtual classes
  • Converted our in studio team building proposals to virtual events
  • Converted and launched several online hands on cooking and baking classes
  • Launched a new Palate Sensations website and booking system
  • Successfully applied for an EDG Grant to continue technology enhancements to support our business 
  • Successfully applied for UTAP and PA SkillsFuture Credit Funding 
  • Successfully applied for a Food Shop License  
  • Successfully applied for an SME Bridging Loan to ensure the business remained a going concern
  • Kept all our staff 
  • Experimented, tested and refined many recipes 
  • All the staff upgraded their skills by renewing their First Aid and Food Hygiene Certificates
  • Attended many webinars and networking sessions on how to deal with and weather the storm that COVID-19 wrecked on everyone’s lives and livelihood.

 

By the time Phase 1 rolled around in June, we were allowed to return to work, even though we could not hold any physical classes. By then, I was on the first flight back to Sydney, quarantining for 14 days in a hotel and then spending the next 3 months working out of my Sydney home while the team held the fort and ran the studio and classes. 

Even as events and corporate team building evaporated, we held various online live courses for various corporate clients and participants both in Singapore and overseas. We put to good use our signature Chef in Training classes to train YMCA youths and we worked with SG Enable to offer customised Chef in Training classes to persons with disabilities.  All of these classes are to ensure they are given sufficient training for them to explore a career in the F&B industry. 

 

As Phase 2 commenced, we were not surprised that our in studio classes filled quickly even with strict safe distancing and protocols in place. We found that there was a driving need for people to get out and do something.. but not just anything as times of crises meant people wanted to invest in themselves and in the stability of their future. Feeding yourself became a fundamental need.  Chef in Training classes where we taught culinary techniques and skills became our most popular classes.  School holidays meant no travel this year so we had a high turn out rate for our Junior Culinary Bootcamp. 

 

 

I want to take this opportunity to thank our sponsor Brandt for continuing to keep all our stoves in tip top condition and for all the wonderful gifts they gave us to pass onto some of you lucky winners.

 

I want to thank our hard working core chef & operations team, all our guest chefs, our amazing Marketing Consultant Ping, our ever patient Accountant Zi Yang and our wonderful cleaner Kaja for remaining so professional, for rolling with the punches, for being so understanding and putting in the extra hours when needed. 

Last but not least, we could never have survived without our participants.. the reason why we get up to do what we do every single day. Thank you for believing in us, for standing by us and for supporting us even as we had to close for 2 months, even as we had to decrease our class sizes, even as we had to implement all the inconveniences of temperature checks and safe entry sign ins etc.  

Every year, I read what I had written in previous years when I have to end the year with a review.  This is what I had written to all the chefs at Palate Sensations back in 2018. “It is only with the highest of standards and professionalism towards each other, towards our craft and towards our participants that we continue to have relevance and make an impact on the culinary scene.” This still rings true today. As we continue to push the envelope and lead the field in our breath and range of classes we offer in Singapore and Asia, together with a professional team of talented chefs, I look forward to a fruitful, innovative and exciting year ahead with all of you.  

Have a wonderful Christmas and a fabulous New Year. 

With hope, excitement and anticipation for the future,

Lynette 


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