When I think about what I enjoy, many of my fondest memories revolve around food and travel.
Like many people in Singapore, I get excited by food. Food-related discussions tend to be overlaid with emotions.
Why does food evoke so much joy?
Maybe because it reminds us of familiar things – particularly home-cooked favourites and happy times spent with parents and friends we can’t meet as often because of Covid restrictions.
Family, culture and values
Many of my most vivid memories from my childhood are of my interactions with family around the dining room table. Through food, we learn about family, culture and values.
Familiar foods also help us feel comfortable when we are uncomfortable. One such case for me was when I was on holiday in Bolivia, struggling with altitude sickness, and my only local breakfast option was a stale bread roll. That’s when my cup noodles and vegemite saved me!
Memorable dining experiences feed our souls. They don’t need to be expensive. We often learn new things over meals – about people, their culture, and what they are thinking and feeling.
We can also learn new ideas and ways of doing things. I have so many wonderful memories of how exposure to food has opened my mind and taste buds to new ideas – and introduced me to new friends worldwide.
How many of us have travelled for work in an unfamiliar foreign country, yet came away with a memorable experience where we became friends with colleagues over a meal?
I vividly remember my first kaiseki meal in a high-end restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, on my first business trip to Japan. The food was beautiful, unfamiliar yet intriguing. I learned how to interact with my new colleagues in a more relaxed setting than in the office, where we feel we need to behave in a certain way. These interactions allow us to build trust with others. As a result, we are more likely to learn and be open to different ideas.
Outside of work, my husband and I enjoy trying out new eating places, having great food and wine, and interacting with the chefs and staff to learn about them, their culture, and the stories behind their food. Pre-Covid, our holidays were planned around locations where we could try new food and restaurants and do food tours.
One of our most memorable dining experiences was at Michelin-starred restaurant, Frantzen in Stockholm in 2018. Despite its accolades, it did not feel pretentious. We could dine in a bar-like setting and have a fantastic experience chatting to the staff during dinner. Further, we could relax before and after the meal in the lounge area.
On a trip to South America, we also had some fantastic experiences where chefs elevated ordinary favourites to extraordinary. For example, at Don Julio in Buenos Aires, we had the most amazing meal of steak, juicy empanadas and beetroot salad, while sitting at the bar and watching the chefs in action.
Another was El Chinito Sanguchería in Peru, at a hole in the wall outlet in Lima. Set up by a Chinese immigrant in 1960, they make delicious Sanguche de Chicharron (roast pork sandwiches) with delightful Asian-inspired pickles on the side.
We can all reflect on the lessons from our dining experiences and think about how we can apply them in our board roles. As celebrity chef and author Lidia Bastianich said: “Food is culture. Food is an identity, a footprint of who you are.”
Yet sometimes, like ourselves and our organisations, food culture has to change and evolve to survive. So, what can we learn from our experiences of building trust and relationships around food and apply to how we interact with others and how our organisations change and innovate? This could be food for thought and discussion over our next meal.
First published in the Singapore Institute of Directors Bulletin – Q3 2022