Discover how the Singaporean founder of Happivore, extends her helping hand to local small-scale farmers and artisans in the Land of Smiles

Formerly involved with film production in China, chef Evelyn Yap and her husband moved to Thailand after a life-changing situation when she lost her sense of taste and smell, from years of living in pollution and consuming processed foods.

Fast forward to 2020, they are now parents to brainchild Happivore By Evelyn Yap—a social enterprise that shines light on the people who put food on our plates. Through Yap’s journey of perseverance, discover how an unfortunate struggle had transpired into a beautiful opportunity.

Never too late

Knowing medicine will not be of much help, she sets out for, as she says, “a major life detox”. Since relocating in Thailand, Yap began cooking from scratch in hopes to slowly heal and regain her senses. Motivated and driven, she decided to pursue a career as a professional chef in her early 30s. Joining late in the game, Yap definitely makes up for it with her sincerity and passion.

Yap with the opening team of chef Fox’s new restaurant, Birdie G’s (Photo: Kelvin Mak)

Upon graduating from Le Cordon Bleu, she went on to work with various Michelin-starred restaurants and was deeply inspired by chef Jeremy Fox from Rustic Canyon in Los Angeles. Learning the importance of respect for nature’s produce and farmers, Yap was enlightened by chef Fox’s produce-driven culinary philosophy.

Encouraged by her many encounters with farmers in the USA, she decided to embark on her own adventure as they returned home to Thailand. “I know some cooking. Kelvin [Mak], my husband, is a creative director and filmmaker, so maybe we can [sic] combine powers to amplify the social impact message through food and media,” Yap explained. The couple started Happivore, an initiative exploring and supporting Thailand’s agricultural treasures with supper clubs and dining events.

Going back to nature

With the country’s main agricultural direction towards exporting, organic produce was scarce. It was deemed too time-consuming and consumers didn’t want imperfect-looking harvests. Although this meant there wasn’t much competition for the couple, there were a few obstacles they had to overcome. 

Examining organic coffee beans (Photo: Kelvin Mak)

Almost every time, logistics would fail them; be it the lack of refrigeration, or the inability to obtain fresh produce, they learnt to think fast and always have an alternative plan. Unfazed by the unavailability of ingredients, Yap even used silkworms to make cheese once. Yes, you heard right.

Besides holding 14-seater supper clubs at home, Happivore would often stage them in the middle of farms. Using only ingredients from the local community, each dish is presented with backstories of the farmers.

Of kinship and trust 

Learning “Khao Tom Bo”, a local dessert made with banana and sticky rice (Photo: Kelvin Mak)

For all the hard work and challenges met by the team, the reactions of the farmers whose produce were used for the dinners definitely made the journey worthwhile for those at Happivore.

At their most recent dinner, a fisherman thanked them in tears when he tasted the  a fish dip made from mackerel that he caught. They also organised fundraising dinners and used the proceeds to rebuild broken roofs and construct learning centres for the community.

What’s to come

During Happivore’s supper club in Los Angeles (Photo: Kelvin Mak)

In recent years, as more people take to organic produce, small pockets of organic farmers have begun to surface slowly and steadily. Not bound by limitations, Yap sees “Happivore as a brand or platform representing integrity, empowerment, and bringing global awareness and action to today’s most vital issues”.

They are working towards pushing some of the produce, such as coffee and wild honey from a Thai hill tribe (we tasted some during her visit to Singapore and it was divine!) to the global market and are collaborating with organic brands to develop healthier consumer-packaged goods.

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