Friday, December 23, 2016

A Heartwarming Christmas With Si Jun and Pasta Fresca

Sometime during this festive season, there will be someone looking for a light to guide them out of their darkness. For it has been a crazy year, and with a depressed economy and an uncertain political outlook elsewhere, we need to find ways where we can feel good about ourselves.

And thanks to the good intentions of Pasta Fresca, one family will have good reason to feel positive going into the new year.

I have been fortunate to be roped in by both Pasta Fresca and their agency to contribute to this meaningful collaboration over the last few months.

But before I go further, let me retrace a couple of steps back. And talk a little bit about the people behind Pasta Fresca.

Everyone knows Pasta Fresca by now and it's iconic Italian owner, Salvatore. He started as a deep sea diver before deciding to hang up his scuba gear to start a family Italian restaurant here. The rest is history as Pasta Fresca became synonymous with hearty Italian family fare here.

Salvatore and Vittorio

After more than two decades, Pasta Fresca has become a local food institution. Salvatore is also ready to hand over the reins to his two sons, Luigi and Vittorio as they begin to take over the day to day operations of their family business.

It is also here, that I want to talk a little about Vittorio and why Pasta Fresca is doing this charitable effort during this Christmas period. You see, Vittorio is dyslexic and had trouble adjusting to school life during his younger years.

He could never understand why he was slower than his classmates, and for quite some time, he thought he was just not as good as the rest. It was only until he was diagnosed with his condition that he could fully comprehend his difficulties.


Slowly, and surely, he began to adjust to his disability with the help of and support of his teachers, his family and friends. He learned to work his way around his dyslexia. He also developed a love for food and even had a brief stint in a cooking school, before he realised his calling in information technology.

These days, he is back at Pasta Fresca, helping out with operations and applying his skills and craft to an ever changing F&B world. At the same time, Luigi handles most of the marketing area as they wrestle with the new world of social media and from the looks of it, they are doing a pretty good job.

It was a few months back that Luigi and Vittorio came up with the idea of giving back to society as Vittorio feels gratified for the opportunities and grace given to him by his mentors and friends. They decided to rope in influencers to lend our names to dishes so as to garner more publicity to their fund raising efforts.

It was decided that the proceeds from the influencers' menu will be used to sponsor a special needs child for the coming new year, and that is where Si Jun and his mum, Ann come into the story.

Si Jun

I had the chance to meet up with the mother and son over at Pasta Fresca and the experience truly resonated with me. I work regularly with Down Syndrome children myself and have personally developed an affinity and bond with the ones I work with, and so when I was told Si Jun has the same disability, I knew it would be something special.

For working with special needs kids, you learn one important truth. That they are all truly special, each and every one of them. Si Jun is no different. From the moment we met, his eyes lit up like a shining beacon amidst a darkening storm.

He has such a cheerful disposition about him, and almost immediately, Ann will bring up his captivating artwork. He is only 12 years old, but some of his paintings are truly delightful. Filled with colour and vibrancy, they reflected his own personality.

Ann is Malaysian, and having lost her husband to cancer, it is a remarkable feat for her to uproot her family and life to come to Singapore in order to seek a better treatment and education for Si Jun. Her own story is one that is filled with sadness and great trauma.

At one stage, she told us, both her husband and Si Jun were in intensive care units. Her husband was undergoing cancer treatment, while Si Jun had to undergo a major heart operation. Sadly, her husband passed on, but determined to care for Si Jun and his future, Ann made the difficult decision to come to the Lion City.

Today, Si Jun is with Saint Clare School and is coping well. His bubbly nature will easily disarm any stranger and he has an interest in music and food too. His enthusiasm is equally infectious and we could have easily spent the whole day with him.

You can see the amazing bond between mother and son, and knowing how tough it is for Si Jun, she wants him to be happy like any mother would. Except in Si Jun's case, this love is amplified and she truly wants him to be able to live a joyful and fruitful life.

It is therefore ironic, that when Ann feels stressed or down, it is Si Jun, with his ever ready smile, that will cheer his mother on. It is this purity that one can feel in Si Jun and many other children like him, that will bring that shining light to your day.

A Heartwarming Christmas

Thanks to Salvatore, Luigi and Vittorio, Si Jun and his mum will be having an even better Christmas this year, knowing that Pasta Fresca will be assisting to sponsor some of Si Jun's fees and needs in 2017.

This is what Christmas should be about. Yes, there are always new food joints to try and new food trends to chase after. But just how many instagrammable posts and followers is enough to satisfy one? Never, is the likely, truthful answer.

The real meaning of this time is what we can do for people that are far less fortunate than us. It may be monetary contributions, or a simple shout out to raise awareness. The fact that someone this weekend may be benefiting from your simple action of charity means more than a thousand likes on your latest K food post.

As we move on to an even uncertain 2017, let us not forget the fellow next to you, nor your ability to deliver unconditional aid to a stranger you may have never met.

It is that something special that one can do that will remind us of our humanity and for that, let us remember to always do the right thing and even if it does not generate a return of any sort, just be glad in the knowledge that the act in itself will be more than sufficient for someone out there.

There will be another Si Jun that needs our help and our care. Look for it, and when you come across it, do something about it.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

From The Silver Chef.

A special thanks to Ivy and Marie for reaching out to me, and to Luigi and Vittorio for making this a really happy Xmas for everyone involved.

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