When Hong Kong-born Janice O’Connor, 63, was just a child, her mother would whip up generous portions of fragrant and flavourful dishes for the neighbours in their village.
Janice’s favourite Pork Belly & Yam was her mother’s speciality.
“It still brings back a lot of fond memories,” she reminisced. “I remember the wok was over a metre wide, and we collected twigs and leaves from the forest behind the village to use as fuel to fire up the wok.”
And although Janice never professed as keen a passion for cooking as her mother when she was younger, she later unearthed a talent for it as well.
Over the years, Janice, along with her husband Terry O’Connor (Group CEO of Courts Asia), has steadily built up a reputation among friends and family for their highly anticipated annual Christmas fête.
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But in 2001, their party preparations were interrupted by devastating news – one of their close friends had just lost the battle against breast cancer.
Mourning and in shock, Janice was almost unable to follow through with the party.
But the couple decided to turn tragedy into a chance to do good and, instead, transformed their Christmas party into a fundraiser for the Breast Cancer Foundation.
Speaking to The Pride, Janice said: “We went on with the party. We intended to raise proceeds for the Breast Cancer Foundation – aiming for S$5,000, but in the end we raised S$22,000.”
And that marked the beginning of the O’Connors’ dedication to giving back, particularly in hosting charity dinners and parties.
Impressed by the mouthwatering dishes Janice would whip up to entertain guests at her many charity events, her friends encouraged her to author a cookbook featuring those recipes.
But Janice always felt apprehensive about it, as she didn’t see herself as a professional chef.
It was only after her mother’s passing in 2016 that Janice gave serious thought to the idea, partly as a way to honour her memory.
Finally, in October 2018, Janice started work on her cookbook project, a coffee-table book titled Open Kitchen, which will be published in May this year. In it are 100 recipes and stories, including some of her mother’s memorable dishes and best-kept secrets.
According to Janice, the process of putting the cookbook together was not easy. She spent several months planning and writing, and later worked with a photographer to style and photograph the dishes as well.
But it was time and energy well spent, she said. “Putting this book together was tedious, but extremely rewarding.”
Charity work runs in the family
In fact, so strongly does Janice believe in instilling charitable values in her kids, that she’s even made it a family tradition.
Her children, now young adults, have been participating in her charity events since they were young.
“They either serve guests or put up performances,” Janice said with a smile.
And this time, she’s chosen a charity that’s close to her heart – Make-A-Wish Singapore – as the beneficiary for her current fundraiser.
As an organisation that steps in to grant the wishes of terminally ill children, Make-A-Wish Singapore is a natural charity of choice for the mother-of-two.
Janice has pledged to donate all proceeds of Open Kitchen’s book sales to Make-A-Wish Singapore. 1,000 books have been printed, and for every S$100 donated, donors get a free copy of her book. So far, they have reached 30 per cent of their goal.
“Through Open Kitchen, we hope to raise S$100,000 for the Wish kids,” said Janice.
She added: “We have been very fortunate to count on the support of like-minded families, friends and business partners, who also strongly believe in helping the less fortunate, and collectively pitch in to do so.”
So, what’s next for the big-hearted Janice O’Connor?
She vowed: “I will continue to organise charity events every year with my husband Terry – for as long as we are able to do so.”
More importantly, she mused: “I think my mum would be pleased to know what I am doing.”