Food brings people together – that’s the central message behind a new cooking show which debuted online in the middle of Melbourne’s second lockdown. The show, The Bent Spoon, presented by Thorne Harbour Health, was conceived by one of its staff members, Jessie Wong.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions started, I really wanted to find something that would unify us across different cultures, as well as connect us, whilst we’re still at home,” Wong told Star Observer.

Wong, who took over the multicultural portfolio at THH last year, was looking for ways to connect members of the community during isolation, as well as provide a platform for those from LGBTQI First Nations communities, migrant communities and people of colour to share their own stories. Wong had always been inspired by what one of her mentors Colin Batrouney had told her when she joined the organisation years ago, that most powerful health campaigns are the ones that are a crossover and interlink culture and health by looking at the entirety of an individual.

“The way that we share our culture with the rest of the world really is through food. When we understand more about each other’s culture, we can learn about others’ experiences, finding common ground between us and it creates empathy and greater understanding between one another,” said Wong. “What better way to do this than provide a platform for first nation communities, and people from migrant backgrounds to share a traditional dish from their cultures and tell their stories.”

 Melbourne resident James Seow, who is featured in the second episode, arrived in Australia from Singapore as an international student 15 years ago. Seow is of Chinese and Peranakan (Baba Nonya) heritage, and grew up in a family that he said loved food.

“It was a means to show care, love and affection. The food at home was never completely Chinese, there were strong influences of Malay, Indonesian, Indian and Thai cuisine. Like in many cultures, the way you cared about a person was expressed by how well you fed that person,” said Seow. Babi Asam (Pork in Tamarind sauce), the dish that Seow cooked on the show is a favourite Peranakan (Nonya) dish.

“I am deeply passionate about food and cooking, because by observing and understanding how people cook their food, why they cook their food that way, what they eat, we are able to get a glimpse into their past, their families, their childhood memories, their relationships, their heritage and their culture,” said Seow, who writes a ‘food travelogue’ on Facebook and Instagram called, The Well-Fed Nomad.

Seow grew up seeing his grandmother, mother and aunts cooking food. His relationship with food deepened after he moved to Australia. Missing the street food in Singapore, he said, made him understand the value of cooking up a meal. Pot-luck dinners that he frequently hosts help him connect and make friends with people from multiple cultures and nationalities.

“I would set a different dinner theme each time we meet to help us learn more about various cuisines,” said Seow. “The ability to cook and to eat together is a terrific social skill. When people share food at a table and start to break bread together, I find that our relationships deepen, we communicate, we start to share stories and perspectives about life. It builds intercultural understanding and our connection to the community.”

 The heart of the seven episodes is Miss Katalyna, who hosts the show and even helps the guest cooks with chopping and ‘stirring the pot’. Though Miss Katalyna says on the show that she cooks from the box, the Youtuber, trans activist and founder of Trans Pride march, grew up in a Samoan family that runs a catering business in Sydney.

One of Miss Katalyna’s friends sent out her video without telling her, in response to a call by THH for cooking videos – the original idea of the show was to feature cooks sending in videos of them preparing meals in their kitchens. The show soon developed into its present format – a new guest cook each week prepares a dish while giving the audiences a peek into their lives and stories.

Miss Katalyna, who initially thought she was to be a guest cook, said she was surprised when Wong called her to ask if she would host the show. The response to the show has been overwhelming.

“It has been one of the best experiences so far for me. The show is a nod to food, culture, and LGBTQI communities. It is probably the first time that people are getting to see, like in the first episode with Latoya, a Samoan cooking food that she grew up with. Many people got to see other cultures and their food and the guest cooks got an opportunity to be on screen, get uplifted and empowered,” said Miss Katalyna.

Coming from Melbourne, where as Miss Katalyna said “we eat everyone’s food”, the tastes that were new and amazed her were the dishes from Columbia and Nepal. “It made me want to go home and try a lot of the recipes.”

A new episode of The Bent Spoon is posted every Tuesday on the Thorne Harbour Health YoutTube channel.

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