“Serving great food with a great cause” – so goes the tagline of the Professor Brawn Bistro at the Enabling Village.
My new friend in Singapore, Sharon Liew — the founder of Dance Spectrum International—coordinated my first visit to the Enabling Village, space where individuals with special needs learn, evolve, and contribute to their society. There I had the pleasure of having lunch the Senior Manager Goh Hwee Lian and Deputy Executive Director Jacelyn Lim waiting for us to guide our comprehensive tour.
The newly opened Professor Brawn Bistro is a trendy, unpretentious space with good vibes and a cool crowd. The free imagination of a special child was behind its inception. The superhero character of Professor Brawn was created by an autistic child and this was how the idea of this Bistro all began.
“The café’s mission is to provide affordable good food by an inclusive quality workforce comprising people of different abilities, ages, and socio-economic backgrounds”, Ms. Jacelyn Lim, Deputy Executive Director of the Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) which runs Professor Brawn explained. “Empowering autistic individuals to increase their independence, self-esteem, and productivity is our end goal”, she added.
Amongst the staff were waiters and servers who are on the autism spectrum or deaf. It was a busy day when we visited but we were served by an affable waiter who was unfazed by the crowd and the buzz.
My grilled chicken with truffle sauce — with an unexpected crispy skin — came with cooked to perfection potato wedges, and crisp lettuce dressed up in a zesty vinaigrette with a hint of dijon.
After the third bite, I knew that I have found my favorite item on the menu! The combination of flavors and textures in this dish was just right!
For palette cleansing, we ordered an assortment of desserts. The gelato (supplied from an Italian gelateria in town) is probably the best Italian one I had since arriving in Singapore. The chocolate, hazelnut and pistachio were silky smooth, feather-light, yet the richness is not compromised.
The second round of desserts we had was the Rose-Lychee cake. It was two layers of densely textured cake frosted with an exuberant, fluffy cream with a delicate hint of rose water. The juicy lychee moistens the crumbly texture of the cake. Beautifully decorated with edible rose petals, this individual cake bridges the flavors of the old and modern world.
The third treat was a gluten-free zesty Lemon Cake — a rectangle of airy sponge cake frosted with lemon icing. The zesty icing had a pleasant, pungent note that you can’t get enough of if you are a citrus fan like me.
While waiting for our coffee, I asked the pertinent question that has been uppermost in my mind, “Realistically, how can the ARC expand its efforts to face a syndrome that is alarmingly on the rise?”
The autism rate is relatively high in Singapore, one in every 150 children in Singapore is autistic. And the causes remain unknown!
“Donations are important but they are not enough. We will be treading water if the society doesn’t swiftly alter its mindset. Still, some parents are refusing to admit their kids’ diagnosis of autism. Depriving them of a golden chance to thrive, they opt for hiding them at home”, my three hosts agree.
Besides Professor Brawn, ARC (S) also runs another social enterprise, The Art Faculty (TAF) retails art and merchandise by talented artists with autism and related challenges.
At first glance, the bright store and the stylish display of high-end products immediately implied the uniqueness of the place. Traditional items like fans, pouches, and jewelry boxes are recreated using a vibrant palette of colors, refined materials, and fashionable designs. (see the slide show below)
Home and kitchen accessories are sublime and the options are numerous. Making a choice is almost daunting. They all make wonderful gifts and memorable souvenirs for tourists and expats who long to have a piece of Singapore in their homes.
Besides merchandise, there is a gallery of artwork for sale. The display includes original artwork and reprints. I was in awe of some of the detailed pieces. It is fascinating to read on a white canvas what wanders in the brain of a child with special needs. There is boundless creativity, as well as abundant curiosity weaved with a sense of subtle apprehension.
Every artwork and product sold provides income for the differently-abled artists. This way, they learn the value of work and financial independence.
“Our main challenge is to create more jobs on the local economy for autistic individuals, therefore we encourage the public and private sector to be part of further job creation. ARC tries to provide employment through our very own social enterprises,” explains Ms. Lim who also heads ARC’s Employability and Employment Centre.
The Employability and Employment Centre is a job training center, preparing adults with autism with employability skills through training and placing them in suitable jobs with appropriate job support.
The Autism Resource Centre is a non-profit organization, set up in Singapore in 2000 to serve children and adults on the autism spectrum to help them lead meaningful and independent lives in society.
Singapore has accomplished a lot in counteracting a rising record of autism. That said, with more kids being diagnosed, more efforts have to take place.
“It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes an autistic child to raise the consciousness of an entire Village” Elaine Hall, the founder of the Miracle Project.