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In her grief, Linda Ng started cooking for others. Now, she has a faithful following for the omakase-style Nonya feasts she creates for private diners at her home. All photos courtesy of Linda's Table unless otherwise stated.

Linda Ng was cooking in the kitchen at home when her husband passed away in the next room – 11 months after being diagnosed with late stage lung cancer.

As the relatives present milled around him, she held back her tears, took a bowl of food and started eating.

“I was very calm,” Linda, now in her 50s, told Stories of Hope.

Linda with her son, Shane Lim, who was just nine when his father passed on in 2005. They are pictured one year later.

“I asked God to strengthen me. I said to myself, ‘I must stay strong for my son and others. I must eat normally, so that I will have the strength to make funeral arrangements.’”

It was only that evening, when her oldest girl friend came to stay over, that her tears flowed and flowed.

Taste of a new world

Linda first met her husband when she was 21.

The Peranakan businessman took her to a restaurant in Albert Court. There, she had her first taste of ayam buah keluak (chicken in tamarind gravy with kepayang nut).

Linda's Table

Chicken wings stuffed with buah keluak – Linda’s novel twist on the classic Peranakan dish. She started Linda’s Table private dining during the Covid pandemic. Photo by Benjamin Liew.

“I had no idea what Peranakan food or Italian linguine was until I met him. He opened up a whole new world of food to me,” recalled Linda.

“As a new bride, I wanted to please my husband.”

Armed with a thick cookbook with very few pictures by Mrs Leong Yee Soo, Linda set her heart on figuring out the cuisine of her husband’s culture. She had been cooking Cantonese food since the age of six.

“As a new bride, I wanted to please my husband,” Linda explained.

Guided by her husband’s tastebuds and his mother’s feedback, she tweaked the recipes.

Soon Peranakan food became her forte, and her husband’s family descended on their home for Chinese New Year feasts.

Twice a week, her husband entertained guests at their rooftop garden, with Linda whipping up a storm for Italian, Spanish and Chinese themed nights.

The rooftop garden at Linda’s home in Pandan Valley where diners can enjoy drinks at sunset. Photo by Gemma Koh.

“When we went travelling, we brought home – not designer bags – but plates and tableware,” said Linda, who worked in facility management at that time.

Little did she guess that honing her skills in table presentation, plating and entertaining would come in useful for a future phase in her life.

“Cling to Me”

“It was very painful when my husband passed away – especially for our son, because he lost a father who cannot be replaced,” said Linda.

“I told myself, ‘My focus should be on my son.’

“I prayed that I would bring him up to the be son the Lord wanted him to be. And I would become the woman that the Lord wanted me to be,” said Linda, who described herself as “only a Sunday church goer” at that time.

Linda’s notebooks. “I started to journal to get over my grief. Every night, I would write, write, write and cry. As I moved forward from that period in life, the journal writing went down, and so did the crying,” she said.

One day, while grieving alone, she heard an audible voice. 

“I knew I did not need to be both father and mother to my son.”

“He said, ‘Cling to Me. I will be your Father and your son’s Father.’

“I knew I couldn’t go wrong if I clung to Him.

“I knew I did not need to be both father and mother to my son. I let Jesus be the Father.”

She added: “I prayed for patience and strength, and kept telling myself that things would get better.

Linda and son Shane have since moved forward from that dark time in their lives. “God has blessed us,” she said.

“I may not have started my life well …. But I want to finish well.”

“I also told God, ‘I want to do what pleases you. I may not have started my life well, and may have failed miserably along the way. But I want to finish well. So guide me.’”

She found Jeremiah 29:11 particularly encouraging.

She said: “My hope in God kept me going, and I trusted that He has a good plan for my life.

Never lonely

“I was quite comfortable with myself,” said Linda. “I was never lonely but I couldn’t do it alone. I did it with the Lord’s help.”

She saw how God put people in her life to support her and pray for her.

Eventually, doors opened for Linda (in apron), to be a volunteer chef at a theological school (pictured) and at the Alpha course at St Andrew’s Cathedral.

They included a small group at church who studied the Bible with her.

“A whole new world opened up. I learnt about what God wants and I tried to follow his commandments,” she said.

“Previously, I didn’t understand the Bible. But things changed when I said, ‘God, please help me.’”

She also had a renewed relationship with a sister, as well as her sister-in-law.

“My husband’s younger sister took it upon herself to jaga (“watch over” in Malay) me, to see to my needs.

“She brought me food and took me for manicures, pedicures and massages to cheer me up.”

The ministry of food

Not wanting to feel sorry for herself, Linda told her church that she wanted to serve as a volunteer.

“When you help others, you forget your own problems,” she explained.

She ushered, arranged flowers and also helped in the administration of the docent’s ministry that shares the rich heritage of St Andrew’s Cathedral (SAC) with visitors.

“When you help others, you forget your own problems.”

At one point, she was at church four times a week, in between freelance work projects.

Then doors opened for her to be a volunteer cook.

It started at the Discipleship Training Centre at Chancery Road.

“In the big but old kitchen, I had quiet time with the Lord.

“The cooking, cutting and slicing was very therapeutic and relaxing, and the people were very appreciative,” she said.

Subsequently, she was roped in to prepare food for the Alpha course hosted by St Andrew’s Cathedral when Canon Terry Wong, then vicar and head of the food ministry, noticed Linda’s gifts of cooking and bringing people together.

Food ministry, St Andrew's Cathedral

“There was joyful fellowship and good bonding. We would exchange what was going on with our lives,” said Linda (right) of the Alpha cooking team (pictured having a tea break).

Alpha’s loving, non-judgemental, no-pressure approach welcomes all to ask questions about the Christian faith. Each session typically starts with complimentary food – a friendly way for participants and facilitators to get to know each other.

“When the event ended at 9pm, I was so tired, but my heart was full of joy.”

“I would go to the market in the morning to buy ingredients, have a quick lunch and start working at 1pm,” she said.

“When the event ended at 9pm, I was so tired, but my heart was full of joy. I went to sleep with a smile.

“I had found purpose in my life.”

The Alpha course attracted some 200 people. But when word spread about the free dinners, attendance doubled to 400.

Covid, however, put a stop to these dinners.

Linda Ng

Looking back, Linda saw how God was preparing her every step of the way for a future phase in her life.

When international borders were closed because of the pandemic, Linda’s work as a project management consultant also dried up.

Canon Wong, who is also a cookbook author who blogs as The Food Canon, suggested that she start a food business.

When Linda started a food delivery to church friends, word spread.

Linda's Table

Linda gave a cooking demonstration over Zoom for the church when Singapore went into lockdown during the pandemic.

Later, Canon Wong suggested that the ambience in Linda’s home was perfect for a private dining business.

Linda's Table

Warm and inviting, Linda’s home is tastefully decorated with Asian art and artefacts. Photo by Benjamin Liew.

And so in October 2020, Linda’s Table Private Dining, serving Peranakan food omakase-style was born.

Training from the age of 5

Looking back, Linda is thankful for her rich experience in preparing food. She attributes it to the grace of God.

“He was training me at every step of the way,” she said.

“At age 5, I discovered that when I placed ingredients nicely in the bowl, people think the dish is different.”

It started when she was five. She and her younger sister were living with their maternal grandmother, while their mum helped out in a shop and their dad worked in construction to support the family.

“We left the house when it was pitch dark at 4.30am every day and followed our grandmother to the market,” she recalled.

“We also followed her to our grandfather’s coffeeshop, and watched her prepare wonton mee.

“I found it fascinating how food came together.”

Her grandma would pile all the ingredients in the bowl in one chunk. But young Linda “enjoyed laying the char siew, the chai sim, the chilli nicely in the bowl”.

Linda's Table

Linda’s grandmother (pictured), gave five-year-old Linda her first taste of preparing and plating food.

Linda's Table

Linda’s ode to her heritage. “I wanted to do a ravioli with otah (ground fish mixed with spices). But the pasta machine took forever to arrive. Then I hit on the idea of doing otah in a wonton, served in a laksa gravy,” she said. Photo by Benjamin Liew.

“I discovered that when I placed them nicely, people would think the dish is different even though it tastes the same,” said Linda.

“God was training me at every step of the way.”

Linda’s intuition in the kitchen is likely to have been passed down from her father who had “discerning taste buds and knew how to make a dish sing”.

“Our cousins brought us to an expensive seafood place. He figured out the soup base and replicated it back at home. My cousin declared, ‘No need to go to that place anymore.’”

Linda went back to live with her parents when she was six.

Her father taught his little sous chef how to stir-fry chai sim to retain its crunch and colour, and how to use her ear to listen to the rhythm when making rempah (spice paste) with a batu lesung (mortar and pestle).

“He was the rare Cantonese who enjoyed curry, probably from the influence of Malay friends in his kampung,” Linda said of her father (pictured with her mother).

“When he thought I was ready, he gave me $5 to go to the market and tasked me to prepare a meal for the family.

“So I learnt to budget and make a balanced meal for the family.”

Uniquely Linda

After cooking for 400 people, preparing food for a party of 10 diners was comparatively easy. Still, Linda had butterflies in her stomach when she started Linda’s Table.

Then she heard God tell her: “Linda, do your best, do it with love.

Linda's Table

Feeling the love in her cooking: An elderly man, who had not had bakwan kepiting (pork and crab meatball soup) in decades, took one sip of Linda’s version and teared. “He took the hand of his host and thanked them for inviting him. My heart melted,” said Linda, who thanked God for allowing her to use the gift He has given her to touch others and do something that she truly enjoys. Photo by Benjamin Liew.

“Be yourself, Linda, because you are uniquely you.”

It gave her the confidence to stop comparing herself to other chefs, and to cook for others what she would enjoy eating.

Her dishes are constantly evolving, partly because she doesn’t want to cook the same thing for returning fans of her food, and partly because she wants to challenge herself.

Linda engages with God while cooking. She believes that God regularly inspires her with fresh ideas as she cooks or via accidental culinary discoveries and diners’ suggestions.

Linda's Table

When a regular asked Linda to prepare a Cantonese menu, she included pork lard rice. “It was something I ate as a child when we didn’t have much money. Social media posts of the rice went viral. People started coming because of the rice.” It is now offered as an option on the Peranakan menu. Photo by Benjamin Liew.

For instance, one day she had extra pork lard and threw it into the prawns cooked with the sour belimbing fruit.

Pah! It became a speciality and one of my favourite dishes,” she said.

Another example: Her babi pongteh used to sit in a watery sauce. One day when she wasn’t watching the fire, it caramelised and coated the pork. She started including potato in the dish when one man briefed her that his wife loves it made that way.

Of the unique dishes which have become part of her signature, she said: “God created an identity for my business.”

Linda's Table

When prompted, Linda offers to pray for blessings over diners celebrating special occasions. “So far no one has refused a blessing,” she said.

“God is with me all the time. I pray for every meal, that the people coming will have a good evening. I pray for the strength to go through this.”

God’s provision

Word about Linda’s new venture spread in waves.

The blessing started when a friend posted on social media about their dining experience at Linda’s Table.

Then at 11am on a Saturday in May 2021, Linda’s mobile phone started ringing off the hook while she was at the supermarket.

It was the response to a review on ieatishootipost, by medical doctor and food blogger, Dr Leslie Tay.

“I abandoned my shopping and spent the next four hours taking enquiries and bookings,” Linda recalled.

Linda's Table

The day after the ieatishootipost review was published, Linda’s Table was highlighted in The Sunday Times, bringing another wave of enquiries.

In no time, Linda’s Table was booked solid for six months.

“I want people to know that where I am today is because of God.”

“It was incredible for a newcomer,” exclaimed Linda in wonder.

“It’s really God’s blessing.”

When diners at Linda’s Table ask how Linda started cooking, she tells them that she once helped out at the Alpha course. She encourages them to go for the course and the free dinners.

“I want people to know that where I am today is because of God.”

Linda’s Table Private Dining is fully booked till July 2024, and is not accepting bookings or waitlists for now.

Slots for the third quarter of 2024 will be released in February 2024 via its Facebook or Instagram pages.

This story first appeared in Salt&Light’s sister platform, Stories of Hope.


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About the author

Gemma Koh

Gemma has written about everything from spas to scuba diving holidays. But has a soft spot for telling the stories of lives changed, and of people making a difference. She loves the colour green, especially on overgrown trees. Gemma is Senior Writer & Copy Editor at Salt&Light and its companion site, Stories of Hope.