Cookies to belacan: Malaysian performing arts practitioners find new stage in the kitchen

  • Arts
  • Sunday, 03 Jan 2021

Iedil says he enjoys baking and selling cookies and wouldn’t mind doing it full time if no acting gigs come his way. Photo: Iedil Dzuhrie Alaudin

This may be the toughest role that theatre/film actor Iedil Dzhurie Alaudin has ever played. For this one-man show, the 36-year-old plays a home baker.

Only, this is not a play or a film. For Iedil, baking and selling cookies under his home-based online business called Munchy Chewy is his newfound reality.

Before Covid-19 ruined a year’s worth of acting jobs, Iedil (who moved to Jakarta in 2016 after marrying Indonesian actress Prisia Nasution) had a steady work schedule.

He was also part of Indonesian movies Toko Barang Mantan and My Stupid Boss 2, and Miracle In Cell No. 7, an adaptation of a Korean movie.

What Iedil did not know (just like the rest of us) was that the antagonist in his life story would come in the form of a virus.

Suddenly, Iedil, known for his role in Instant Cafe Theatre’s (ICT) Parah and Dain Said’s 2016 thriller Interchange, was out of any acting jobs.

Iedil, who is also an improv actor, had to improv in real life.

“Everything stopped. Projects and acting gigs cancelled. I was badly affected by this. I didn’t have any work and no one could offer any work, ” bemoans Iedil, who has been back in KL for a few months.

“I had to do something to make ends meet. I explored a lot of other stuff as well, trying to do things online but didn’t have the motivation to do so, ” he admits.

But Iedil wasn’t ready for a curtain call.

As fate would have it, Iedil found motivation in an unlikely source. He shares that back in May, he and his wife stumbled upon a baking video on Youtube.

“My wife asked me to try and bake. I made my first batch the next day and it turned out good, ” recalls Iedil happily, adding that he has never baked cookies before.

“I experimented with the ingredients and finally came up with my own recipe. Since I love eating, I thought I might as well try out something to do with food, ” says Iedil.

Determined to make this work, Iedil started supplying his chewy cookies for Kopi Panas Coffee & Eatery, a cafe in Jakarta.

Leaving his wife temporarily back in Jakarta, Iedil moved back to KL in September and with virtually no jobs in sight, he decided to take the cookie business online.

Averaging 160 cookies a week, the new home baker in town is content with the growth of his business.

“I have been receiving orders almost every day. And feedback has been amazing. I have regular customers who would order my cookies three to four times in a month!” says Iedil, who also supplies to a local cafe in KL and caters for events.

But this new cookie adventure comes with its own challenges.

“I am sharing the kitchen with my family so I usually prep my cookies at night and start baking in the morning. My baking stuff has grown, so that’s taking a lot of the kitchen space!” he shares.

“Also, I have a small oven at home that could only fit six cookies at one time. So imagine some days where I have to bake over 60 cookies! That’s a lot of time, ” he adds.

But Iedil says he enjoys this and admits to seeing himself continue the business for “quite some time”. “I’ll just see where this business will take me, ” he says.

It’s not like acting jobs are pouring in for him, and the projection is the few months of 2021 will be rather slow for the theatre scene.

“There were some online shows I did but that wasn’t enough to get by. It is only now that I am getting a few acting gigs but even those are hard to come by nowadays, ” shares Iedil.

Aside from hosting jobs and an advertisement assignment, Iedil was part of ICT’s virtual show Zoom Parah, AIIA Improv Live! and Causeway by Teater Ekamatra in 2020.

The ever optimistic actor remains upbeat, seeing his baking skill as a positive development in a woeful pandemic year.

“I might consider this as something full-time if I don’t get any acting jobs. If I return to Jakarta, I will definitely continue this business, ” says Iedil, who is preparing for a wedding show this month in KL.

Creamy or crunchy?

Loh Ui Li is used to bringing delight to people’s ears through her music that is. This Ipoh-born is a popular musical director/arranger/producer in the musical theatre scene.

Her impressive repertoire includes Boh Cameronian Arts award-winning shows such as Ola Bola The Musical and You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown. But with all of her projects postponed – two musical productions and two international gigs – due to the pandemic, Loh and her husband (bass player Wafi) have been living off their savings.

Determined to keep themselves financially afloat, Loh, 30, turned to delighting people’s taste buds instead.

Loh, a full-time musician, started her peanut butter business last June during conditional MCO. Photo: Loh Ui Li Loh, a full-time musician, started her peanut butter business last June during conditional MCO. Photo: Loh Ui Li

“I knew I had to do something to make ends meet. My husband and I decided to try our hands at making homemade peanut butter, ” says the KL-based Loh.

Last June, Loh and Wafi established an online business offering a healthy spread.

“I’ve always loved peanut butter, so I decided to learn how to make this sugar-free and palm oil free version. Instead, we use pure honey and high quality olive oil, ” says Loh.

Spending nearly eight hours a day to make the peanut butter, Loh says on a good week, WaLi produces nearly 100 jars.

This venture was something new to the couple. Loh says that they really struggled with time management as they used basic kitchen tools to mix the peanut butter.

“Thanks to the support of our friends and families, we’ve upgraded since!” she adds.

The couple also ventured into making sugar-free mooncakes during the Mid-Autumn Festival. But Loh says their business has experienced a slowdown in recent months. Thankfully, the couple have been involved in a few music projects since September, including a Malaysia Day music video.

“We make just enough to pay our rental and bills. Honestly, we are just getting by. We really can’t wait to get back into making music full time again, ” says Loh.

Shrimp paste rescue

Since last November, vocal coach and stage actor Mohd Zhafri Hassan lost over 80% of his income due to the effects of Covid-19 restrictions.

However, he hasn’t been idle at home. Zhafri started an online business selling belacan (shrimp paste). Its slogan is “Belacan Untuk Awak” (Belacan For You).

Zhafri, who misses stage performances, has to deal with the reality of no theatre jobs by selling belacan (shrimp paste). Photo: HandoutZhafri, who misses stage performances, has to deal with the reality of no theatre jobs by selling belacan (shrimp paste). Photo: Handout

“It’s not been easy to start a business, what’s more during this pandemic. Among the challenges I’m facing is adapting to this new normal, ” says Zhafri, 35.

As a versatile performer, Zhafri used to perform with the gamelan ensemble of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO). He has acted in stage performances such as Mud The Musical, Makyong and The Working Dead.

With no theatre jobs coming soon, he decided to sell belacan. He receives belacan supplies from his family in Perlis and has set out to market it.

“The belacan I’m selling is from a generational family recipe. I believe every household should have belacan, ” he says.

“I started this business because I feel my belacan is truly tasty, and I wish to share it with everyone.”

Zhafri has big plans for his product, hoping to later diversify into other things such as belacan-based instant food, belacan powder right to collaborations with restaurants and cafes.

This pandemic experience had taught him many things, including the importance of perseverance, and patience.

“Don’t ever give up, and work as hard as you can. The best experience from this has been seeing all the support and prayers given to me by my family and friends. I cannot repay how much they have helped me, ” concludes Zhafri.

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Performing arts , Pandemic , Jobs , Food , Theatre


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