Natalia and Elsa share a happy employer-employee relationship. Their secret? communication, learning from each other and a passion for food! The employer and the domestic helper recently co-wrote a cookbook gathering both Eastern and Western recipes. Discover their inspiring story.
“This is delicious!” my husband said. “What's in it?”
Elsa had just come to join us in Hong Kong as a domestic helper after 15 years in Singapore. Despite my background in food and nutrition, I had no idea what ingredients she had used to make the rich, tangy, flavourful sauce we were both enjoying so much.
I decided I would ask if I could watch her cook some of her favourite Eastern foods from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and China. I watched, asked questions, wrote down the recipes and took photos.
At the same time, I noticed Elsa going through a number of my recipe books and to the internet when I'd ask her to prepare something Western for dinner – there were so many recipes out there and she said she wasn't sure which one to use.
I realised it would be helpful to collect all of my favourite Western, Japanese and Thai recipes for her in one place so she could find them more easily. I then added her recipes – the ones I'd written down after watching her cook. That way all of our favourite recipes would be in one place and easily accessible by both of us.
As I watched her cook, I learned a lot from Elsa including the technique for preparing stir-fried meat so that it has a velvety, tender texture and how to keep green vegetables bright when you cook them. In turn, I taught her how to make Western favourites, Thai food and Japanese food as well as the do's and don'ts of baking.
“Once you know how to do it”, Elsa said, “cooking Western food is easy”. She told me that her kids, grandkids and the people she had worked for would love to eat the foods I had taught her to make. She said they always had to go out to restaurants to eat these foods since she didn't know how to make them.
We also learned a lot about effective communication during those early days. I'd been a dietitian for over 20 years and had spent a number of years managing people, but managing someone who didn't always have the same understandings of things and who lived in my home was a bit different.
For example, my son loves cheesecake so it's been his usual birthday cake since he was five years old. The day before his birthday, I asked Elsa to pick up 2 packages of cream cheese but didn't give any other details. She came back from the store with 2 containers of spreadable cream cheese in two flavours – blueberry and chive & onion. Tasty, perhaps, but not for making cheesecake!
After talking about it, Elsa and I figured it would be a nice idea to share our recipes and experiences with others in the form of a cookbook. We decided to co-write it and share the benefits equally. One of the main element we included is having large colour photos so people can see what the final food should look like. Employers can use the photos to show their domestic helpers which Western (and Eastern) foods they like and domestic helpers can use them to show employers which Eastern (and Western) foods they might enjoy trying.
We also thought it might be helpful to share some of our thoughts about working together and so was born a chapter and workbook to help employers and domestic helpers communicate effectively to promote “Kitchen Happiness” and nourishing, relaxed meals.
There's also a chapter featuring a month of menus (based on recipes in the book) for days when people don't want to think about what to cook for supper (or breakfast or lunch!) and information for healthy meal planning for days that they do. Well-balanced meals with variety and moderation are key to staying healthy by giving us a solid foundation. We've also included some interesting kitchen tips and information on food safety.
And you, have you ever shared a common passion or project with your employer or domestic helper? Let us know!
More information about Natalia and Elsa's cookbook
Natalia has a Facebook page (NataliaMorrisonHealth) that you're welcome to like and follow if you're interested – she will be sharing recipes and health tips twice a month or so.
The book is available at Swindon Books (TST), Kelly & Walsh (Landmark and Pacific Place), Bookazine (locations across Hong Kong), and the Hong Kong Book Centre (Central). It is also available online by clicking on Swindon Online. You can also order directly from us by visiting the Home Cooking East & West website.