Profile: The Four Baker Boys
Superheroes Of Dessert
I won't go as far as to say that I am stingy or a classic Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to money. I'd much rather prefer, if it's even necessary, to label myself as a careful investor. This applies to almost all aspects of my life; from buying clothes to buying cooking apparatus for the kitchen. I fastidiously compare prices across many online shopping platforms, making sure I am getting the best deals at unbeatable prices. It has, in fact, become almost a thrill for me when I find unbelievably good purchases for the things I really want.
I guess that extends to my relationship with charity organisations and donations. As with the things I like to buy, I ensure complete and tedious research has been done on the charities and causes I am considering giving to. Going by that philosophy, you can probably guess my ambivalence towards on-the-street donation drives where volunteers come up to you as you’re strolling leisurely along, thrusting a clipboard to your face and start explaining what they do, how I can help, ‘why don’t you want to help, sir?’, before kindly coercing you into a monthly donation of ten dollars. All this within a distance of 20 metres. It’s annoying, unnecessary, plays to humanity’s inane need to be kind, and such an intrusive assault on my personal space.
You can imagine my surprise upon discovering an Instagram account belonging to a group of all-male bakers who call themselves The Four Baker Boys. The Four Baker Boys present a unique approach to charity-giving by utilizing their specialised skill set of baking as a way to raise funds for their chosen organisations. Themselves established home-bakers with ardent followers on social media, The Four Baker Boys have organised Charity Bake Sales since their inception in 2014 with no signs of slowing down.
The Four Baker Boys (TFBB) is the brainchild of Aidil Arsad: “The reason why I established a baking-only charity organisation was that I’m in the social service industry, so I thought why not combine my day job with my passion which is baking?"
“Why male bakers?” I asked. “Because I saw that in 2014, there was a growing trend of male bakers entering the market and it was something unique that could set us apart,” he enthused.
I met up with three of the four bakers of TFBB on a Saturday afternoon at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cafe at Plaza Singapura; Aidil Arsad (@daintycandy), Lutfi Isnin (@bkosfood), and Syahid Isnin (@prettyawkwardpastry). Absent from the interview (with apologies) was Qamarul (@theboywhobake). The story of how they got together is a classic example of the power social media holds. Upon conceiving the idea, Aidil went on to Instagram to contact the bakers he felt would be interested in forming this organisation with him.
Syahid remembers fondly the day Aidil contacted him: “I just woke up from sleep,” he recalls with a laugh. “I’ve always wanted to help others in some way, so when Aidil approached me I thought it was a good opportunity.”
“The inspiration came when I attended a charity bake sale organised by The Tudung Traveller,” Aidil recalls. “I was there as a customer. I saw how she organised it and I thought why can’t I do it as well? I’m a social worker and I love baking. It’s a fit that made perfect sense.”
This is how a charity bake sale by TFBB works: A few weeks prior to the bake sale, an announcement would be posted on their Instagram page detailing the time and location of the event. Although primarily organised by TFBB, there have been instances where other male bakers volunteered their time and bakes to the event as well. Their usual charity bake sale ‘headquarters’ is at 62A Arab Street, a space they’ve procured with the generosity of the owner of the space. Once inside, you will be given a box to stock up on desserts to your heart’s desire, proceed to the cashier and make the payment.
“At the end of the day, I will discuss with the other bakers on how much they want to take out of the profit,” Aidil explained. “I want to be transparent. We never claimed that all proceeds will go to charity. Because the truth is some of us do need to recover our production costs although there have been times when we chose to donate all proceeds from the bake sale to our chosen charity.”
Singapore is home to 2,247 registered charities, a twenty percent increase from ten years ago. In 2016, Singaporeans gave 2.7 billion dollars in donations to charity and successfully applied for 42 fund-raising permits for foreign charitable purposes. When it comes to charity, Singaporeans have been generous and giving, which could only bode well for smaller groups such as TFBB who lack the reach and resources other Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWO) possess.
“To me, charity is about giving back the blessings you have received,” Syahid said when I asked what charity means to him. “You receive blessings and you want to share it. You find a way to give back. We want to raise awareness for our chosen charity organisation (the programs that they’re running, the help they provide etc) and help close the gap between that organisation and the people who need the assistance from them.”
Such lofty aspirations come as to no surprise for TFBB especially since the bake sales they’ve organised have received such an overwhelming response that at times, a queue would have formed even before the bake sale commences. “Were you surprised that people are so giving?” I asked.
“I’m not surprised. I know there’s good in everybody,” says Aidil without skipping a beat, the surety of his faith in humanity surprising the cynic in me.
“What has been the worst thing people have said to you about this work that you do?” I asked. There was a pregnant pause as the bakers peruse this question. Personally, this is one of my favourite questions as it forces you to first confront head-on the most negative feedback you’ve been given and then reflect on what that negativity means to you. It should also garner a rather interesting response given that what TFBB do comes from a place of altruism. Who would dare question such noble intentions?
“Some people mentioned that we shouldn’t put out the sales from the proceeds for everyone to see. But from my point of view, I want to be completely transparent. It’s for the sake of transparency, not because I want to boast how much we’ve raised.” Aidil shared.
“It’s not our money, to begin with,” Syahid added. “We want people to know how much they’ve donated. We understand the position of the naysayers. If it’s our own money, we would be okay with not posting. But it’s not our money, so we must be accountable to all our customers.”
As the interview progressed, I found out that for Syahid, who works as an executive at an insurance company, baking is his way doing service in the name of God. He feels personally responsible for what goes into his bakes. Even though he is Muslim, he does not want to take for granted that all the ingredients he uses are halal-certified. Employing a personal level of discernment, Syahid goes out of his way to ensure that everything he bakes is truly permissible by Islamic standards. “I put God first when I bake; that makes me happy.”
Due to his work commitments as a digital media consultant, Lutfi seldom finds the time to take on big orders for an event. But when he does bake, it becomes a creative outlet. “Those times when I sell my bakes are usually when I made something and I’m selling off the excess. But if someone were to make inquiries with me and I really cannot fulfill the order, I will pass it on to the next baker who I think can do the job.”
“That’s another reason why we’re in this community called The Baker Boys Club,” Aidil chimes in. “We can post in the group chat if one of us cannot fulfill an order and share the opportunity with everyone else. It’s like our own support group. But it’s not just about the bake sale; it’s also about cultivating a genuine friendship.”
I wanted to know what would make them stop baking for charity. Unsurprisingly, it was a question they’ve never thought of, much less entertained. “If I had to choose between baking for profit and baking for charity, honestly, I would choose baking for charity anytime,” Syahid explained when I posted this question to him. “If I have been given this gift, I should use it in service of others. That is also something I have been taught as a Muslim.”
For Aidil, his ambitions are more global: “I hope that one day TFBB can be a global social enterprise where we organise baking workshops for people with special needs. To answer your question, I won’t stop. It’s my passion and I’m obsessed with The Four Baker Boys.”
In an increasingly divided world, it is inevitable that change would eventually come not from organisations with a workforce numbering into the tens of thousands, but from the action of the few who recognize their privilege and take it upon themselves to form communities of support for those in need and dedicate their time and energy for the betterment of others.
For The Four Baker Boys, it is fortuitous that they are able to combine their love for baking with their desire to help others. Their only hope is that their charity bake sales would make someone else’s day as sweet and meaningful as the wonderful bakes they create.
(Their next bake sale would be held on 4 March 2018 at 62A Arab St, from 1-5pm)