A little over a year ago, to the casual observer, Nicole Wong seemed like a regular stay-at-home mother of two, who also looked after her husband and parents-in-law. Nevertheless, she found time to run an online business, Nicole’s Kitchen, selling home-made jam and attracting a steady stream of clients. Then she landed a contract with Taiwanese bookshop chain Eslite, to open a retail counter in its Hong Kong store. Susan Jung’s recipes for mango crepe cake, and mango jam “I received a letter from Eslite out of the blue,” Wong says. “Back then, I was just selling online and had corporate orders through word of mouth. I was making batches as orders came in. I was very focused on caring for my children.” She had started making jam for her son when she couldn’t find additive-free condiments. “I looked at all the jars [in the shops] and there were so many preservatives and strange ingredients written on the labels,” she says. Before long, the former hotel executive was buying copper pots (preferred by serious jam makers for their conductive properties) in which to perfect her preserves. Unlocking Hong Kong’s hidden labour force: the social enterprise getting low-income mums back to work It was only after she received the invitation from Eslite that she began considering Nicole’s Kitchen as a serious business. With the blessing of her family, she refurbished her husband’s office in Sha Tin and turned it into a small-scale factory. Time was tight, however. “I got the keys to the factory just two weeks before I was due to open in Eslite,” she recalls. Wong had 19 tried-and-tested recipes from her online business, but the challenge was scaling up. “I had no idea how to set up a food factory, or how to handle supplies, inventory, deliveries,” she recalls. “I’ve always considered myself more of a creative person, and all of that was just mind-boggling.” A year on, the range has expanded from jams to fruit-tea mixes and cooking sauces, including XO and spring onion chilli sauces. Susan Jung’s recipes for Indonesian corn fritters and chilli jam “There’s a story behind every flavour,” she says. “My mother helped me find the perfect balance for the kumquat jam. I was having trouble getting the sugar and citrus flavours to balance to my liking, and she told me to reduce the sugar level drastically – I would never have thought of it, because any lower and it wouldn’t be enough to preserve the fruit.” The black bean and chilli sauce is made to her mother-in-law’s recipe. “When I first got married, I saw this jar of home-made sauce on the table at every meal. It’s the flavour of home,” says Wong, who tries to capture “flavour memories” in her products. “I’d love it if people would tell me about flavours from their childhoods, and if I could help recreate them,” she says. “The pace of life is so fast in Hong Kong that these things seem to be forgotten so quickly.” Wong is Malaysian-Chinese, and says Chinese immigrants in her native country seem to have preserved many more traditions than have survived in Hong Kong, and points out that countries such as Japan have been successful in promoting local foods. “I want visitors to be able to take home a taste of Hong Kong. From my home to theirs.” Nicole’s Kitchen products are available at Eslite Spectrum, Cityplaza 1, Taikoo Shing; online at nicoleskitchen.com.hk , and at fairs and markets. For details, visit facebook.com/nicoleskitchen.com.hk .