On a calm Saturday afternoon, 19 December 2020, we took a trip to visit a house in Shah Alam that hosted a humble yet lovely home bakery business. This home bakery is run by Jonathan Leon Lim, 28, an IACT College alumnus, who graduated with a Bachelors in Advertising and Design. However, instead of taking the advertising route, pursuing a career in an Advertising agency, he made the decision to go into culinary after a major life-changing brain surgery. We sat with him to talk and know more about his story.
Besides cooking and baking, was Advertising and Design something you have always wanted to do?
Cooking is part of my hobby. Life changed when I started having epilepsy attacks since 17. Doctors advised me to undergo surgery when they identified the cause of my epilepsies, and it was the right time they said, because the recovery process for a younger person is quicker. So, at 24, I underwent surgery. I lost my speech, and control of my right-hand movement. I could not communicate. I was hospitalized for 4 months, and had to undergo therapy. Into my 6th month of therapy, I told myself I had to find a job, and that’s when I thought of becoming a Chef, something which does not require me to talk. With my condition at that time, it was impossible for me to go back into advertising. When I first started working at a café, I started from zero, and from there, I moved along and found my passion. It was tough initially for me, but I learnt a lot from YouTube videos.
Tell us about your recovery after surgery.
It took me 9 months to recover. From language, to speech, to communicating, I lost it all after the surgery. Back then, I did not have the drive. With my condition, having a 9-5 job was strenuous. I did not enjoy what I was doing. Although I have all the necessary skills with me, things were just not clicking. Food, somehow, gave me a reason, and a purpose to comeback. I was at my lowest – I could not focus, and speak properly. I was an MMA fighter, but I could not go back to sports or my usual life. It was very depressing, but I found cooking to be my therapy.
You were first a chef at a restaurant, and now you have started your own home business. How have you progressed from when you first began?
I actually started during the first MCO. Bread was an essential item during that time, it was sold out everywhere. So, I decided baking my own, but even yeast was difficult to come by. Well, I then produced my own dough, promoting to friends and family. During this particular period, I was very career driven. I was supposed to join a mission in June, but plans changed, and I had to work around that change. Hence, I established my business, from scratch. With less than RM100 left in my bank account, I registered with SSM, and with nothing to lose, I decided to just go for it. And I took orders as and when it came. That was my turning point.
From taking small time orders, Jonathan now uses about 100kgs of flour in 2 weeks, baking 30-50 loaves of bread a day. He takes pride in all his loaves, especially his sourdough. Each loaf, rest assured, is freshly baked. Jonathan Leon himself is his own brand. His business, From Passion to Reality is aptly named from all his experience gathered. Jonathan tells us that he will be opening a store in Kuala Lumpur sometime in April next year. He tells us that one must be open to opportunities, search, and stay true to their own calling. There were many trial and errors too in producing recipes, with customers and family being his supporters and critics. Jonathan adds that whatever field an individual has chosen to study, will come in handy regardless of the path one chooses.
As Jonathan left the table to attend to his loaves in the oven, we caught up with his mother, Jean Chan, 61. On the first day of SPM, the school called informing her that something had happened to Jonathan. Upon arrival, and after tests and scans, it was then told that Jonathan had epilepsy. For 4 years, while pursuing his Bachelors in Advertising and Design, Jonathan had to battle attacks, even getting into minor accidents. Jean was determined to let him finish studies first, then arrange for surgery.
As a mother, it must have pained you to watch Jonathan go through this. How did you cope?
I was still working then, but am very thankful for family and friends, especially those from church who offered us their prayers and assistance during the first few months when he was in hospital. What surprised me the most was when he told us that he did not want to go into advertising. Instead, he wanted to pursue a career in culinary. He reasoned it out saying that he had to re-learn. Because of the surgery, his right side and speech was affected. I gave him a year. I told him that if things did not work out in his favor, he will need to go back to something he has learnt. But my son proved me wrong, I noticed the passion he has for cooking. He was also being recognized for his skills. I commend him for his efforts and hard work. One thing I know, his background in advertising has helped him, and he has a great eye for detail.
Jean was a banker, and retired 3 months ago. Having left the corporate world, she helps Jonathan with his business. She bakes cookies and fruit cake, both family recipes. These have been a staple at their home every Christmas, for the past 20 years. From simple treats from a humble kitchen, to now being sold in bulk.
What do you think of Passion to Reality’s expansion to Kuala Lumpur?
I believe this is a positive move for his career path. The place we have here is quite limited. Orders are coming in, and Jonathan needs a bigger space, workers, ovens. God truly opened doors for him.
When Jonathan first came out of surgery, he went through depression. A doctor suggested seeing a psychiatrist but the surgeon who attended to him, was against the idea. When his surgery wound did not heal properly and was infected, Jonathan had to go into surgery again. In total, he had stitches redone four times.
What is your wish for your son, Jonathan?
Jonathan has come far; he has matured a lot. I really wish him all the success, that he will fulfil all his plans. I want to see him own his bakery and restaurant. I want to see him train upcoming individuals in this field. I want his life to be a testimony and encouragement to others.
The chemistry between Jonathan and his mother says a lot. Their faith has kept them strong, and throughout this interview, they have mentioned countless times about the grace of God. Jonathan Leon Lim, a true inspiration to many, and for Jean, for staying positive and supportive throughout.
If you would like to order sourdough bread from Jonathan, visit his bakery page on Instagram at @frompassiontoreality or contact him at +60176194471
All photo credits go to Moo Tik Pin – Good News resident photographer.