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Friends in need: How chefs and operators are helping others during this tricky situation

09 April 2020 by

Although this crisis is causing chaos for hospitality operators, some are choosing to dust themselves off and step up, using their resources to help those who need it most. Michelle Diederichs reports

As we all learn to adapt to the new rules and regulations around restrictions on movement and socialising, there has been a realisation that we all need to pull together if we are going to come out the other side stronger. Those of us working in hospitality are also coming to realise what it's like to have time on our hands.

Once it became clear that Covid-19 was causing greater hardship among those in need and putting enormous strain on our NHS, many in the industry wasted no time with their response.

We've seen restaurants sending out pre-prepared meals and food hampers to those in isolation, cafés stepping in when the supermarkets sold out, cooking tips on what to do with the bare essentials and Fuller's cancelling rent costs for its tenanted pubs.

While many restaurants in London closed their doors after Boris Johnson's announcement to avoid pubs, bars and restaurants, some outside the capital were still planning to go ahead with Mother's Day celebrations, albeit with reduced numbers and socially distanced tables.

Lisa Goodwin-Allen, executive chef at Northcote in Lancashire, explains: "We were running a pretty normal service and still quite busy, so we were left with a lot of produce after the Friday announcement. I said to the team, ‘I want to help, what can we do?' and that's when we came up with the food parcels."

Lisa Goodwin-Allen
Lisa Goodwin-Allen

After the clean down, Goodwin-Allen and the Northcote team packaged everything into vegetable boxes, ensuring each had a good selection of produce with versatile ingredients such as potatoes, onions, leeks, celeriac and fresh herbs. They also used the pre-weighed ingredients from the upcoming Cookery School to make up savoury pies and fruit crumbles, which were also given away. The team packaged up 25 boxes that were donated to the surrounding NHS Trusts, community groups and local villages where the elderly were isolated.

It was so rewarding to go out on the deliveries and to witness the heartfelt gratitude of those who we were helping

Goodwin-Allen, who is now adapting to life at home and home-schooling her five-year-old son, adds: "Watching the heart-wrenching scenes from China, none of us could have imagined that coronavirus would have this impact in the UK. It was so rewarding to go out on the deliveries and to witness the heartfelt gratitude of those who we were helping. Now it's time for us all to do the right thing and stay home, even if it means having to stay away from the ones we want to spend time with."

Northcote's boxes
Northcote's boxes

Similarly, Simon Rogan kept his restaurants open for as long as he could. While the impact on London led to the immediate closure of Aulis and Roganic, the Cartmel restaurants were still doing reasonable business. When Johnson called for the closures, Rogan wanted to do everything he could to retain his staff. He gave his team the option to stay at home with families, though half of his 147 staff in Cartmel chose to stay on.

Simon Rogan
Simon Rogan

While all staff took a salary reduction, Rogan and the management team took significant pay cuts to enable them to continue employing the team while the restaurants are closed. All remaining staff can also order free produce from the farm.

Rogan says: "We were all set for a fantastic year and wanted to keep the team together. We also wanted to help out those in need during this extraordinary crisis. It's an important time for the farm as we will soon start planting after the last frost, but we also need to use up what's already there.

"There are a lot of elderly and retired people in the area and we felt it only right to find a way to get food to them. There is no delivery service in Cartmel or even in the surrounding area, so we're filling an essential gap right now."

Rogan team delivering
Rogan team delivering

Within a few days, Rogan and his Cartmel team had set up a food delivery business. The team uses produce from the farm and bought-in ingredients to make a range of nutritious and comforting meals. These are then frozen and packed up for delivery in the local area. Some 1,500 portions of six different dishes were produced, including confit chicken with creamed spinach and leeks, beef and ‘Anvil beer' stew, and cauliflower and chickpea curry. The £5 per meal price covers costs and enables the team to supply free meals for the most vulnerable in the community. Nick Devenish, the vicar from Cartmel Priory, is working with the delivery team to identify individuals who are the most isolated or at risk.

The initiative has been a huge success with two lines selling out within a few days and overwhelming gratitude shown from local residents. The meals are available for collection and local delivery from the Simon Rogan website: www.simonrogan.co.uk/shop/food.

Rogan adds: "We've always felt connected to the village and are hugely grateful for where we are and who we live and work among. This is our way of giving something back."

Tom Sellers, chef-owner of Restaurant Story, decided he had to do something after watching the tearful nurse pleading for members of the public to stop stockpiling. Restaurant Story was one of a few London restaurants to remain open following Johnson's call to avoid pubs, bars and restaurants. On the day hospitality was told to close, Sellers invited NHS staff to the restaurant for free soup and pasta – dishes that were "super healthy, balanced and nutritious".

Tom Sellers
Tom Sellers

It was his business partner, former England footballer Joe Cole, who brought Sellers' attention to Heroes, a fundraising campaign to support medical staff in need. Cole had donated £25,000 to the charity and asked Sellers how he could support.

Sellers then called on his suppliers and between himself and head chef Tom Phillips they set about making soup for the frontline staff at Guy's and St Thomas'. The delivery on Wednesday 25 March fed 75 doctors and nurses in the critical care unit. At the time of writing, Sellers was planning a second delivery and also looking at creating food parcels for medical staff to eat between shifts without having to come into contact with members of the public.

Sellers says: "The NHS doesn't receive the recognition and appreciation it deserves and there is something powerful about knowing someone has done something for you. I really believe that if everyone was to do their bit we'd beat this faster and stronger.

"The personal messages we've received from the doctors and nurses has been really special. My mum was a palliative nurse for 12 years and she's going back to volunteer. I'm so proud. At this time it's good to be selfless."

I really believe that if everyone was to do their bit we'd beat this faster and stronger

‘These amazing people need us'

Fast-casual chain Leon has joined forces with actors Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory and Matt Lucas to launch a JustGiving campaign that aims to raise £1m to fund 5,600 hot meals a day for NHS staff in five major London hospitals. Lucas has released a comedy song, ‘Thank You Baked Potato', with all proceeds going to the campaign.

The campaign's aim is to deliver Leon's freshly prepared meals directly to key staff on the frontline in the NHS who are dealing with the ongoing coronavirus crisis, many of whom work in critical care units and have neither the time to buy or access to nutritious meals.

Leon
Leon

Leon co-founder and chief executive John Vincent says: "We have launched FeedNHS because we have been inundated with direct requests from NHS staff and from their families, asking us to feed them. These amazing people need us."

Vincent went on to say that if NHS staff are denied access to good food they will "burn out faster, function less well and become ill themselves".

John Vincent
John Vincent

Since going live last week, the appeal has raised £222,000 from more than 6,700 supporters. It is anticipated that the non-for-profit initiative, which launched in partnership with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and UCLH Healthcare NHS Trust, will inspire others to instigate a countrywide roll-out.

Vincent adds: "The hospitality industry is full of wonderful and passionate people. I expect many will want to be part of this action where they can, and where they still have the capabilities and facilities."

At the time of writing, Leon has served 19,214 meals to NHS workers at a 50% discount.

Taking the initiative: an industry that can't stop caring

A family affair

They say charity begins at home and Luke Tipping, executive chef at Simpsons, Birmingham, has been helping families make the most of their new-found time together with ‘Tipping's Teas'. Each night, Luke uses his Instagram stories to take followers through a relatively simple family meal. The filming is done by his son Nathan, who works in digital marketing, while his daughter Lois, a graphic design student, takes charge of the editing.

Luke Tipping
Luke Tipping

Mildred's meals

Independent vegetarian and vegan restaurant group Mildred's has committed to delivering 400 meals every week to four London hospitals to support NHS frontline staff caring for coronavirus patients. The Dalston site has made meals and dessert for delivery to Whipps Cross and Whittington hospital staff. It has also made vegan curry and vegan spaghetti bolognese meals for Barnet and Whitechapel hospitals.

Sam Anstey, managing director of Mildred's, has set up a crowdfunder to raise £5,000 to continue supporting the NHS staff, with more than £4,600 raised at the time of writing.

Drinking to Hospitality Action

Camden Town Brewery has launched the Camden Bre.www.ery bar, a virtual pub, in partnership with Hospitality Action to help raise money for the charity's Covid-19 emergency fund.

The brewery is organising a programme of entertainment over the coming weeks, from pub quizzes to live music. During each event, there will be a ‘digital tip jar' on JustGiving to raise money for Hospitality Action, as well as a donation mechanic live on Camden's web shop.

Camden Brewery
Camden Brewery

The Corona Care Challenge

The Landesberg Family behind the Arts Club, AOK Kitchen and JAB, all in central London, have set up a crowdfunding page with the goal of raising £100,000 for the production of care packages to be delivered to people in need. The Corona Care Challenge has already raised an incredible £32,000.

They are helping the elderly, single parents, those with disabilities, high-risk people and NHS staff in multiple hospitals across the capital. Care packages include non-perishable goods, such as tins, pasta, rice, jams, fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy produce, and household essentials such as laundry detergents, toilet roll, cleaning products and toiletries and baby formula. You can support the fundraising drive at bit.ly/2WXDe0W.

Wasabi donates 500 meals a day to NHS workers

Japanese-style food chain Wasabi is donating 500 free home bento meals a day to NHS workers for as long as it can. If you'd like to suggest a London hospital or frontline worker to send them to, please email paul.hine@wasabi.uk.com.

When it closed all its stores, its drivers collected all the surplus food from its kitchens, including 500kg of fresh salmon, which went straight to food charity City Harvest, which it then distributed in just three days to the elderly and vulnerable. City Harvest works closely with the hospitality and food industries, ensuring no food goes to waste. You can donate to City Harvest at www.cityharvest.org.uk.

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