• Chefs Spring into Action on Coronavirus Relief

Chefs Spring into Action on Coronavirus Relief

Chefs Spring into Action on Coronavirus Relief

Chefs Spring into Action on Coronavirus Relief

Even as their own restaurants face closures and financial disaster, chefs all over the world are mobilizing to feed schoolkids, the vulnerable and overworked first responders

article originally featured in Wine Spectator Mar 22nd 2020
Through fires, floods and hurricanes, big-hearted chefs and their confreres in the hospitality industry have always stepped up to support victims and responders. But in the face of international curtailments or even forced shutdowns of entire communities’ dining industries, many have no means to keep their own restaurant businesses running during the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, through their restaurants or by partnering with nonprofits, a number of prominent chefs and restaurateurs have raced to set up operations for preparing and delivering free food to those most vulnerable or overtaxed by the virus, from isolated seniors to out-of-school children of impoverished families to quarantined cruisers.

Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen meal-making juggernaut has been on the scene of disasters for years, and its coronavirus response geared up in mid-February, providing meals for the quarantined passengers and crew of the cruise ships in Yokohama, Japan and then Oakland, Calif. On March 15, Andrés announced that the virus had come to the home of his restaurant empire in Washington, D.C., and he would close his restaurants nationwide, including Restaurant Award winners Jaleo and Zaytinya, plus his eateries in New York and Las Vegas. Some were converted into “community kitchens” and have dispensed free meals to those in need, following careful sanitization and social distancing procedures, starting March 17. “We cannot [keep] the restaurants open when we will only be part of the problem, when we need to be part of the solution,” Andrés said in a video message on Twitter. “Let’s be strong, let’s be smart, let’s love each other, but at this time, loving each other means staying away from each other.”

Also on Tuesday, Andrés’ team arrived in the Bronx, N.Y., with a plan to begin distributing 5,000 meals a day from six distribution centers across the borough; by Thursday, there were 19 such locations, including in Queens, N.Y. “This is when it all comes full circle. We’re getting food out to folks, because everybody needs something right now,” said Bronx assembly member and organizational partner Michael Blake in a video on Twitter, noting that the service would focus on underserved neighborhoods, many home to high populations of undocumented immigrants. On March 23, WCK will touch down in Los Angeles to begin its “grab and go” meal program there, aimed at providing lunches to students during school closures. Finally, WCK has set up a map online that provides times and locations of meal distribution networks across the country.

Other restaurants are finding their own ways to be nimble, with many pivoting from packing dining rooms to packing vans with snacks for seniors, teaming with the charity Citymeals on Wheels. Chef Michael White’s Altamarea Group, the Rainbow Room and chef Thomas Keller all pitched in this week with the organization that feeds New York’s vulnerable during emergencies. All the restaurants are otherwise either closed or, in a few cases, operating limited delivery or takeout service.

For the next six weeks, Altamarea Group will be donating 25 percent of gift-card sales to Citymeals; they can be used at group establishments like Grand Award winner Ai Fiori, and Best of Award of Excellence winners Marea and Vaucluse. “We have a longstanding and active relationship with Citymeals, and despite our time of extreme stress, we still wanted to share something with those most in need,” an Altamarea Group spokesperson told Unfiltered.

On March 18, Keller’s Bouchon Bakery donated baked goods to the organization; Keller’s TAK Room and Grand Award winner Per Se also donated products to City Harvest this week. On Thursday, chef Mathew Woolf was pictured in front of the famed entrance to the Rockefeller Center and Rainbow Room with his Citymeals tote ready to go. "The culinary community has always been so supportive of Citymeals and our mission,” said Citymeals executive director Beth Shapiro in an email to Unfiltered. “And now is no exception, during the coronavirus emergency, when our frail aged neighbors need us even more. We’d like to thank the local restaurants, purveyors and food groups that have donated so generously to nourish this vulnerable population.” ...

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