Tales from the foodservice frontline: part 1

Among the wreckage of Covid-19 there have been beacons of foodservice innovation and generosity. Tina Nielsen speaks to some of to the sector's protagonists about navigating lockdown

Rasmus Kofoed
Chef, Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Covid-enforced lockdown afforded chef Rasmus Kofoed the luxury of some time away from the daily grind cooking at his central Copenhagen restaurant, which holds three Michelin stars. Kofoed took the chance to explore new possibilities during time with his family on the remote Danish island of Samsø where he regularly spends his summers.

The result of the considerations is Angelika, a 100% plant-based restaurant, operating in the same space as Geranium and offering a much more casual proposition in style.

The chef confirms that the opening of Angelika is at least partly connected to this year’s lockdown due to coronavirus. During his time on Samsø he had the opportunity to do a lot of cooking with his children. The family’s meals included dishes such as new potatoes with olives, pickled lemon and black pepper, oven-roasted asparagus with seaweed and preserved ramsons, and creamy butterbeans.

“There is no doubt that the Corona lockdown has contributed to the opening of Angelika. Foremost it is fuelled by an old dream to make a more accessible, green eatery,” he says. “However, many of Geranium’s guests come from all around the world and they probably won’t be able to visit us for a while. Therefore, the opening of Angelika is also a great way to keep our employees – and at the same time show people how delicious and nurturing plant-based meals can be.”

Without the enforced time out, he says, Angelika might not have happened. “I would not have had the time to make all this a reality. It gave me the motivation,” Kofoed says. “I have wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant for quite a while but I never had the time to really plan it and make it a reality. The Corona situation gave me the opportunity.”

Restaurants in Copenhagen reopened their doors as far back as May and the country endured just one month of lockdown. “Fine dining has already returned, we reopened and welcomed guests back to Geranium, it felt really great,” says Kofoed.

As for how things might look in restaurants in a post-Covid environment, he thinks little will change. “People will be more aware and also take the time to properly wash their hands and use hand sanitiser, but otherwise I think it will be the same. People go out to dinner because they want to have a good time and a memorable experience.”

Nicole Pisani
Co-founder and executive chef, Chefs in Schools, London, UK

Chefs in Schools was set up to provide food and, importantly, food education in London schools and has been expanding since launching in 2018. The model sees chefs going into schools and providing healthy, sustainable meals to children while also teaching them about the food they eat.

When Covid-19 hit the UK at first, they continued to feed the children who receive free school meals, but as Pisani explains, this soon became difficult to manage. “We continued to open the school and feeding them that one meal, but as lockdown restrictions got stricter we realised that asking the chefs and the families to come out every day was quite hard because it was against government regulations,” she says.

Instead they came up with the idea of putting together a hamper, providing the families with cooked meals for every day as well as staple ingredients including rice, pasta and vegetables.

The food is collected from restaurants and supermarkets who donate surplus food and the meals are cooked by volunteer chefs who have been put out of work during the lockdown. Pisani says doing this work has been good for the chefs. “What happened was that chefs went from working an 80-hour week to not working at all. Mentally it just isn’t good to go from one extreme to another. Seeing other people, cooking food and making a difference was really beneficial for them,” she says.

At the time of writing the charity was providing food hampers to around 1,000 families. While the hamper initiative grew out of necessity, it has become clear to the team that it will work during the holidays when there is a recognised problem with children getting food. “Holiday hunger has always been something in the background of what we do,” says Pisani. “We now realise with this model we can continue providing meals throughout the summer – and even at Christmas.”

If there is one thing Pisani would like us all to take away from this time it is a different attitude to waste. “It’s sad to see how much food gets thrown away when on the flipside there is so much hunger in the UK. So, I think we all have to be more mindful with purchasing and cooking and trying to source more sustainably instead of expecting to have everything at the snap of the fingers,” she says. “Food for any chef is such an easy commodity and to realise that people don’t have it is quite heartbreaking.”

Iván Morales
Chef owner, Arzábal, Madrid, Spain

The co-founder of Arzábal, a small group of restaurants famed for their high-quality expertly sourced Spanish produce, spoke to Foodservice Consultant early in the pandemic. With Spain mandating one of the tightest lockdowns in Europe, Arzábal was forced to close.

Iván Morales and co-founder Álvaro Castellanos were among the first chefs to sign up to join the Spanish branch of World Central Kitchen (WCK), the humanitarian organisation set up by Spanish-American chef José Andrés to feed people in emergencies.

By the time restaurants reopened and the chefs went back to their day jobs, the Spanish WCK set-up had cooked in excess of 1,000,000 meals for people in need during the lockdown. Morales and Castellanos opened their central kitchen to produce daily meals for vulnerable families and the elderly.

Shortly after Spain entered into lockdown, Morales began thinking about how he could make a difference. “I knew that I had to cook, but I didn’t want to be in charge of deciding who would receive our food – that’s a huge responsibility – and of course I wasn’t able to organise the logistics. They are very complicated,” he says.

At Arzábal the team started discussing plans on 25 March and two days later the kitchen was up and running. “We are used to the physical demands of the kitchen, but this was more mental – you have the constant pressure of knowing there are people who are not eating during this time. It makes you think a lot,” says Morales.

But beyond the unusual circumstances, on a practical level, little is different for the kitchen team in Arzábal. “It’s not that different from how we would normally behave in the kitchen – we usually wear hair nets, aprons and gloves. The only thing is that we don’t usually wear face masks,” explains Morales.

Reflecting on the experience, he says volunteering the time and kitchen was instinctive. “If you see an old person falling over in the street, you’ll help them get back up – well, right now our country is falling over and we have to help it get back up,” he says.

Arzábal reopened its Madrid restaurants in June and has been able to return with the full team as well as a new revenue stream from delivery.

Tina Nielsen


Part two of this story will follow next week.

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