It’s compassion on a plate as chefs rise to lockdown challenge
Using food that otherwise would have gone to waste, they are feeding thousands who face starvation
Seasoned duck meat sizzles in a pot next to a larger cauldron of silently bubbling spinach and sugar beans. It’s 10.30am at the Thava Restaurant in Norwood, Johannesburg and two crates of fragrant yellow rice are covered in foil alongside another crate of perfectly cut watermelon. Usually destined for a landfill, the food will now feed hundreds of vulnerable and hungry people.
Hanneke van Linge, founder of Nosh Food Rescue, has collaborated with chef Philippe Frydman and Mathew Abrahams of Thava Restaurant in an initiative called Kitchens With Compassion.
Van Linge, who has been involved in soup kitchens since 2012, first registered Nosh Food Rescue in 2017. The organisation redistributes perishable food regarded as food waste or surplus food destined for landfills.
“There wasn’t really something like this. It’s not that I thought, let me find something that nobody is doing. It started off with a soup kitchen and serving people, and somebody approached me, and they have quite a bit of rolls left over at the end of the day and asked if I’d like them, I said gladly,” Van Linge said.
Unable to walk away from the need she was constantly exposed to, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit SA, Van Linge knew she needed to do something to provide not just food parcels but meals to those in dire need.
She joined forces with Frydman and Abrahams to use the facilities at Thava Restaurant to spearhead the Kitchens With Compassion initiative.
They launched on April 6, and the 11 staff members at the restaurant now churn out 450 to 500 meals a day.
For chef Frydman, who has more than 40 years’ experience in the food industry, being involved in Kitchens With Compassion is like the television cooking game show where chefs are given a mystery box of ingredients and required to create a meal.
“All my life I wanted to participate in Ready Steady Cook, and now this is what we do. We come in the morning and based on what we’ve received we have about five minutes to decide what to cook and then we cook. It’s really like Ready Steady Cook, it’s a mystery basket every morning of what we are going to do. You never know what you’re going to get,” Frydman said.
Two days ago they got 70 boxes of mushrooms that turned into a mushroom and potato curry. They’ve also received 12kg of duck that has been prepared for an orphanage of about 50 children. With the produce they’ve received, they’ve been able to make biryani, duck curry, potato and mushroom curry and chicken curry.
But it was this rendition of duck curry that not only had a little girl licking her fingers but brought Frydman to tears.
During their first week, one of the organisations that collected food was in Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, and though they usually feed about 300 children, that day they fed more than 500 children and adults.
“The first organisation we fed was in Alex. I got a voice note from the woman who runs it. In it she asks one of the kids how was the food, and this little girl just says ‘delicious, delicious’, and I was crying. For me it shouldn’t happen, kids should never be hungry,” Frydman said.
Through Nosh Food Rescue, Kitchens With Compassion serves organisations that help vulnerable people such as children in orphanages, the disabled, rehabilitation centres and those in shelters. The organisation services about 30 organisations, which is about 4,000 people.
Van Linge said she didn’t want this to just be a Covid-19 operation.
“When I started discovering how much waste there was I realised we had to connect this waste with that need. I don’t want this to end when the dust settles; this food crisis is far from over,” she said.
Since launching the Kitchens With Compassion initiative Van Linge said she received on average four requests from organisations for assistance and about 15 requests from individual families. She said if she had more volunteers to help with the cooking, the restaurant could open the second kitchen to double their output.
Frydman, who said his passion was to cook regardless of whether it was for money, challenged other chefs to start soup kitchens.
“It’s time to give back, real chefs; it’s their duty to do this. I’m daring all chefs to just do it. I’d like other people to do the same. I’m too passionate not to do anything, the minute the opportunity came, I immediately got involved,” Frydman said.