"Food for the Soul"
From hectic weeks running multiple venues to empty days — coronavirus has completely flipped chef Chase Weber's life around. Chase is usually in charge of an 800-seat pub and 40-seat fine dining restaurant in Perth, as well as a large bar in Northbridge. "It's definitely been a change, that's for sure," he said. "We soldiered on for the first couple of weeks as the whole thing started to unfold, but as it progressed, we decided to close all the venues, for the safety of the staff and the public as well." But while his city venues sit empty, Chase hasn't left the kitchen.
Rohan Park, one of Chase's sous chefs, was contacted by someone from his old high school in Bassendean, asking whether he could lend a hand making meals for vulnerable people during the pandemic. "They sort of threw this idea out of what they wanted to do," Chase said. "They've got these beautiful kitchens, and we can produce up to 1,000–2,000 meals a week to help people. "It's been nice to find an outlet to give back."
Cath MacDougall is the hospitality teacher at Cyril Jackson Senior Campus who contacted Rohan. The school is part of the 5000meals program. It's that work that put the school in the perfect position to host the chefs, apprentices, hospitality students and volunteers now working together during the COVID-19 outbreak. Using produce from food rescue network SecondBite and other suppliers with excess stock, the group has been able to make fresh savoury and sweet meals for a variety of groups, including the local council. "It's been crazy — the first week we made 500 meals, the second week we made 300, but this week we've made 1,100 meals," she said. Each meal costs around $5 to make, so they are also hoping the community can get on board with donations.
Volunteer drivers have stepped up. Cath said the Town of Bassendean asked to partner with Cyril Jackson when the council's volunteer driver service was no longer able to operate due to social distancing rules. "We said: 'You know what? You've got drivers, we've got the ability to make healthy meals, how about we work together to make sure everyone's looked after in this really unpredictable time?'
Stuart Ellis, a Bassendean local, is one of those drivers. He has been volunteering in his area for almost 20 years, taking seniors to do their shopping and attend appointments. Now, he has transitioned to delivering their meals. "They're always smiling and enjoy getting the food there," he said. "It's also contact for them, because a lot of them living on their own never see anyone. Sometimes it's just us knocking on their door." A friendly face, although hugs off limits Mr Ellis said social distancing had been a big change for the volunteers. "That's a tricky one. Normally you'll go and if there's seniors you'll go and give them a hug and help them down — because you've done it that long it's difficult to keep your distance," he said. Bassendean mayor Renee McLennan said the town's part of the food program could be expanded beyond seniors to other people at risk, now that the trial had proved so successful. "We have a fairly good understanding of who the most vulnerable people in our community are, so we're proactively reaching out to them to make sure the meals get to the people who need them," she said. "If people are in need, they can access it."
Chefs will cook for as long as it takes. Chase said the chefs were ready to commit to the project as long as they were needed. "Hopefully we're going to do this until COVID-19 finishes, and once that happens, we'll back to reality and full-time work," he said. The cooking project at Cyril Jackson is one of a number ramping up around Perth as volunteers come together during the pandemic.
Photo and story credit: ABC News