HONG KONG: Eight star chefs joined Feeding Hong Kong earlier this month to discover the brutal reality faced by more than a million people in the city.
With seven Michelin stars between them, the chefs learnt why food insecurity has condemned a huge swathe of the city’s population to have little or nothing special to eat at Chinese New Year, a time that usually celebrates prosperity and abundance.
Every day, 3,600 tonnes of food waste are sent to landfills in Hong Kong, while more than one million people live in poverty struggling to afford nutritous meals.
At the Feeding Hong Kong’s Yau Tong headquarters, the eight chefs taking part were Vicky Lau from TATE Dining Room, Vicky Cheng from VEA, Nate Green from Henry, Agustin Balbi from ANDO, Grégoire Michaud from Bakehouse, Jowett Yu from Ho Lee Fook, Uwe Opocensky from Petrus and Olivier Elzer from L’Envol.
First they learnt how Feeding Hong Kong support the supply of 250,000 meals per month, before they then helped to pack 500 special CNY food parcels. Next they took on the challenge of preparing meals using only the most basic ingredients, 69 tonnes of which Feeding Hong Kong rescue each month and include in deliveries to frontline charities providing emergency food support.
Instead of state-of-the-art kitchens, their equipment consisted of single hotplates and rice cookers, as used by Hong Kong’s low-income population who have no choice but to live in cramped subdivided flats and cage homes. Rice, oil, instant noodles, dried mushrooms, canned meat, fish and vegetables, fresh greens and basic condiments were the ingredients that the chefs had to work with.
The eight chefs were joined by two of Hong Kong’s best known and most respected food Instagrammers, @little_meg_siu_meg and @thatfoodcray who documented the morning to their thousands of followers.
Chef Vicky Lau, recently awarded a highly-coveted second Michelin star at her restaurant Tate Dining Room, said: “Today was a really powerful experience that showed the critical work of Feeding Hong Kong. Hundreds of thousands of people in our city live in food insecurity, so cooking with very basic ingredients on minimal equipment reminded exactly the huge challenges that so many have to deal with.
Gabrielle Kirstein, Feeding Hong Kong’s founder, said: “We’re immensely grateful that these acclaimed chefs took the time to learn about our work and create dishes from the food we supply. So many people lack the absolute basics at CNY, let alone anything to celebrate, while 1 in 3 seniors fall and 1 in 5 children fall under the poverty line of HK$4,500 per month. Covid has significantly disrupted our normal channels of food, volunteers and distribution – but the need for food assistance has never been greater. We’d ask everyone to visit www.feedinghk.org to look at ways in which they may be able to help our work.”
Despite COVID, the F&B industry has continued to support Feeding Hong Kong. As pallets of produce that were destined for restaurants and hotels became backlogged, Feeding Hong Kong were able to work with wholesalers and distributors to make sure that instead of going to waste, they helped people in need.
Argentinian Chef Agustin Balbi from ANDO was last week awarded his first Michelin star. He reflected on how those in the restaurant industry have themselves been hammered by COVID: “Many people working in the food and beverage community have recently found themselves in food insecurity and now rely on organisations like Feeding Hong Kong to support their families. It has been a brutal time for the restaurant business, in common with many industries, so we’d urge everyone to look at ways that they may be able to support the brilliant work of Feeding Hong Kong.”