Indian kitchens join the fight against Coronavirus

Staff of GRT Hotels and Resorts have been packing food for medical personnel, police, and the homeless in multiple cites during the COVID-19 lockdown

Staff of GRT Hotels and Resorts have been packing food for medical personnel, police, and the homeless in multiple cites during the COVID-19 lockdown   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

How India’s COVID-19 warriors are being supported by the food and dining industry, from hotel chains to local restaurants

After the countrywide lockdown was announced, the senior general manager of Regency Madurai by GRT Hotels, N Mohammed Sheriff, was talking to friends in the police about the repercussions and that is when the idea of providing food to police personnel came up. The request came from the SP (Madurai district), N Manivannan. And spontaneously, the Madurai team, from among all GRT hotels across the State, led the way in extending its corporate social responsibility.

Soon, Grand Chennai by GRT Hotels, Regency Sameera Vellore and Zibe Coimbatore by GRT Hotels followed suit, distributing food packets in their respective cities, either among police and corporation staff, sanitation workers or the homeless. Grand Chennai is also giving lunch to about 300 doctors at Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital everyday. “The doctors requested high-energy food, so we are making vegetable biryani for them, as well as kurma,” says Vikram Cotah, chief operating officer, GRT Hotels and Resorts. The GRT group is not alone: The Gateway Hotel in Madurai is also set to render services in a day or two, according to general manager Siddharth Jain. The Taj Group of hotels has been providing food packets to key hospitals and COVID-19 centres in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru.

The meals, in the Taj Group’s case, are being prepared and delivered by its airline catering wing TajSATS. “We have partnered with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor for Mumbai, Bengaluru and New Delhi. In Mumbai, we are working closely with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to offer approximately 8,000 meals a day to medical fraternity at the Kasturba Hospital, the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical College and General Hospital, Nair Hospital and JJ Hospital. We are also distributing meals to medical staff in Victoria Hospital in Bengaluru, in partnership with the Taj West End. As of March 30, we have started serving meals at Lady Hardinge Hospital in New Delhi,” informed a spokesperson of The Indian Hotels Company Limited, a subsidiary of the Taj Group, via email.

Raising the bar
  • Renowned chef Daniel Humm recently took to Instagram to announce that he would be turning Eleven Madison Park, an iconic fine-dining restaurant, into a commissary kitchen in an effort to help New Yorkers in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. “We are all speechless. I encourage everyone to look into opportunities to help each other,” posted Humm.
  • For the uninitiated, Eleven Madison Park was voted as The World’s Best Restaurant in 2017. Partnering with Rethink Food, a non-profit organisation based in New York, the restaurant will now prepare meals for workers and the underprivileged section of New York. It must be noted that Eleven Madison Park was shut on March 21, in the wake of the pandemic.

The numbers being handled by the trimmed-down staff of these hotels are staggering: the Taj Group has delivered over 46,000 meals to medical staff in Mumbai since the launch of the initiative on March 23. Currently, they are offering around 8,000 meals per day to the medical staff in Mumbai, whereas in New Delhi they are offering 200 meals a day to the staff at the Lady Hardinge Hospital. In Bengaluru, Taj West End is serving approximately 250 meals a day for the staff at Victoria Hospital. Besides these, the group has also provided over 10,000 packets of lunch and dinner to migrant workers in different cities.

It isn’t just the big chains: smaller food businesses are also doing what they can. Coal Barbecues in Chennai’s T Nagar area, for instance, has been handing out free lunch packets to anyone who wants one, no questions asked. ECO Kitchen, an initiative of the Chennai-based YR Gaitonde Foundation, has been preparing over 5,000 meals every single day, according to YRG’s chief programme officer AK Ganesh.

He, however, wants to emphasise that credit should be going to “the donors, and to organisations who are doing the heavy lifting, serving this food to hospitals across the city daily. We only make the food.” Those doing the distribution include organisations like Viswajayam Foundation that is doing this work in Government Hospital, Royapettah, and Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Institute of Child Health, Egmore. The Sai Trust is giving out food at Madras Medical College, among others. The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) is doing this at Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital, where they run an acid attack victims’ ward.”

It isn’t just for medical personnel, but also for the underprivileged. Rajasthan Youth Association is connected to the Chennai Corporation, and Jeth Nagar Residents Association in supporting “hundreds of poor people, and is distributing via the police force,” he adds.

Needs and nuances

Some of the hospitals receive ECO Kitchen’s meals as breakfast and lunch packets, while others receive breakfast and dinner, and so on. The food, says Ganesh, is made everyday at ECO Kitchen’s kitchen, which is run by the UK-based organisation Compass. “They add some nuances,” he says, “Like making carrot poriyal more substantial with channa, soyabean or paneer. Basically, the idea is to offer energy-dense and carbohydrate-heavy foods that are also comforting: rice, dal, chapatis, khichdi… Food that is easy to make and quick to distribute.”

For GRT Hotels’ Sheriff, it took a day to streamline the process, and the hotel has been regularly providing lunch and dinner to 150 policemen, who round-the-clock are patrolling the roads, to check on people violating the restrictions imposed by the Government to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Lunch is readied by noon and dinner by 7 pm. The police vehicle picks up the food for distribution among its staff. “Our chefs have drawn up a menu with a variety rice and a curry for each meal every day. This includes bisi bela bhaat, lemon/curd/tomato/tamarind rice, vegetable/peas and chicken/egg biryani. The food is packed in aluminium foil boxes and sent across with water bottles twice daily,” says Sheriff.

Additionally, 50 more lunch and dinner packets are also distributed daily among the homeless in the city, he adds. Most of the group’s resorts and hotels have closed down, except for a few city hotels with long-paying guests.

At Regency Madurai, ever since the last guest vacated, 10 core teams, with a member drawn from each department, have been formed. There are 12 people, including two chefs in each team, who have been put on a week’s duty and they all stay in the hotel, running the kitchen, cleaning and sanitising the premises. The 10 teams will work on rotation. “This way we are trying to make sure that our 120-strong staff is not stressed out, gets to spend enough time at home and also stays in safe zones,” says Sheriff.

The free food distribution will continue till the lockdown is lifted. “During trying times, kindness is needed more than ever,” he says.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 9:34:20 AM |

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