Flore Bonnard, who runs the company Rezto, relayed an appeal to recover unused foodstuffs from wholesalers, producers, small or large, to prepare meals for hospitals.
The restaurant is the lung that makes cities breathe. The restaurant is the heart that beats in the countryside. It is in the restaurant that we eat, that we share, that we exchange, that we meet. It is in the restaurant that we make society, that we make civilization. It is in the restaurant that we restore, in the first sense of the term.
When the cities and countryside are sick, the restaurant coughs.
Before the Coronavirus crisis, Rezto was a small start-up that was just starting out. I have always worked in the restaurant industry, before I started working in digital, with a strong attachment to the local dimension and to the quality of the service and products, and the work done with passion. It was while working in this very competitive sector that the idea of Rezto came to me. Seeing platforms like TripAdvisor, I thought it was possible to do better, to better inform the consumer interested in his food, and to include producers by highlighting them through a referencing application.
At the beginning of 2020, Rezto had about a hundred referenced restaurants, i.e. those who pay a subscription to appear on the platform. But the Covid-19 crisis turned all our plans upside down. As you can imagine, no restaurant was asking to subscribe to our platform anymore and the question of suspending subscriptions arose, given the closure of the restaurants.
When the containment was decreed in France, a vital decision to stem the spread of the virus, as responsible citizens, restaurant owners, wait staff and cooks understood the need to close their establishments. But a closed restaurant is not a dead restaurant. Chefs do not disappear behind closed doors.
It is thanks to an initiative of Guillaume Gomez, “The chefs with the caregivers” that I contacted on Facebook, that I realized that we could be useful to society. He asked to help the care workers. We applaud them every night at the window and well here was the opportunity to go a little further to help the care workers.
If the conditions of absolute sanitary safety are met, indeed, the chefs can continue to grab pots and pans, to light the fire, to cut, to chisel, to mix, to roast, to braise, to do what they do best: cooking. Even if they are no longer allowed to prepare meals for their regular clients, many are available to cook in some way for everyone, especially for the nursing staff. To cook something other than the insipid ordinary of the hospital would be a nice way to express our gratitude to the fighters engaged on the front line of the pandemic, admirable for their professionalism, sacrifice and dedication.
At first, I simply relayed Guillaume Gomes’ message on my own Facebook account. But right away I received a lot of positive comments from many restaurant owners who wanted to show their support for the project. That’s why I contacted Sophie Blanqui, in charge of catering at Bayonne Hospital, who explained to me how things were going and especially that the hospital canteen does not serve meals in the evening to the sixty to one hundred people mobilized for the night. Something had to be done.
It was not easy, especially on the logistical level, but in the end, in the kitchens of the Apprentice Training Center of the Basque Country, we prepared one hundred complete meals every day for a month, that is to say 3000 meals, with 17 cooks who took turns every day and about fifty food producers and wholesalers who contributed with their donations to make this possible.
The initiative “Chefs with caregivers” mobilized a lot of people all over the territory: 776 chefs were mobilized, 146 public hospitals and 119 private hospitals were helped, and above all 104767 meals were served.)
Our “growth” was exponential. On the first day, we were working with only two cooks, Nicholas Bouchard from Patxamama Bayonne and Damien Robert from Osagarria Bayonne. Day after day, more and more people joined us. We were six by the third day. In total, seventeen cooks were mobilized.
My role was that of a conductor. I made schedules with shifts to have, each day, five or six cooks. With the chefs, we composed a different menu each day. From the beginning of the operation, a caterer, Bixente Eizmendi, put his refrigerated trucks at our disposal and joined us with his brother Xabi, also a cook. They have been a great support and key players in the success of the operation.
As with Rezto, we prefer quality local producers. Even if we only asked for what was necessary, short-dated products or unsold products due to the closing of the markets, I was touched and moved by the generosity of many small local producers, who gave very high quality products, stocks that they could have sold in this particular period.
As the days went by, via messages relayed on social networks, other cooks joined us and it was a brigade of 17 people who finally made the machine work!
For a restaurant owner, 100 meals means 100 starters, 100 main courses and 100 desserts. Every day, the teams will be present to ensure that we never fail and we will produce 3000 meals in all, without a penny, with the generosity of each person, at his or her level.
Each day was different, with its problems to solve, its solutions to find, but each day was like a heartbeat, intense and vital.
If I have to remember a few moments, I can tell you about the emotion of all of us (even if the cooks rarely express themselves…) when, on returning from a daily delivery, we received an envelope with lots of little words from “our” caregivers, showing us their gratitude. Because indeed, what a funny experience…. If a cook doesn’t always see his customers, he has the feedback from the dining room, the plates that come back to the dishwasher that we always keep an eye on, and sometimes even the thanks from the guests that we can go and see at any time. But here, no room, no return, our daily life consisted in going to deposit whole trays of meals in a cold room, for strangers that we will not see. So that day when we received these sheets, scribbled between two patients with words that were each more kind than the next, it was a great emotion!
This experience changed me, opened my eyes to our relationships with others, our ability to move forward and to do our job (almost) under any circumstances.
The primary meaning of being a restorer is to restore others, but as we all know, giving is receiving. What I retained in this adventure is that these people, who work in the restaurant business, the real one, the one that “restores” in the true sense, by doing good through the good food that is prepared, are people out of the ordinary. And we often forget to what extent this self-sacrificing profession, where we have a social life that is totally out of sync with our lives, where we work when others are having fun, without New Year’s Eve, without fireworks, without summer vacations, in the heat, the noise, and the hardships for the body that is getting more and more damaged every day, is practiced by passionate people. Women and men who “sign” in spite of this because this profession is first of all a passion, a daily renewal, but it is above all a real family, it is a state of mind, a strength, a vitality which makes us surpass ourselves daily and brings us further.
One year later, we have come a long way, and from this initiative a new adventure was born: Court-Circuit www.courtcircuit.co. After seeing that it is possible to produce quality meals, sourced from local producers, and make it affordable and convenient for people who work and have little time for lunch, I decided to launch Court-Circuit. The concept: Produce quality, well-crafted take-out meals, sourced directly from local producers, and offer them in smart, self-distributing refrigerated lockers.
We sourced the producers and experimented with the Court-Circuit recipes with pick-up points during the second lockdown and deliveries. Due to the success of the concept, the first distributor will be established in Anglet (64600) in October 2021.
Let us never lose the way of the restaurant, it is around a plate and a glass that a new world can be invented.
Slow Food Heroes is a project financed by European Cultural Foundation,
with the contribution of CRC Foundation.