Francesco and Hugo, two friends from Italy, own a restaurant in Brussels called Racine. During the first lockdown, they had to close their business indefinitely, like many others in town. Once the shock passed, they decided to give a hand to local organizations, and started cooking for people in need.
We are Hugo and Francesco, we come from Italy, and we arrived in Belgium roughly 8 years ago to open our restaurant Racines, in Brussels. We have been following the Slow Food movement for twenty years now, and we base our approach to food on the Slow Food philosophy.
We serve meat that does not come from beef cows, but from old cows that are raised in Belgium, and we do not buy big quantities. We have decided to do the contrary to what people usually expect, meaning that vegetables are the main dish and meat is the side dish. It takes time for customers to get used to it, but we’re getting there. As for fish, we only buy that which has been fished in a sustainable way around Belgian coasts, by small-scale fishers. Also, we no longer give our customers a choice of what they are going to eat. When they come to our restaurant, they just need to sit down and let themselves be surprised. This allows us to be more creative and to drastically reduce our food waste.
When the first lockdown began (March 2020), we had to close down for weeks, and we found ourselves with huge quantities of leftovers of fresh pasta. We decided to reach out to a local organization called “No Javel”, a group fighting against waste and precarious livelihoods, which has a grocery shop for destitute people who get their food there for free. When COVID19 struck, many people employed in the catering sector ended up with nothing, since all bars, cafes and restaurants were asked to close indefinitely. Back then, the organization started helping around 150-200 families whose members worked in the catering sector.
At Racines, we were lucky enough to keep working well during the lockdown. We had started preparing take-away menus which were quite popular but knowing that 200 of our colleagues across Brussels didn’t have that same good fortune, we decided to help them in any way we could. We started making fresh pasta boxes that “No Javel” would split up between all families. We didn’t earn anything from it, it was all voluntary work which our team happily accepted. Overall, we produced 25 kg of fresh pasta (the equivalent of 175 meals) for “No Javel”.
Next to this, we also took part in a solidarity project with another organization called “Waste No More”, who had a partnership with “Feed the Culture”, an organization that provides artists with emergency food & first-need products. The artistic sector also suffered a lot from the pandemic that drastically reduced their sources of income. They needed cooked meals, so we started preparing 150 portions per week during both lockdowns.
Back then, many solidarity movements were created across Brussels. Many associations, restaurants, individuals, took action to help those who got hit hard by COVID19 restrictions. It was very heartwarming to see.
Why did we help those organizations? Well, we both went through a tough, depressing period during the first lockdown, and we felt the need to do something useful. Before COVID19, our lives were like a train running at 500km/h, and we never took the time to pause and look around us. Suddenly, everything stopped, which was a huge shock. We needed to feed our brain and soul, it felt good to help feed people who needed it most, so it was a win-win.
We will definitely do it again, but COVID19 has made it hard to recruit in the catering sector, so for now, we are short on staff. It is a hard-working job, and we’re never sure for how long we’ll be allowed to remain open, when or if the next lockdown will be enforced, so many people have changed of career path.
Our only tip for restaurant owners who want to help solidarity organizations is not to hesitate to reach out to them, they are always in need of help and volunteers. We know they are not always easy to find when you don’t know where to look, so we suggest exploring social media. Just to give an example, we found “No Javel” through Instagram.
For those living in Brussels who want to give a hand, check out the following organizations: