Chef Deepanker Khosla of Haoma Bangkok is feeding the hungry. Inspired by chef José Andrés his #noonehungry campaign will provide 1,000 meals a day for the jobless. Launching the initiative this week, chef DK called for Bangkok chefs to help cook and for the public to contribute donations.

It’s been estimated that some five million could lose their jobs in Thailand, with the tourism and hospitality industries, which represent over 30% of Thailand’s GDP and are one of the country’s largest employers, being the hardest hit. A large chunk of the jobless will come from restaurants. Owner of one of Bangkok’s most sustainable restaurants, Haoma, chef Deepanker Khosla wants to help with his #noonehungry initiative. One of his inspirations is chef José Andrés.

Now unless you’re a restaurant lover living in Asia, you’re probably not familiar with Bangkok-based Indian-born chef Deepanker Khosla of the urban farm-to-table restaurant, but you would probably have heard of Spanish-born American restaurateur and chef José Andrés, who is planning to feed millions during the food crisis unfolding as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. He has partly been an inspiration for chef Deepanker Khosla’s #noonehungry initiative.

Owner of ThinkFoodGroup, which boasts more than 30 restaurants, including two Michelin starred restaurants, chef José Andrés has perhaps become better known to those outside his native Spain and the USA as a humanitarian and deservedly so. Twice-named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and awarded Humanitarian of the Year by the American restaurant industry’s James Beard Foundation, amongst countless other achievement awards and medals, José Andrés has fed millions of hungry, homeless and poverty-stricken people around the world.

The chef has done that through his non-profit World Central Kitchen – established in 2010 to offer solutions to ending hunger and poverty by using the power of food to not only feed people, but to also empower communities and strengthen economies – which fed 3.6 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Since then World Central Kitchen has fed victims of government shutdowns, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and fires, including sending a team to Australia after the recent catastrophic bushfires to feed firefighters and wildlife rescuers.

Since the coronavirus pandemic has forced restaurants to close across the USA, creating millions of unemployed hospitality workers, chef José Andrés and his teams have been cooking for the hungry from his now dormant restaurants turned community kitchens. Those who can afford to pay for meals can do so – and can also buy takeaway meals for those who can’t – while those who cannot afford to pay, are fed for free.

I said that chef Jose Andres had partly been an inspiration for chef Deepanker Khosla’s #noonehungry initiative. His other inspiration is India’s temple tradition of feeding the hungry, which dates back five centuries to the Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, who launched the concept of the langar, a free kitchen at Sikh Gurdwaras or places of worship.

No one goes hungry at a langar, where anyone can get a hot meal regardless of their religion or caste. The best known is the langar at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, perhaps the world’s largest community kitchen, which feeds some two hundred thousand rotis and 1.5 tonnes of dal to more than 100,000 people a day. To get an idea of the size of this undertaking see this story on Al Jazeera.

Chef Deepanker Khosla hopes he doesn’t have to feed 100,000 hungry jobless people a day. He wants to start with 1,000 hungry Bangkokians but he needs your help. Read our interview with chef Deepanker Khosla or ‘DK’ as he’s fondly known, watch chef Deepanker Khosla’s video and donate, or contact Haoma’s team if you can help by volunteering your time or produce.

Chef Deepanker Khosla of Haoma Bangkok Is Feeding the Hungry and Jobless, Inspired by Chef José Andrés

Q. How has your Bangkok restaurant Haoma been impacted since the arrival of the novel coronavirus in Thailand?

A. Like all Bangkok restaurants we have shut down. We are doing a basic delivery service to support our employees, giving them three meals a day and salaries that we can afford and yet still keep them comfortable.

Q. A lot of restaurants around the world have been criticised for not closing sooner despite China demonstrating that a lockdown was the fastest way to contain the spread of the disease, but we appreciate that restaurateurs feel that they have a huge responsibility to staff.

A. Thirty people work for me. They are my family. Their kids, their parents, and their partners are our family. I just can’t abandon them, which is why we are finding ways to give them a livelihood and try to keep them safe.

Q. What steps have you been taking at Haoma as COVID-19 cases in Bangkok have increased?

A. We have been following all the precautions recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), working day and night to keep our staff safe, teaching them and guiding them how to go forward to keep themselves and our customers safe.

Q. After sit-down meals stopped, and before you launched this new #noonehungry initiative, like many Bangkok restaurants you tried home delivery.

A. Yes, we changed the menu to something that was more deliverable as take away and home delivery, such as kebabs, curries and biryanis, things that I love and I know how to cook, keeping it simple yet ensuring Haoma quality.

Q. How did that go?

A. Honestly, there isn’t much momentum, as the delivery market is already saturated. Yes, we can offer alternatives, but our quality and ethos can get compromised, which comes with high costs.

Q. How has the support of closed restaurants generally been from Bangkok’s diners?

A. Our patrons really make us who we are and they have been amazingly supportive.

Q. You grow a lot of produce and you farm fish at Haoma, but you also buy from trusted growers – how are the growers and suppliers of ingredients to Bangkok’s best restaurants doing?

A. There are a lot of supplies that will be going to waste. Our main supplier Khun Soontorn, owner of Green Garden, has stepped forward and is providing free vegetables to us to cook for those who have lost jobs.

Q. So tell us about your #noonehungry initiative – is it primarily to feed the restaurant industry’s unemployed or anyone who now finds themselves jobless and hungry?

A. We’ll start where we can. Whoever is in need, we will cook for them. As a chef, it’s my responsibility to cook and nurture people. I will feed anyone who needs to eat. Just knock on our door.

Q. Wow. Was José Andrés an inspiration?

A. Chef José is always an inspiration. We were hoping that Bangkok’s industry leaders would step up and take the responsibility but nobody did so I took matters into my own hands and I am hoping that some of them will offer a helping hand.

Q. Your chefs will cook, but what about front-of-house staff? Are you able to use them or will you have to let them go?

A. I have not let go of anyone – we can’t abandon them – but their jobs have changed for now. Front of house staff (FOH) now handle order-taking for delivery and customer service and for our #noonehungry initiative the FOH team will work on distribution of the food to the people in need.

Q. Tell us about the practicalities of how you will manage, organise and finance your #noonehungry initiative?

A. My FOH team are working on identifying the needy. Vishvas, our general manager, will head the task of sourcing and distribution, and we have just started a fundraising effort. The Hindu Samaj temple and the priest, who cook for the poor every day, have generously opened their kitchen where we will cook large meals.

Q. And you’ve asked Bangkok chefs to help you, so what do you need?

A. Yes, I have. I posted details on my Facebook page and some have reached out. I really need a hand as we are looking to start at 1,000 meals a day and grow to providing as many meals as we can. If chefs who have kitchens that are not busy can take some of our cooking load, that would be awesome. We will provide the ingredients, we just need them to cook the food and wrap it in banana leaves, and send it back to Haoma, which will be the distribution centre.

Q. How can the general community help?

A. We ask that people please help support the #noonehungry campaign, either with a monetary contribution or with ingredients or by simply telling their friends about it.

Q. How can the media or anyone with influence help?

A. By helping to spread the word about our initiative to chefs who can help us and to potential patrons who can donate to this charitable initiative. Please share #noonehungry on social media.

Q. At some stage, if the spread of the virus is not contained, you may also need to close your #noonehungry initiative. What will you do then?

A. I will cook till I can. I will keep my head up and diligently go forward. Keeping my health and the health of my employees is a top priority

Q. Looking to the future, when all this is over, what do you think the Bangkok dining scene will look like once things are back to relative normality?

A. I have no idea what the new normal would be, but I hope we are all healthy and fit to be able to build our businesses again.

Other than chef Jose Andres’ projects, do you know of any other initiatives such as Chef Deepanker Khosla’s #noonehungry project to feed the hungry and jobless? We’d love to hear about them for another story we are working on. Please leave details and links in the Comments below.

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