Michelin chefs cook free meals for Berlin’s healthcare workers

German chef Maximilian Strohe looks on as a woman picks up meals that he prepared for healthcare workers. (AFP pic)

BERLIN: When the Michelin-starred Tulus Lotrek restaurant in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district closed its doors on Saturday night, the owners had no idea how long it would be before they could open again.

With measures to contain Covid-19 becoming increasingly strict in the German capital, customers were no longer coming and chairs were stacked on tables for the final time.

But then owners Maximilian Strohe and Ilona Scholl had an idea. With thousands of healthcare workers finding it difficult to access healthy food, why not prepare and deliver free meals for them?

“We thought about it: People are working 18-hour shifts and falling asleep at their desks or in the waiting room,” Scholl told AFP.

“How are they being looked after? How do you make sure that they are fed and stay healthy as long as possible?”

The restaurant owners spoke to their supplier, who happened to have a lot of fresh ingredients languishing in warehouses as so many restaurants and delivery services shut down.

They received a large donation of meat and vegetables and got cooking, posting a message on Facebook offering gourmet take-outs for frontline workers.

“Our idea was to cook the ingredients for people who are on duty 24 hours a day,” Strohe said.

The dishes whipped up for the healthcare workers were far from Tulus Lotrek’s 150-euro eight-course tasting menu which includes such delicacies as pigeon with juniper wood and fermented honey, and beetroot with coffee and tarragon.

But the medical staff were happy with the hearty canteen-style stews that the Michelin starred restaurant was now whipping up for them.

Strohe and Scholl have already received a big order from a local hospital, as well as enquiries from several smaller practices in the area.

They included dentist Dana Weigelt, who ordered a batch of meals for herself and her staff.

“There was a Facebook call and then we got in touch and are very grateful for such a great action,” she said.

“The (pressure) is very high. Especially for dental surgeries, because we work 20 centimetres (eight inches) from the patient and are actually playing Russian roulette. But we must not close the practices either.”

I can cook

With the coronavirus contagion far from abating in Germany, pressure on health workers has skyrocketed over the past week.

Confirmed cases reached 13,957 on Friday, and Health Minister Jens Spahn has said regulations will be eased for employees in medical services to help in hospitals, to take the pressure off qualified nurses and doctors.

Germany is even planning to mobilise tens of thousands of reservists to help fight the pandemic.

At the same time, sweeping measures have been introduced to restrict public life.

Bars and clubs have been closed, with restaurants forced to shut their doors after 6 pm and only shops deemed essential allowed to remain open.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is also mulling a full nation-wide lockdown, to stop people from gathering in public places like parks or city centres.

Faced with the toughening restrictions, some in the food and beverage sector are developing innovative ways to keep their customers, including a bar in Bavaria that is offering to send “emergency cocktails” with “ice packed separately”.

In Berlin, Strohe and Scholl are already planning to expand their scheme, having received enquiries from several other suppliers who don’t know what to do with the ingredients piling up in their warehouses.

“Of course it’s not easy,” Scholl admitted. “Especially when we don’t know how life-threatening it is and whether we will be able to open again in three months.”

But they want to use their skills to help in the best way they can.

“As Max said to me, hey, I can’t do a lot of things, but I can cook,” Scholl said.

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