The Heroes of 2020
“Not all superheroes wear capes,” said then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Too right. Heroes wear chef’s whites, and aprons, and carry trays and clean fridges. Here are some of 2020’s food culture heroes, the people who were at their best when things were at their worst
Gaz Smith of Michaels’s: When the shutdowns caused Gaz Smith to pivot, he pulled off a perfect plié. Mr Smith turned adversity into diversity every step of the way, keeping 30 staff in employment by creating a farm shop, a wine store, a street food seller, a greengrocers, a click and collect for Christmas boxes working out of two locations southside and northside - Little Lockdown in Higgins Family Butchers in Sutton, and at Michael’s in Mount Merrion. The Freedom of Dublin City is the least we expect for Gaz. You ok with that, Hazel? Gwen Layden of George’s Arcade: Gwen paused rents for the tenants in @georgesarcade during lockdowns. Gwen expressed particular concern for tenants working in Dublin who hail from other countries “They don’t have parents in the country to go home to - it’s very important they’re protected”. Sean Hussey of Hussey Fruit & Veg: “I could have stayed home and painted the fence posts," said Sean Hussey, Dublin’s fruit and veg maestro. Being Sean, he didn’t do that. Instead Sean and his wife Jayne jumped in their vans, and got busy collecting and delivering and – above all – paying: “I pay the producers every week,” said Sean. Jack Crotty of Neighbourfood: When all routes to market seemed closed, Jack Crotty’s Neighbourfood was like an Underground Railroad to food salvation. More than one artisan told us that “Neighborfood kept us alive.”
Speaking Truth to Power
Adrian Cummins of the Restaurants Association of Ireland: Adrian never stopped pushing and pushing to salvage something for an industry under unique threat. Most recently he has been battling for a fresh compensation package for the hospitality sector. Day after day, through every medium, he fought the good fight. Richard Jacob of Café Idaho: If you ever need to write a letter of protest, then copy the magisterial letter which Richard wrote to the Minister for Finance, when company proprietary directors were excluded from the revised wage subsidy scheme. It’s a masterpiece of concision, erudition, and accuracy, and it worked. On Jul 31st: “Minister Donohoe reinstates Proprietary Directors to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme.” Richard just may be the smartest man in Cork city. Donal Minihan of Hotel Doolin: Donal wrote an open letter to the Government on 3rd September telling Minister Donnelly: “Hotel Doolin will not be recording what our customers have to eat for their breakfast, lunch and dinner as we working people have enough to be doing trying our best to keep our business open and everyone safe without following nonsensical laws…” That put an end to an especially dumb piece of Government rule-making.
Chefs Mickael Viljanen with Mark Moriarty and their team, with contributions from producers, prepared 4,500 meal packages, with 9,000 dishes for front line workers at different hospitals and donated over €2,000 surplus funding to St Vincent de Paul. Jordan Bailey and Majken Bech-Bailey of Aimsir: Jordan and Majken prepared food for front line staff at Naas General Hospital, and then - when Kildare locked down - opened Every Cloud from Aimsir only for people in Kildare. Izz and Eman Alkarajeh of Cafe Izz fed healthcare workers for free at their café, Café Izz, in Cork. A couple of years ago, the couple and their family were living in Direct Provision. Daniel and Grace Lambert of Bang Bang D7, raised over €60,000 along with toys and vouchers to give as presents for 1,500 kids in direct provision from Kerry to Monaghan, Finglas to Clare. The People of Dublin who queued for four hours at Airfield to support Niall Sabongi, by buying fish from Sustainable Seafood Ireland Wholesale, when a lockdown was imposed suddenly, leaving them with a ton of wet fish to sell. Up the Dubs!
Vanessa Murphy and Anna Cabrera from Tapas De Lola: When Kildare locked down, Vanessa and Anna didn’t delay. “To all Dublin restaurant owners wondering if anything we can do for all our colleagues in lockdown from tonight? Maybe they’ve stock anyone in Dublin might be interested in buying - seeing as insurers won’t cover us?!?!"And when they themselves locked down, they didn’t delay: “What do you do the day after? Change voicemails, change email auto responder, contact bookings, scrub restaurant… find the right words for your team… the latter being the hardest!” Gina Murphy of Hugo’s: Gina reported from a deserted Dublin, with her most memorable tweet on May 22 being: “Decision made. We are going to reopen on 2nd July. Our capacity has gone from 84 to 34. Our staff from 26 to 7. Open 5 days not 7. This is nerve racking. But if we don’t try, we’ll never know."
Manuela Spinelli of Eurotoques worked with Marie-Claire Digby of The Irish Times, and with Eurotoques chefs, to create the Eurotoques Kitchen Cabinet 100 chefs at home with @eurotoquesirl. Inspiration when we needed it most!