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Like a lot of those in the restaurant business in the city, when chef Warren Chow of Bauhaus quickly needed to close the restaurant for social distancing measures to battle COVID-19, they had a lot food left in their larders. “We froze as many things as we could, and we had a big staff meal to take care of people,” says Chow. “But there was a lot of perishable food to save.”
Chow has spent years volunteering for charity dinners, carving hams and turkeys at the Union Gospel Mission, and so his instinct was immediate: he gathered up a few fellow chefs to start cooking, to quickly get food to those who needed it. Along with chef TJ Conwi (Ono Vancouver), Chef Jefferson Alvarez (formerly Cacao), Chef Alessandro Vianello (Pourhouse), and chefs Mike Boshart and Spencer Jansz, Warren utilized what they had from Bauhaus, and a donation from Dan’s Legacy—a youth outreach program that rescues surplus food from grocery stores.
Chefs Jefferson Alvarez, Mike Bushart and Warren Chow in the Bauhaus kitchen.
To start, the team made 200 litres of cream of potato and spinach, spicy tomato veggie and curried butternut squash soups—no simple veggie here. Chow posted about it on his Instagram, and then shared a note with the COVID-19 Coming Together group on Facebook: free soup to anyone who was having a hard time putting food on the table, via contactless delivery from a team that would be masked, gloved and willing to travel just about anywhere. He wanted to focus on those folks who wouldn’t be able to easily leave their homes, whether they were immunocompromised, or self-isolating or elderly—to help those people who would need it most.
The response was immediate. “My phone blew up seconds after I posted it,” says Chow. “It ranged from single parents who just lost their job and still have to pay rent and take care of their toddlers, to people who are immobile, are in a wheelchair, or rely on public transit to get around and they’re afraid to take public transit during this time.”
Hundreds of soups line the counters.
The demand was so massive, the team went back to cook more. They moved into Coho Commissary kitchen to produce another 400 litres, and Chow recruited an army of delivery folks to get the food out to nearly 400 homes, as far away as Surrey and Maple Ridge. “There was a single mother who was also a chef, she lost her job, had just came out of an abusive relationship and has a two-year-old to take care of,” says Chow. “That really hit home. Another elderly woman was battling stage four lung cancer, and she was a volunteer in the West End, helping out her community for 25 years—someone nominated her to get the soup on her behalf. There was a gentlemen who has dementia, and was trying to take care of his disabled son. There were some very heartbreaking and touching stories—it was such an eye-opening experience.”
Because of the volume of deliveries he handled himself, Chow has now self-isolated to ensure he’s healthy before continuing the program. But the impact and intent of his project was bigger than just the food delivery itself. “For me, I believe a pandemic like this—when people face adversity, their true colours really show,” he says. “I wanted to combat the hoarders, the stocking and reselling. Our mission was to show people that there are still people out there, willing to help, that they can lean against during this hard time.”
Chef Warren Chow with friends Kristy Dever and Sunil Singal, masked and set to deliver.
Volunteer Dawn Gannon delivered soup by bike.