Chefs were born to serve.
They love making others happy.
They live for the moment their food hits your lips and your eyes roll back in your head in bliss.
Nothing makes them happier than to hear you say: “Oh, my God. This is amazing,” or, “This reminds me of something my mother used to make!”
They would rather cook for you than cook for themselves.
They are often at a loss for ideas if you give them a day off.
So, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced chefs everywhere to shut down their dining rooms, you can imagine the despair.
Not only is it a strong possibility that they will lose their restaurants forever. But more importantly, they have lost what they live for: the ability to serve.
On Oʻahu, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi and his wife, Amanda Corby Noguchi, owners of Pili Group, know this feeling firsthand. Mark Noguchi has been a highly influential chef in Hawaiʻi and nationwide for years. He is also an educator who has worked with schools, nonprofits and film producers to promote and to connect them with local farmers, chefs and ingredients. Amanda Corby Noguchi owns an event and public relations agency called Under My Umbrella. Her expertise includes logistics, systems, strategy and community engagement.
As community leaders, they felt a call to help support not only the hospitality industry, but also Hawaiʻi’s agricultural industry and their community at large during COVID-19. They did this by quickly creating programs under their network of chefs, Chef Hui, to keep chefs cooking and farmers farming while simultaneously preventing food waste and feeding people in need.
Chef Hui has partnered with several nonprofits during the pandemic to rescue food and to distribute it to thousands statewide, to keep local farmers in business, and to support local restaurants with its programs: Feed The People and Give and Go Community Meal Program.
The Hawaiian word “hui” describes any type of organization, club, team or meetup. Chef Hui, formed in 2018, is a network of chefs who contribute to their community by spreading culture, education and support. Through education, volunteering, fundraising and co-hosting events, they support Hawaiʻi’s local food system, encourage people to connect with and honor thier heritage, and help keep indigenous Hawaiian traditions and ingredients alive.
The idea and hope is to foster more of a “village mentality,” Amanda Corby Noguchi said. She and her husband saw chefs thriving in their restaurants but, due to their intense schedules, often working seven days a week. They were constrained by the four walls of their kitchen and unaware that community-building opportunities were available to connect with the people they were serving.
“We should try and highlight and connect chefs in their community with their community,” Amanda Corby Noguchi said. “So by having Chef Hui is a way to create a space for that to happen. So that we can say: ‘Oh yeah, we have a great network of chefs here. Let us connect you.’”
The platform not only gives young or new-to-the-island chefs a voice in their community and a face for their restaurant, but it also connects them with well-known chefs in Hawaiʻi and gives them the opportunity to do what they were born to do with an even higher purpose. Before COVID-19, these chefs were collaborating on all kinds of projects, including teaching kids how to cook with ʻulu and to pound paʻiʻai (undiluted poi), hosting seafood summits, and encouraging chefs to cultivate a deeper understanding of where their food comes from through events such as Hāna Kū and Eat the Invasives.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Chef Hui quickly expanded. In partnership with Aloha Harvest and Pacific Gateway Center, it introduced its programs in two phases.
The government mandate that shut down restaurants and events with almost no notice created a surplus of food and reduced the customer base for local farms. Feed The People’s goal was to quickly rescue that food and to get it to people severely affected by the pandemic.
Aloha Harvest was connected with all of the organizations that feed people statewide thanks to its 20 years of rescuing food in Hawaiʻi. But it needed to grow its small staff fast with the overnight increase in demand.
With the help of Chef Hui, Aloha Harvest has secured a commercial kitchen and refrigeration space, increased funding for local ingredients, and grown its volunteer force exponentially to expand its reach.
“During COVID-19, it’s key to know where strengths throughout our community lie and to continually, quickly collaborate with each other to problem-solve,” said Leslie Pyo, Aloha Harvest’s community resource coordinator.“That’s much easier to do when you have amazing partners like Mark, Amanda, and the whole Chef Hui team.”
With Chef Hui’s contacts and resources in the agriculture and restaurant industries and Aloha Harvest’s delivery and logistics support, the team rescued 19,627 lbs. of food from March 21-31 from cancelled events and restaurant and hotel closures while simultaneously producing 16,356 meals for those in need on Oʻahu, according to Aloha Harvest’s recent impact report.
“The Chef Hui team jumped in feet-first, 200 percent to support Aloha Harvest as we’ve adjusted operations this past month and a half,” Pyo said. “They offered their time and kitchen expertise as we began for the first time to store and cook rescued food during the first wave of COVID-19’s impact. They’ve tirelessly worked behind the scenes to advocate and garner support for Aloha Harvest on a new level.”
Pacific Gateway Center has been a critical partner for both organizations. Its commercial kitchen has become ground zero for dividing up and redistributing ingredients as well as cooking a portion of the meals.
Food storage and transportation have posed challenges.
Aloha Harvest had no refrigerated storage to start and a limited number of trucks. Chef Hui partnered with Y Fukunaga Products Ltd., a big purchaser of local produce. In addition to keeping Chef Hui up to date on what farmers have available, it also helps with transportation and refrigerated storage. Companies such as Re-use Hawaiʻi and Servco also have contributed their box trucks.
On April 26, Chef Hui and Aloha Harvest organized a meal distribution for 1,000 families. Each family received a “stew in a bag” pack consisting of local ingredients such as Mahi Pono potatoes, ʻulu from Hawaiʻi ‘Ulu Cooperative, local beef, rice and eggs.
There is no way that we could have pulled it off without Fukunaga, Amanda Corby Noguchi said. Not only did they help source local vegetables for the bags, but they also provided all of the refrigeration space, supplied a place to stage the entire operation, and assisted with the delivery to the drop-off site.
Local farms, vital to Hawaiʻi’s food security, are in danger. The Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture announced that sales from some local farms were down 50-60%, mostly because of hotel and restaurant shutdowns, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported last month.
As much as Chef Hui aims to keep chefs cooking, it also aims to keep farmers farming. The goal when food donations started to run out was to start being able to purchase locally grown food to stimulate Hawaiʻi’s economy. Funds raised in partnership with Aloha Harvest and numerous local businesses such as Kona Brewing Company and Altres have enabled them to purchase the excess crops from farms that have lost their restaurant accounts.
J. Ludovico Farm came up with special pricing for Chef Hui so that it could purchase the farm’s chickens on a standing basis. This allowed the farmer, Julius Ludovico, to know that there was going to be a destination for his chicken each week.
Pacific Gateway Center owns farmland in Kunia that produces opportunities for about 40 immigrants and refugees to farm. Purchasing their produce keeps them working and their farms in business.
Farmer Ken Milner on the North Shore had an entire field of lettuce that he couldn’t sell because most of his restaurant clients were shut down. Chef Hui sent a group of volunteers to rescue the crops.
“On Earth Day, we had a group of volunteers from Servco help harvest, and, for some of them, it was the first time they had been out of the house since COVID, so that was pretty special,” Amanda Corby Noguchi said.
Chef Hui is working to ensure its volunteers can serve safely, she said.
“We’re constantly trying to find creative ways to engage volunteers safely,” Amanda Corby Noguchi said, “and, you know, there’s a misconception of, “Oh, we’re afraid of contaminating the people we’re serving.’ I trust our chefs and the skill of the people who are handling food, so that’s not the case. The fear is of volunteers infecting other volunteers, and that’s where we have to be really careful. So, things like harvesting on a farm, that’s a safe way for us to engage volunteers.”
Originally, Milner was donating his crops rather than letting them go to waste. But now, because of the extra funding, Chef Hui is able to purchase his lettuce as well as ingredients from many other farms to use for its meal programs.
In addition to dropping off ingredients to nonprofits such as The Salvation Army, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and Papakōlea Community Development Corporation, Chef Hui also has created satellite kitchens across the island to help cook meals. Chef Paul Matsumoto, former banquet chef for the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, is overseeing kitchen operations for Chef Hui at the Pacific Gateway Center making meals and value-added products. Chef Robert Oset from Kona Brewing Company in Hawaiʻi Kai and Thomas Naylor from Open Kitchen Oahu on the North Shore both are producing around 1,200 meals a week.
Once things were up and running with Feed The People, Chef Hui rolled out its Give and Go Community Meal Program. This program continues to feed people in need islandwide while supporting local restaurants by giving them an $8 stipend for every meal they produce for its nonprofit organizations.
Since takeout has proven to not provide enough income for most restaurants, anything extra helps.
Mad Bene, a restaurant that had just opened in Kapolei a few months before the government shutdown, has produced about 3,000 meals since the program started two weeks ago. “At the end of the day, cash flow is cash flow and the money that is coming in is used to pay our employees, which we managed to hire a few back already, as well as supporting our vendors,” said Bao Tran, executive chef of Mad Bene.
Restaurants must still be open for takeout in order to qualify for the program. Chef Hui is particularly interested in supporting the restaurants that already are purchasing or intend to start purchasing local ingredients.
Chef Hui has partnered with Hands In Helping Out, a nonprofit organization that provides volunteer management with strict safety protocols, to help manage the restaurant pickups and distribution to the nonprofit organizations.
Restaurants are a critical part of Hawaiian culture. They are the community’s meeting places and the hearts of neighborhoods. Without them, the streets feel deserted, and this connection has been severed.
The restaurant industry has suffered more sales and job losses than any other industry in the country, the National Restaurant Association reported last month. It has lost two-thirds of its workforce.
Since mid-March, chefs and restaurant industry workers have reached out in droves to volunteer with Chef Hui. Although their industry is being affected the most, they are among the first to step up to help and are putting themselves at risk every day.
When asked what community members can do to help, Mark Noguchi offered simple advice: “Be nice. Check in on your neighbor. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we will get through this together.”
This community spirit is key to the islands’ survival.
“If we all took care of the neighbors around us, I think we would all be better off,” Amanda Corby Noguchi said in a recent Instagram live video.
Like she always says, “It takes a village.”
To donate or volunteer with aloha, visit chefhui.com.
Source: Thanks https://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahburchard/2020/05/08/chef-hui-keeps-chefs-serving-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/