Professional Chefs Roll Up Their Sleeves against COVID-19

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Photos: Viktorija Baltutuyte, chef instructor, HRC Culinary Academy

When Bulgaria declared a state of emergency on March 13, restaurants closed their doors to diners, and educational establishments moved their classes online. For private vocational institutions like HRC Culinary Academy, this posed a double challenge. Learning at Bulgaria’s top cooking school is mostly hands-on and usually takes place at the Academy’s associated restaurant, Talents. When both establishments were shuttered, learning was reduced to limited experimentation in the kitchens of rented apartments, as most trainee chefs come from outside Sofia or abroad. The restaurant income supporting the Academy’s work was wiped out.

Even as the Academy’s activities dwindled, the need for essential services such as food provision skyrocketed nationwide. With supply chains disrupted, access to food became an issue at hospitals and social institutions such as senior citizen homes and homeless shelters.

Need was direst at places like the Shelter for Homeless People in Crisis Situations in Sofia, which offers seasonal accommodation to the capital’s homeless population. Usually working only nights from December through the end of March, the shelter is now staying open 24/7 to care for its nearly 100 residents, for as long as the state of emergency lasts. With little funding available to cover the extension of services, the center relies almost entirely on donations.

So, when Sofia Municipality reached out to HRC Culinary Academy’s management asking for help feeding the shelter’s residents, Academy students and staff quickly arrived at the same conclusion: they would help out by doing what they are best at—cooking. Talents Restaurant donated the use of its cooking facilities, and twelve students and instructors volunteered to do the actual cooking. The America for Bulgaria Foundation and US Embassy Sofia’s #StandingTogether program supported the initiative through a donation for the purchase of food products.

Since the end of March, volunteers from Bulgaria, Turkey, Croatia, Poland, and India have worked hard to ensure that warm lunch reaches shelter residents every day. The rest of their meals are covered by organizations such as the Bulgarian Food Bank and the Communitas Foundation.

Recognizing the volunteers’ efforts, both businesses and individuals have supported HRC Culinary Academy/Talents Restaurant’s initiative over the past few weeks as well, allowing it to extend its reach further. Thanks to donors and volunteers, warm meals were also provided to medical staff at Sofia’s Second and Fifth Multi-profile Hospitals.

Rakesh Tripathi, who comes from India, is one of the volunteer chefs cooking for frontline medical workers and Sofia’s homeless. Rakesh says that, regardless of where they are from, people with useful skills “who can provide their support should come up and do whatever they can.”

Rakesh Tripathi | HRC Culinary Academy from America for Bulgaria Foundation on Vimeo.

Trainee chefs Dimitar Dimov, from Bulgaria, and Marcia Daniel, a Brazilian, are also helping with meal preparation. “I joined this group to try to help… the people that need help. I am happy to be here,” Marcia says.

Marcia Daniel | HRC Culinary Academy from America for Bulgaria Foundation on Vimeo.

Dimitar shares the sentiment: “Many people need warm bread and warm food at the moment. If we can help with that, putting a little piece of our hearts into this, it will make me really happy.”

He charges us all: “Right now, volunteers are needed all over Bulgaria. So, get involved!”

Dimitar Dimov | HRC Culinary Academy from America for Bulgaria Foundation on Vimeo.

Help HRC Culinary Academy’s volunteers continue feeding vulnerable individuals by making a donation.
Find out how here.

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