As UK eateries close, top chef switches to food boxes for needy


LONDON (Reuters) – Londoners have been struggling to get their food shopping done as panic buying triggered by the coronavirus crisis has emptied supermarket shelves, but some will soon be receiving food boxes prepared by a Michelin star-winning chef instead.

Andrew Wong, who serves up sophisticated interpretations of classic Chinese dishes at his restaurant in London’s Pimlico district, has had to abruptly close down along with the rest of the capital’s restaurateurs due to a government-mandated lockdown.

“All our business plans have gone out the window anyway,” Wong told Reuters on Tuesday in the deserted premises of A.Wong, which boasts one star in the Michelin Guide, the bible of fine dining.

“Whatever we can do in the immediate future – if we can help one person and make them temporarily happy, give them one meal, then that’s enough for the moment,” he said, cutting vegetables, preparing noodles and pouring sauce into takeaway containers.

He and his staff have started producing cook-at-home boxes which they plan to give free of charge to vulnerable people who are struggling as radical measures to curb the spread of coronavirus take effect.

The team plan to produce 50 to 100 of the boxes per day, dependent on available supplies. Distribution is a challenge, and they are in the process of working with local charities to make sure the boxes go to the people who need them most.

“We’re working together with our local church, which has many links with local charities, who have also got volunteers who are going to distribute it to people in isolation, but also to food banks, the homeless, etc,” he said.

Wong’s annual turnover is usually in the millions of pounds, much of which is absorbed by the cost of employing 70 to 80 staff members at A.Wong and its sister restaurant, Kym’s, in the City of London financial district.

The chef said the seismic scale of the coronavirus pandemic mean his first thoughts are not on preserving his trade.

“There are things in this world which are more important than profit and money, and if we if we go under, at least try and go under with a good heart,” he said.

“There comes a point where there’s no point worrying about it anymore because it’s completely out of our control.”

Reporting by Ben Dangerfield and Will Russell, writing by Estelle Shirbon