Chefs rescue food from bins to cook 67,000 litres of soup for Mandela Day
Chef Arnold Tanzer of Chefs With Compassion details ambitious plan, and reveals what you can do to help
Soup is steaming comfort in a bowl or mug. It is also divisive. Families argue: should it be a smooth purée or chunky? Is soup dinner, or just a first course? And that's just in my house.
Imagine the debates that unfolded among the Chefs With Compassion volunteers.
The charity was founded to feed people in need during the Covid-19 pandemic, and we cooked up an ambitious plan in conjunction with SA Harvest to make 67,000 litres of wholesome soup to serve hungry people across SA this Mandela Day.
Is soup a meal? Can we make a nutritious soup using fresh produce rescued from bins — our primary source of ingredients — or will it be just gloop?
Let’s face it, most of you reading this article today have probably never felt the agonising pain that is real hunger, but if you are served gloopy slop, is that not another punch in the belly?
We all agree: the stance that any food is better than none is not acceptable. The soup we make must be wholesome and delicious.
We start by taking stock of what free ingredients are available to us.
We have access to around five tonnes of rejected Haricot beans from a farm in Delmas. These beans are usually used to make that favourite, baked beans, but these are chipped or not white enough to be covered in tomato sauce.
We immediately dispatch the driver in a loaned truck. The beans will arrive at Chefs With Compassion headquarters in Johannesburg in 1.5 tonne bales. Somehow we will find the hands to help divide them so they can be sent to the kitchens of the volunteer chefs around the country who will be turning them into soup.
At a French fry production factory, there are four tonnes or so of frozen blanched chips that haven't made the cut for sale because they are from the rounded ends of the potatoes. Can we put them in soup?
Test soup is cooked up with various ratios. Vegetable stock is used so the soup is accessible for everyone. Only a third of the soup is blended to add viscosity to the dish, but the fresh vegetables and beans must feature. At the last possible minute, a handful of finely sliced Swiss chard is added. The soup is tasted and receives the thumbs up.
The painful costing and putting together of excel spreadsheets commences. Where do we find the money if we cannot rescue the remaining ingredients needed for the soup, like tomato paste, spices and other fresh vegetables?
Who knows someone in packaging? We need sturdy buckets and vacuum bags.
Have we found bakers to help bake rolls? Ideally, we want each serving of soup to go out with a freshly baked roll.
Can we do a quick video on food safety to send across the land for chefs who will be cooking in large volumes?
The WhatsApp messages ping from 7.30am until 11pm, and many e-mails are interspersed with Zoom calls.
I worry about the quantity of produce, others about transport, dividing up the ingredients at our HQ, beneficiaries, and money.
The list goes on, but Chefs with Compassion and SA Harvest are up to the challenge: we're determined to serve 67,000 litres of soup on Mandela Day.
The intimidation of asking for donations is nothing compared to the hunger in SA.
So, let me ask you to please consider donating to this worthy cause. Your R10 will make a real difference to someone in need.
• To donate, volunteer or for more information, visit chefswithcompassion.org.za
• The author of this article, chef Arnold Tanzer, is the chief cook and bottle washer for Food on the Move, which until lockdown was feeding TV and movie crews across the nation. Besides watching his vegetables grow, he is currently cooking for his better half and two hungry teenagers. He's also helping to feed those in need through his involvement with Chefs With Compassion, and keeping the hospitality industry connected with Our Social Kitchen, a project that allows professionals to virtually share their dishes.