It’s still impossible to dine at Eleven Madison Park.
New York’s restaurants are temporarily shut down (except for the option of offering delivery and takeout), but one of the city’s most revered fine-dining restaurants is open again—as a commissary.
Rethink Food NYC, a nonprofit whose mission is to reduce food waste while also feeding those in need, is collaborating with the three Michelin-starred restaurant to provide up to 2,000 meals per day, much of it will be delivered to healthcare workers at the forefront of the coronavirus pandemic. Amex is sponsoring the partnership, which is expected to last for at least a month.
“There’s a big disconnect between restaurants and charities,” says Matt Jozwiak, executive director and founder of Rethink. “We’re trying to encourage a stronger relationship between food and community.”
Daniel Humm, chef and co-owner of EMP, is again cooking side-by-side with about a dozen of his employees; many were laid off a few weeks ago when the state shut down dining in but Rethink was able to employ them. In the restaurant’s pristine kitchen, the chefs have been roasting chicken and serving it with rice and vegetables (some donated by Baldor Specialty Foods, a local wholesale grocer) along with chicken soup—it’s a stark contrast from the modernist haute cuisine that helped the restaurant claim the top spot on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. The kitchen is cooking up meals Monday through Friday, much of it going to places like New York-Presbyterian and Collective Fare at the Brownsville Community Culinary Center.
“The most important thing any of us can do is find ways to support the healthcare workers on the frontlines of this battle and those struggling to survive it. We’re grateful that this partnership will allow the Eleven Madison Park team to contribute in such a significant way,” says Humm, in a statement released by Rethink. “This is obviously an extraordinarily difficult moment for New York, and this program has given our team the chance to not only help people, but to do what they love: cook.”
EMP is not the only restaurant that’s converted into a space focused on supporting communities dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Chef Simone Tong had recently shuttered Little Tong Noodle Shop East Village, but Rethink awarded her its first $40,000 grant to run a community kitchen.
“The restaurant is open so we can provide for those very much in need,” says Tong, whose plans for a new restaurant called Silver Apricot are now on hold. “But this situation is much bigger than we thought. We’re very grateful to be able to do our part, but everyone is very overwhelmed and stressed about it.”
So far, Tong and a few employees have cooked up nearly 250 meals each day (with the goal being 500). She’s riffed on a popular dan dan noodle recipe by swapping in rice for noodles and adding ground pork that’s gently braised for 3 to 4 hours before adding carrots, onions and potatoes.
“It's nothing too fancy but comforting in this moment,” says Tong, who noted there’s also a vegetarian version with five-spice tofu and butternut squash.
Even without the help of a non-profit like Rethink, restaurants are also taking it upon themselves to lend a helping hand. At Highway Restaurant & Bar in East Hampton, the kitchen is providing free $35 vouchers to first responders (50 were handed out yesterday during its launch). The public can also donate vouchers, which helps feed local EMT stations, the police department and hospital workers. Also yesterday, Beyond Sushi—a plant-based fast casual chain—delivered meals to 42 healthcare workers at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, which has been in the news because of an overflow of coronavirus cases.
Rethink has plans to expand its network of New York restaurants to nearly 30 total through the same program that Tong is part of. The eateries will provide dishes at affordable prices and help distribute meals to communities facing food shortages. There are also plans to grow the program nationwide.
In the meantime, Jozwiak says his organization hopes to raise around $200,000 to keep EMP’s commissary open.
“We can stimulate the restaurant economy, and we’re giving restaurants a chance to give back at the same time,” says Jozwiak. “We want to merge the restaurant model and mission of nonprofits.”