“This is a one-way win. I’m not raising money to pay my staff I’m trying to raise money to help a shelter to help keep my staff and also help my producers.”
This is what chef Álvaro Clavijo said after he shuttered his El Chato restaurant in Bogotá indefinitely on 18 March in the fall out of the coronavirus pandemic. For a week now he’s been cooking for a shelter of 65 people, including kids and old people, who can’t go out because of the quarantine. It’s going well and he’d like to help out even more shelters.
“The idea is people sponsor the shelter and we cook food for the shelter. You donate say £10 and we can feed 5 people from this.” His team are delivering hearty homemade soups and stews to vulnerable residents using second meat cuts from his meat supplier and fresh vegetables not commonly seen in Colombia; “It’s kind of fun seeing people eating heirloom vegetables in the shelter as they’re not used to them, they’re like 'wow, this is weird'.”
The chef, who trained abroad in places like L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Per Se and Noma, might have absorbed overseas influence in his cooking, but he has always been a champion of local produce. Even the restaurant's name reflects the chef’s affection for local, El Chato’ is a term of endearment used by locals in Bogotá.
“I have a responsibility to these farmers – they already have everything. I was worried about it," he explained, "selling the produce through our website wasn’t a solution, so we came up with the idea to sponsor the shelter and make food for them using the ingredients to make meals from them.”
In a fertile land like Colombia, Álvaro has encouraged his local producers to grow “weird” and special vegetables that they wouldn’t usually have chosen to grow like napa cabbage, purple Romanesco, heirloom tomatoes, potatoes and beans, baby corn and Jerusalem artichoke. Those colourful and vibrant vegetables which used to appear on his menu in souffles, mayonnaises or mousses and are now nourishing those in need and giving his staff a much needed salary as they sacrifice their time for others during the pandemic.