The challenges facing chefs have been amplified by the coronavirus crisis. Lockdowns and social distancing measures have taken their toll on the restaurant industry across the world. But imagine adding food, fuel and water shortages, hyper-inflation, social unrest, political chaos and the threat of jail to your list of daily obstacles. Welcome to Venezuela.
For Caracas-based chef Victor Moreno, preparations to overcome the virus were going well, at first. "After developing four brands exclusively for delivery and pick-up services, creating the new menus from scratch, developing all the packaging, we were finally ready to start over. But then, the country faced another gasoline shortage and we were unable to deliver,” he says.
Moreno runs his eponymous restaurant in the Altamira neighbourhood of the city, and had been thriving since he opened four years ago — something rare in a nation so immersed in social and economic turmoil. But while the pandemic affects different countries in different ways, Venezuela has been hit harder than most.
Photo courtesy of Moreno by Victor Moreno
"As much as we've always had supply problems, we used to serve 200 people a day. Now, I don't even know if tomorrow I will be able to deliver the food I'm cooking today,” he explains. In a country where the healthcare system struggles, and a strict quarantine has resumed after registering over 1,000 daily cases per week, the rules are forever changing.
"After being completely closed for fifteen days in early March, we were finally able to open for deliveries. One day, we were allowed to deliver until 5 pm, and the other one until 2 pm, under the risk of going to jail if we didn't follow the time restrictions. Amid all the uncertainty that we already live with the virus around, here we never know what tomorrow will be like, if we will have fuel to deliver our food".
Venezuela possesses the world's largest crude oil reserves, but hardly produces any fuel and sometimes relies on Iranian tankers for the supply of gasoline. Formerly a democracy with one of the most prosperous economies in Latin America, it was a nation with such numerous petroleum revenues that the socialist government — which has been in charge for the last 20 years — spent vast amounts on social programs, while considerably dropping the price of barrels (the country's main export product).
Hyperinflation reached its highest ever rates, and the country's GDP per capita fell drastically. As a result of the critical economic situation, a humanitarian crisis emerged to haunt the population, which has suffered greatly from the scarcity of essential items such as medicines and food. The lack of resources and economic investment has damaged country's infrastructure, and electricity, water, and gas are often in short supply.