When Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver hop aboard your community kitchen campaign, you know you're on to something.
That's the kind of culinary fairy dust sprinkled on a whimsical Australian lockdown idea dubbed Solidarity Pancakes – an online pandemic cook-up dreamed up by VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio that has now gone global, thanks in part to social media shout-outs from two of the world's most influential celebrity chefs.
It all began with Demaio's private lockdown ritual.
Every Sunday morning he would cook pancakes for his partner Olivia, a doctor working on the hospital frontlines, and his 98-year-old grandmother, Bette, who lives in the same apartment building in Brunswick.
"I really wanted to support Gran. She's 98 and it's tough for her living on her own," Demaio says of the stack of pancakes he would leave at her front door each Sunday.
"And I'd do the same for my partner. It was something I could do for both of them and something we could all enjoy together, even if Gran wasn't with us. She was a frontline worker, a nurse in World War II, and Liv is a frontline worker now and working through another big crisis. It became something I could do to show my support and my solidarity, I suppose."
Time to mix! Incredible to see pancakes being made across Victoria and around the world! #SolidarityPancakes is all about sharing unity, connecting with others and giving a HUGE SHOUTOUT to our frontline and essential workers. #covid19vic pic.twitter.com/qQhraHHECn— Dr Sandro Demaio (@SandroDemaio) September 11, 2021
In late August, Demaio shared an idea with his tens of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram: what if a bunch of people joined in for a one-off Sunday morning pancake festival online as a gesture of solidarity with frontline health workers?
Someone suggested the hashtag #SolidarityPancakes.
"And the rest is history," laughs Demaio.
Culinary goddess Nigella Lawson, famous for engaging with fans on Twitter over recipes and cooking tips, noticed and tweeted her blessing. Then Jamie Oliver did the same. On the second weekend, ABC News broadcast the pancake cook-off on its Instagram Live feed, hosted by best-selling author and former MasterChef contestant Alice Zaslavsky.
Thank you so much. And #SolidarityPancakes sounds great!— Nigella Lawson (@Nigella_Lawson) September 5, 2021
"I thought we might get 100 or 200 … that would be awesome, even if it's just a handful," Demaio says. "We ended up having over 1000 and we were trending nationally. And then Nigella tweeted, and I think people just loved it."
Demaio notes that the success of his humble idea is in the cooking and the eating: it's pretty hard to muck up a pancake and everyone loves them. In basic form, you need flour, eggs and milk. But they have a long history. "They go back to Roman times. And almost every culture and country has their own take."
One of the highlights of #SolidarityPancakes has been watching and learning from this literal online melting pot, from Indian to Vietnamese versions, as people share photos of their own renditions.
"It's about people getting a sense of pleasure, a sense of connection and belonging," Demaio says.
A sharp observer of food trends, she notes that simplicity is the key to viral kitchen moments. In lockdown that, and the yearning for comfort food, has been even more pronounced. It's a trend she has noticed with local and overseas sales of her encyclopaedic bestseller In Praise Of Veg, released in late 2020.
"Pancakes can be so many different things to different people," she says.
"When you look at food trends at the moment, there's a lot of childhood memory stuff. My most popular recipe for the last 18 months is fritters … it's fried, and people love fried stuff, particularly when they're seeking comfort. From a foodie perspective, I think that's the reason the pancakes have caught on way more than if it was 'Solidarity Sushi'.
"We can only do what we can do within our sphere of influence. A lot of people feel helpless and hopeless and something like this makes them feel like they can contribute in a small way and also feel connected."
#SolidarityPancakes will continue until the end of the NSW and Victorian lockdowns.