You can't put a foot wrong ordering out from any hospitality operation right now. Even if you're buying sushi banquets and feeling uneasy about it while so many are doing it tough, it's helping the hospitality eco-system, from producers to chefs and drivers. That said, where you put your fork right now can make a world of difference to some.
Despite the herculean efforts of businesses to hold on to staff, and countless petitions to get support for the visa holders who underpin the hospitality industry, hundreds are out of work and completely lacking support. That news isn't easy to digest, but doing exactly that is one way you can help.
Efforts are increasing to help fund free meals for out-of-work hospitality workers who have no other form of support. Free to Feed's Brave Meals keep refugee workers employed, and by buying the baklava, hummus and fava bean stew, you're also funding free food for the vulnerable. This pay-it-forward model goes as high as Attica, where weekly serves of top-shelf soup fund a mass batch for hundreds of unemployed visa holders. It's as heartening as it is heartbreaking.
Community project Fair Feed caught my attention for its holistic approach to the problem. Founder Tom Jacobson wanted to give unemployed hospitality workers a way to support themselves making and delivering nutritious food that others in a tight spot could afford.
Around the clock, participating chefs, who range from totally unsupported visa holders to those who wanted to keep working for their own mental health, gather in the Smoke and Pickles kitchen in Elsternwick. Working with donated produce from suppliers like Savour and Grace and Hansa Butchery, each crafts, labels and portions their meal to sell.
The dishes, ranging from Vietnamese duck salads to elaborate vegan lasagne and pastrami brisket goulash, are all advertised on Fair Feed's website to buy as one meal or many until the portions sell out.
For a company that didn't exist three weeks ago, the service is smooth. I jumped on the website at lunchtime, selected five of the current dishes and they arrived by 4pm. Each one lists the dietary warnings and is impressively dressed up to make the night of whoever is receiving it seem less gloomy. Yet each serve costs between just $5 and $9. To have it delivered north or south of the river is a flat fee of $10.50, and the drivers (also hospitality workers), get $10 from each drop.
It's not weird for me to order five dishes for a meal in a restaurant. What landed was food for a week and all the stops were pulled out.
From Ollie Scott, a UK chef from the Grand in Richmond, I got the dope dahl. It's a medley of turmeric-stained potato curry, warming dahl, rice and freshly dispatched pappadums, and hearty enough to puts hairs on vegan chests. Though you could say the same for any of the dishes.
Chef Tori Bicknell's well-seasoned-and-spiced pork and beef meatballs make up a solid part of her pasta dish, which was bathed in sugo and cooked to a tangy, crimson fudge.
A Vietnamese salad (assembled the next day, since I'd eaten myself into a coma) is a light and pretty counterpoint. The cabbage and vermicelli salad is lit up by its fermented chilli dressing, spiky with fresh lime, that keeps the fat-rich slips of five-spice tinged duck honest.
It's good produce too, from the fistfuls of Vietnamese mint and coriander on the salad to the big hunks of tender beef in the dark and stormy paprika-fuelled bowl of goulash from chef Daniel Dobra (on hiatus from Bistro Garcon).
Crumble, by out of work Vue de Monde chef Claire Bryce, is a vivid jumble of pineapple and plums with a surprise king hit of rosemary.
Not everyone participating is on the brink of financial ruin. Restaurants like Tulum are contributing dishes (a lamb pie with spinach kibbeh) to help spread the word.
Some chefs could get other payments. But this project is as much about the mental health of the community as anything. It's a chance to keep moving. That momentum is generating motivation.
With success under their belts, Jacobson, who also owns Changz Hot Sauce, is planning a mass batch of 10,000 bottles of Fairly hot sauce, whose sales will fund temporary visa holders. Their delivery system, using a flat fee, is paving the way for restaurants to free themselves of the delivery giants.
This is good food in all the ways it can be: nutritious, supporting chefs, supporting each other. That's worth getting behind.
How to order: Order online at fairfeed.com.au.
Delivery: Same-day delivery in southern suburbs every day 4pm-7pm, $10.50 (Mon-Fri 4pm-7pm for inner northern suburbs). Pick up 256 Glen Eira Road, Elsternwick.
Go-to dish: Daniel Dobra's beef goulash with pickled chillies ($8 per serve).
Other ways to help feed people in need
Free to Feed's Brave Meals
Order a la carte, or whole feasts prepared by refugees, or pay a meal forward to vulnerable families. freetofeed.org.au.
COVID-19 Employee Assistance Directive
Started by two bar owners, this effort to provide free meals to out-of-work hospitality workers now has 36 volunteers delivering 1500 meals per week. To volunteer or donate, contact endsandmeans.com.au/about.