St Moritz Queenstown chefs celebrate a cook up for Baskets of Blessing .

Skilled Queenstown chefs, many of whom have lost their jobs or face reduced hours due to the Covid-19 crisis, have been cooking up kindness en masse to help feed several thousand people in need locally.

Queenstown volunteer organisation Baskets of Blessing has been overwhelmed with demand for its frozen meals, distributed through the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Emergency Operations Centre Response Team.

A few local chefs have traditionally volunteered to help with the cook-ups, including Canyon Brewing’s Hanna Wagner, a regular for two years on her days off.

Baskets of Blessing co-ordinator Lee Nicolson says about 40 local chefs have been rolling up their sleeves to volunteer during, and since, lockdown with the demand for food increasing by 10 percent a week.

“We’re now handing out 600 meals a week,” says Lee. It’s not only the hundreds of overseas workers on visas who’ve found themselves without work, but local families and individuals needing to be fed as well, she says.

Some of her volunteers cooked from their home kitchens during lockdown or on days off, but with demand skyrocketing during the past month or so some employers have allowed use of their commercial kitchens. “They could produce 20 meals at home but can produce 100 meals in a commercial kitchen,” says Lee.

Local farmers have been “extremely generous”, she says, donating mince and sausages, with the rest coming from supermarkets, Kiwi Harvest and local donations.

Twice a week the team at Baskets of Blessing lines up all the ingredients they have available and chefs come in and choose what they’d like to cook up. “We’ve had everything from lasagnes, casseroles and curries to risottos, moussaka and meatballs, as well as lovely soups,” says Lee. The chefs are all very creative and the dinners are packaged and frozen ready for delivery.

“Some of these chefs have lost their own jobs, but they all say it’s been really good for their own mental wellbeing to cook up meals for others in the same position or worse off,” says Lee.

Chefs like Canyon Brewing’s Hanna Wagner, Sam Laycock from Postmasters and chefs at Provisions and St Moritz Hotel have been on board since the start of lockdown in March. Teams of about a dozen have been cooking up in their workplace commercial kitchens more recently with a number of them cooking more than 2000 meals each in the past month.

To join the Queenstown volunteer chef brigade contact Lee Nicolson on [email protected]

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