The power of social media
As COVID-19 spreads fast, another phenomenon has come to rival the speed of its diffusion across the globe: Posting recipes, food videos, gastronomy talks and discussions to Instagram has become all the rage – as has online tastings even. All celebrity chefs have started to broadcast from their home kitchen, demonstrating simple recipes everyone can do easily with humble ingredients that can be found in any larder. It all means the recipe-sharing craze is sweeping the globe even faster than the pandemic.
To be honest, right from the start, I tried to stay away from the temptation of peeking into such social media broadcastings. Actually, I’ve never been one of the twitterati crowd, as I’ve only ever retweeted my newspaper articles – and sometimes I even forget to do that. And anyone who checks my Instagram account is sure to be frustrated, as I don’t usually post even most of my food-oriented travels and events, and I’ve never shared a recipe I made. It is not because I have a certain attitude against social media, I’m simply short of capacity in regard to both technical know-how and time, the latter of which is truly scarce. I truly believe that we need social media distancing just like social distancing to remain sane, as it is almost impossible to concentrate on work.
The gastronomy and hospitality sector is in deep crisis. Restaurants, bars and cafes are closing one by one, some resorting to take-away only. Unfortunately, fine-dining venues do not have this option, and they seem to be the most vulnerable ones. Many globetrotting celebrity chefs are now in self-quarantine, a situation they are not used to, as they are normally either toiling in their kitchen or traveling afar to attend an event or cook as a guest chef. Now, most are tending to turn to social media, some are joining solidarity groups sharing recipes, some are starting their own home shows. For certain celebs, the initial intent might have been partly to remain in the public eye, but it is partly turning into craze to stay aloof and not join in.
In Britain, Jamie Oliver was über-quick to start a new TV show on Channel 4, rightly titled “Keep Cooking and Carry On,” featuring easy-to-follow recipes, tips and ideas making use of whatever is in the cupboard. The show is broadcast at 5:30 p.m., just the right time to get organized and start to cook dinner.
In Italy, Massimo Bottura started to share his table with the title “Kitchen Quarantine,” inviting all to step into his family life with his wife, Lara, his son Charlie and her daughter Alexa (actually, it was Alexa’s idea to start all this). They chat in two languages, sometimes going in English but often resorting to Italian. His recipes are simple, everyday Italian fare, from besciamella sauce to pasta e fagioli, his son’s favorite chocolate sauce or making a satisfactory “Cena degli Avanzi,” that is “Dinner from Leftovers.”
In the United States, the legendary chef Jacques Pépin, now nearly 84, gave a wonderful dandelion recipe he picked from his own garden, wisely pointing to the importance of knowledge of foraging in nature, a skill we might need to stay healthy and survive in the near future. His recipe was quite posh, or maybe it’s better to say had a French finesse, incorporating humble ingredients such as eggs and canned anchovies, but put together in a mouthwatering way. Pépin is known for his sensitivity in avoiding waste and making use of all edible bits and pieces, so it was just the right gesture to make a point in using forged wild greens and the simplest ingredients that anyone could afford.
While all these are heartfelt attempts to keep spirits up, a big step came from José Andrés, a Spanish-born American chef who is known for his tremendous philanthropic efforts to help and feed those in need. Since 2010, his charity, World Central Kitchen, has stepped in to help people affected by an earthquake in Hawaii and came to the rescue of Puerto Ricans when Hurricane Maria hit the island. His team managed to serve more than 3 million meals in Puerto Rico, feeding more people then the Red Cross and Salvation Army. His book, “The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time,” became a best seller, and he was nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke, Andrés initiated multiple efforts, first reaching out to infected cruise ships and then converting five of his Washington restaurants and one in New York to community kitchens. The team of World Central Kitchen also managed to coordinate more than 150,000 packaged fresh meals to families in need across the country. Time magazine had his picture on the cover of its next issue, armed with pots and pans, in his chef’s uniform, ready to go to battle. Hopefully, the Time cover will persuade others to join in, and his efforts will grow and spread across the globe to combat the pandemic in these hard times. Yes, chef, we will follow your orders!
Cork of the Week: The good news of the week comes from Paris. Pernod Ricard, one of the world’s leading alcoholic beverage producers, will be donating alcohol to support hand-sanitizer production. Some 70,000 liters of pure alcohol will be provided to Cooper laboratory, a leading French company that produces health products. Similarly, many booze brands under the same group are following the same path, from whiskey producers in Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas and Kentucky to vodka producers in Sweden. We’ll toast to that and make a French cocktail. For ideas, check “Drinking French” by David Lebowitz. And though I’m trying hard not to get hooked on social media, I admit I peek at his Instagram broadcast every single evening, at 8 p.m. Turkish time – just the right time to start drinking. I assure you there will be a drink for every taste, though I now regret that I did not buy that bottle of Souze when I was in France last year.