10 Aug 2020

Cooking up a change

From Voices, 9:00 am on 10 August 2020

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Photo: Everybody Eats / Facebook

Each Wednesday, the Everybody Eats food van pulls into the driveway of the Onehunga eatery, loaded with rescued food, collected and distributed by rescue organizations operating around Auckland. Jamie Johnston, head chef at Everybody Eats, combs through the boxes of unsold surplus from supermarkets, the label mishaps, or vegetables straight from the grower. "It's about being open to using things in a different way,” he says. “We often never know what we're going to receive. It's fun, keeps your brain buzzing and really active.”

Everybody Eats is a pay-as-you-feel pop-up concept founded by Nick Loosely, based on the ethos of minimal food wastage and shared tables, to reduce both food poverty and social isolation.

It’s a cause dear to Jamie’s heart. Growing up in a large adoptive family in Kent, England, he remembers eating basic meals cooked by his brothers while his parents managed their business each day. "Food was just fuel to keep you going,” he says. “I didn't understand back then and I didn't have a love for food.”

After culinary school, Jamie worked as a chef in restaurants and began to form his attitudes towards the efficient use of food.

Jamie Johnston of Everybody Eats

Jamie Johnston of Everybody Eats Photo: RNZ/Kadambari Gladding

"In the restaurant world there is so much waste, volume and waste. We have to actually want to change that.”

“People don't understand how much further food can go,” agrees Archana Kurup. Originally from Chennai in South India, Archana was hired to help Jamie and came on board just after lockdown ended. “In New Zealand food is expensive. I think lockdown also taught a lot of people that; to make a better, well-planned meal.”

Archana runs an in-home dining business and knows first-hand the importance of efficient use of produce. Working at Everybody Eats is now an extension of her personal ethos that she runs her home business with. Archana works closely with volunteers each morning who help put together some 300-odd meals that go out through some of the charity partnerships the restaurant has. "The cause - it's something that everyone comes on board with very easily" she says. "As professionals in all of our careers we want to achieve something great. But it’s also really cool to get to the stage in your career where you can give back with the skills you have.

“And this is my skill-set. It feels amazing to be able to cook food that’s more than just food."

Jamie says people from all walks of life coming through Everybody Eats, from students concerned about sustainability and food waste, to the vulnerable and those who want communal-style dining at shared tables to get to know people.

"We are a restaurant and it’s a really dignified experience for people,” says Jamie. “If you’re coming from a really bad time in life, you can come in here, feel like you’re in a perfectly nice restaurant, have a three-course meal."

Archana Kurup of Everybody Eats

Archana Kurup of Everybody Eats Photo: RNZ/Kadambari Gladding

"One of my pulls [to Everybody Eats] is I don’t like food waste, yes, and I do want to be more sustainable in the way I cook but with mental health and Covid and everything that’s happened, it's crushed some people. Social isolation is one of the main parts for me. You’d never expect that person and that person to be sitting together.

“The food we make here is to make people happy. Share a table and talk. That's what food is about; sharing stories and talking. "