NEW YORK: Shivering in Arctic temperatures and reeling from a brutal winter snowstorm, elderly New Yorkers got the surprise of their lives when five top chefs suddenly appeared with meals on wheels.
Whipped up in the kitchens of some of the world’s finest chefs in some of Manhattan’s most expensive restaurants, once a month, older people can dine at home as if at an award-winning table.
The launch menu was a mouth-watering embarrassment of riches: lamb navarin with chard marmalade, poussin korma with red rice, beef bourguignon with turnips or Caesar salad and cheesecake.
And the first delivery by the chefs themselves – some kitted out in their kitchen whites – couldn’t come at a better time.
After Winter Storm Janus dumped 25 centimeters of snow on America’s biggest city Tuesday, New York hunkered down in temperatures hovering around negative 10 degrees Celsius.
Community centers for the elderly have closed and sidewalks have been reduced to a perilous mix of mucky brown slush and ice.
The idea came from two chefs involved in the Citymeals-on-Wheels organization that harnesses an army of volunteers to deliver meals to 18,000 elderly people each day.
Among them no less is star French chef Daniel Boulud, who owns a string of restaurants and whose eponymous Daniel on the Upper East Side has the ultimate accolade of three Michelin stars.
“We do this once a month with four or five chefs and about 500 servings,” said Boulud, co-president of Citymeals.
Around 20 chefs have agreed to take part in the new initiative.
“We try to make good, well thought-out dishes in our kitchens. It’s just to bring a bit of happiness,” Boulud told AFP.
Charlie Palmer, who owns progressive American restaurant Aureole in Bryant Park, said a key aspect was to introduce a new generation of top chefs to the project.
The elderly residents at the Westbeth Artists Housing complex on Bethune Street in Greenwich Village were delighted.
“I was told yesterday nobody would come today,” said Toby Dennison, an 80-year-old former dancer, apologizing for her slightly crumpled attire.
“It is so wonderful of you all to come, and what a marvellous idea. I never had boeuf bourguignon in my life.”
But she was also more than happy to have the lamb navarin or the poussin, accepting all the dishes offered with a wide smile.
A few stories down, 78-year-old painter Wilda received the chefs in her bed next to an electric heater.
Her apartment was crammed with canvases. She spoke at length, never short of words, about coming from Texas and living in California.
Wilda showed off the cards she still paints, promising to send them to visitors.
Citymeals delivers two million meals a year to 18,000 old people who can no longer shop or cook for themselves, with the help of private donors.
According to director Beth Shapiro, the need never stops rising as the number of elderly increases.
“We have to take care of the homebound elderly,” Palmer said.
“The only contact they have in the day, sometimes, is the meal delivered to them. They are not going out today. If they are not delivered something, they might not even eat something.”