March 30, 2020
Our wonderful Nourish chef, Andreas Wingert, previously worked at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex. As the Covid-19 crisis deepens, he’s heading back to the hospital kitchen to help support the NHS. We caught up with him before his latest shift…
You’ve worked at the Princess Alexandra Hospital before. Tell us about that…
‘I worked there for two years as a consultant, advising on how they could improve the quality of the meals they served so that it was more than typical ‘hospital food’. It meant looking at everything, from sourcing fresh ingredients rather than pre-processed and packaged foods, to training chefs and devising menus for patient food and the staff canteens – all while keeping to a strict budget. It was hugely satisfying to help the transformation of the kitchen and to see how serving better food improved the hospital experience both for patients and the staff who work there.’
How are you helping at the hospital now?
‘The coronavirus is putting all hospitals under intense pressure, not just on wards but behind the scenes, too. In the kitchens, staff are off sick or self-isolating so there are fewer people to cook and serve meals. I was asked to come in and help run the kitchen four days a week, supporting chefs but also training agency staff so they can step in if needed. We are social-distancing at our prep stations, deep cleaning the kitchen frequently and taking every precaution we can to keep patients, staff and ourselves safe.’
‘The NHS looked after me. Now it’s my time to give back’
How many meals are you serving?
‘We have to provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for more than 500 patients and 3,000 members of staff. There’s extra demand on the kitchens at the moment as some staff are isolated on wards, so we need to send food to them, rather than them eating meals in the canteen.’
Are you still able to use fresh ingredients?
‘Absolutely. At this time, food is more important than ever to keep people healthy but also to provide joy. When you’re on a ward and family and friends aren’t able to visit due to social distancing, good, fresh-cooked food can be the highlight of your day. We cook everything from scratch, including cakes baked every day. We use frozen vegetables where we can’t get fresh, but these are as full of nutrients so the quality of the meals doesn’t suffer.’
How are you spending your time when you’re not at the hospital?
‘I’m still contributing to Nourish, of course! And I spend time with my wife and two children, riding our bikes in the quiet countryside for our daily allowed exercise, playing games and cooking together. I’ve also been baking sourdough loaves for our neighbours.’
What ways can other people help the NHS?
‘There are lots of people in the hospitality industry who have lost their jobs, so I’ve asked all my chef friends to sign up to NHS Professionals: a bank of staff available to work for the NHS, especially during this pandemic. There’s a Rapid Response unit that enables skilled health professionals to register in just 24 hours so they can support essential patient care.
Anyone can volunteer to help the NHS and more than 750,000 have signed up already. You can find out more here.