Dal Bo, from Central to volunteer in a Covid19 hospital’s kitchen

Lorenzo's experience, a young man on the front line at the Policlinico Hospital in Bologna: "Here, too, we need creativity"

07-05-2020
Lorenzo Dal Bo and nutritionist Olimpia Ventura Mo

Lorenzo Dal Bo and nutritionist Olimpia Ventura Montecamozzo at Policlinico S. Orsola Malpighi's Cafeteria

"These are hard times," people say. “Yet we are at home, leading a peaceful life: haste and stress are no longer on the agenda. To me, a cook, it all seems surreal.”

My name is Lorenzo, and I was working in Sölden, Austria at the restaurant IceQ, the location for James Bond’s Spectre at 9842 feet above sea level, when the outbreak started. In less then a week they called the lockdown and the ski season was over. Everything closed. Everyone at home. Suddenly, I was unemployed, and I realized that I needed to make a move if I didn’t want to end up being stuck in the mountains. Like James Bond, I quickly rented a car at the last minute, packed up my belongings with my experience, and without looking back, I headed for Italy.

At first, like everyone else, I enjoyed quarantine. It is great sunbathing on the terrace, listening to music and finally having the time to read some unread books. However, my thoughts inevitably continued to return to reality. Therefore, I called my friend, a doctor, to find out how things were going at the hospital. Incidentally, I discovered that the Caab (agricultural center of Bologna) was donating supplies to the Sant’Orsola Malpighi general Hospital.

During this difficult time, chefs are finding themselves in equally unfortunate circumstances; until yesterday we were experiencing a full boom of global gastronomy and today we find ourselves unemployed. Yet we must continue to think clearly about the future. I had a revelation. I could invest some of my time to help those who are less fortunate than me. I called the hospital. The administration said that they would be happy to receive some help since their own staff was dwindling as many employees were afraid to report to work. Once the paperwork was completed, I returned to Bologna and settled into a hotel room kindly offered to volunteers by the Fondazione Sant’Orsola.

For those unfamiliar with it, the Sant’Orsola Malpighi Hospital is the largest hospital in Bologna, spanning 6561 feet in diameter, visited by 20,000 people per day and it feeds about 5,000 people daily including their patients and hospital staff. Since this past February, it has been a landmark in the fight against Covid-19. Its unique strength is one of having maintained independent management of their kitchen facilitating their food to become a powerful ally to their medical treatments. Specifically, for this purpose (and many others), a dedicated project, CRUNCH, was born, which serves as an acronym for Cuisine and Restoration United in Nutrition within Clinical Hospital setting.

On the left, Baked radicchio “ribs” glazed with balsamic vinegar

On the left, Baked radicchio “ribs” glazed with balsamic vinegar

In such a large setting, specific rules must be instituted at work, otherwise there would be chaos. Usually, the work is divided into two parts: meal preparation for the cafeteria, where about two -thousand health care workers eat in a 3-hour long service, and meal preparation for the patients, including lunch and dinner, which is delivered to the patient wards. However, when 80% of the hospital became 'coronavirus exclusive', the situation in the kitchen changed – it was necessary to create a third line of work to prepare meals for doctors working who in the covid-19 units who could no longer go to the cafeteria due to infection control measures. This also included other preventative measures, such as replacing all common dishware with disposable food containers instead.

At the beginning, I was the only volunteer and I mainly dealt with dividing and distributing the many donations that came from restaurants, pastry shops and pizzerias, but the word spread fast about how hard the hospital’s kitchen was working and it wasn’t a secret anymore. Soon, other volunteers knocked on the door offering to make themselves available. At this point, with Dr. Ferdinando Antonio Giannone at the head of the project, a biologist and nutritionist, we organized a team of volunteers who would dedicate themselves, exclusively, to a slightly more sophisticated and flavorful menu, to support the doctors working in the Covid-19 units using almost exclusively only the donations from Caab.

The kitchen's “Crunch” project is extremely specific. For example, all bread is made in collaboration with an outside bakery but following the recipes and needs dictated by the hospital. Only natural yeast is used. Therefore, you can imagine that in such an environment, it was not difficult to quickly build a tight-knit group whose commitment and dedication, along with the creativity of young chefs, has created satisfying results.

Everything has a different dimension; we have revised our habits to adapt them to a larger scale and we are re-evaluating our skills as chefs. We have made every effort to work to the best of our ability, trying to keep an eye on every detail. We have been able to offer specialties, some typically unusual for a hospital setting, such as fresh salads of grains with fruit, vegetables and herbs or baked radicchio “ribs” glazed with balsamic vinegar and vegetables au gratin, but also some desserts.

Lorenzo between Virgilio Martinez and Bobo Cerea, Identità New York 2017

Lorenzo between Virgilio Martinez and Bobo Cerea, Identità New York 2017

The team of Policlinico S.Orsola. «Let me thank you everybody», says Lorenzo, «Giulia Leone, Giacomo Merlani, Virginia Valle. For the Crunch project: Ferdinando Antonino Giannone, Olimpia Ventura Montecamozzo. In the kitchen: Alessandro Guerzoni, Davide Sarti and the office of 101 chefs who have been feeding thousands of people for years. The team of personal support services: Patrizia Collina and Matteo Falletta, Alessandra Fiorini, Francesca Martino, Marco Storchi»

The team of Policlinico S.Orsola. «Let me thank you everybody», says Lorenzo, «Giulia Leone, Giacomo Merlani, Virginia Valle. For the Crunch project: Ferdinando Antonino Giannone, Olimpia Ventura Montecamozzo. In the kitchen: Alessandro Guerzoni, Davide Sarti and the office of 101 chefs who have been feeding thousands of people for years. The team of personal support services: Patrizia Collina and Matteo Falletta, Alessandra Fiorini, Francesca Martino, Marco Storchi»

I remember fondly when, after Easter, we found ourselves inundated with chocolate eggs left by the kindness of the many donors and we thought of delighting our doctors with hundreds of chocolate covered strawberries, energizing oat bars and dried fruit as snacks for the coffee breaks. Similarly, when confronted with huge pallets of fruit, we found ourselves kneading 60 kilograms of Torta Della Nonna, using a homemade pastry whisk powered by a mason's drill, a job carried out in total safety and with an excellent result. What remained at the end of the dining service, we divided and delivered to the neediest through charity associations, so as not to throw anything away.

I cannot hide from you that there have been many difficulties. But when the departments started calling the kitchen to kindly thank us, we understood that it was clearly worth the effort. Recently, as the pressure is decreasing, and from time to time, news of the closure of another "Covid” unit arrives, which brings back a sense of normality. The situation is improving and the air is much lighter. Thousands of people have been cured and just as many are on the mend. But the work is still on- going and it requires patience and dedication from everyone, for everyone.


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