Closed by the current pandemic, one of the best restaurants in Europe, the Viennese Steirereck, with two Michelin stars, has put its stoves at the service of those who fight on the front line against COVID-19.
The chefs of this place prepare a thousand dishes every day, not as before for foodies from all over the world but for the most exposed officials: police, health and firefighters, among others.
DEPOSITS FULL OF FOOD
What at first started as an improvised solidarity gesture to empty the stores full of food that the store had, has become a project that will continue until the end of the pandemic.
This is told by Birgit Reitbauer, head of the Steirereck and wife of the 'chef' Heinz Reitbauer, whose establishment was in number 17 in 2019 in the world ranking prepared by the British gastronomic magazine "Restaurant".
"We started the day we found out that all the restaurants had to close their doors," recalls the businesswoman on those frantic days in mid-March, when the government announced the almost complete closure of public life in the Alpine country.
After a four-week epidemic, Austria currently has some 12,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, with some 200 deaths, but with a pronounced downward trend in new infections.
The authorities continue to allow those who go alone or with the people they live with to go for a walk, or even to play sports, but they insist on reducing social contact and movement as much as possible, especially elderly and ill people.
POPULAR FOOD IN PLACE OF HIGH KITCHEN
Instead of sophisticated haute cuisine dishes, Steirereck chefs now prepare typical Austrian and international home cooking, such as stuffed peppers, lasagna, vegetables and various meats, always accompanied by rice or pasta.
"When we had to close, our warehouses were full. We met, we thought about what we could do and we decided to prepare food for those who help (fight the pandemic)," says Birgit Reitbauer, speaking to EFE-EPA.
The Steirereck has two other more popular restaurants, so there was no problem changing from so-called "haute cuisine" to more popular and homemade dishes, he says.
A dozen cooks work voluntarily on three separate shifts, to ensure that there is enough space in the kitchen and that there are no new infections.
The meals are then delivered free of charge to the security forces and ambulance services in Vienna.
Although at the beginning the meals were nourished from the restaurant's food reserves, now the raw material comes from regular restaurant suppliers, who thus participate in this solidarity action.
Asked about the prospects for the gastronomy sector after overcoming the COVID-19 crisis, Reitbauer is optimistic.
"I think we will return to the usual level soon, because many people will be happy to be able to go out again, to visit restaurants again and not always have to cook at home," he says.
"We look forward to the moment (of the opening). We are like top competition athletes, we are used to performing at their best," concludes Reitbauer.
That of this well-known restaurant located in a central park in Vienna is not the only initiative of the most exclusive hospitality sector to help health and security forces.
The Intercontinental Hotel in Vienna, a five-star establishment close to the Steirereck, launched last Wednesday a free home delivery system, which has been widely welcomed by older people.
One of the attractions of the delivery system is that the "Fiaker", the typical tourist floats in Vienna, have participated in it, altruistically as well.
CLOSED HOTEL, OPEN KITCHEN
"The hotel is, unfortunately, empty. We want to help. So we thought about delivering food," Brigitte Trattner, the director of the establishment, told Efe on the phone, closed as part of measures to limit social contact.
Users, who are usually over 70 years old or who are in charge of the elderly, place orders by phone for the next day.
The food is prepared in the kitchens by the hotel staff, and the typical dishes of Austrian cuisine stand out on the menu. It usually consists of an entree, which is usually a soup, and a main dish, usually meat.
If 170 requests were received on the first day, this week it is expected to reach the maximum capacity of about 350 meals.
The people in charge of packing and bringing food to the elderly are all volunteers who do not charge anything and who work under strict hygienic conditions, and wear protective gloves and masks.