How We Kitchen: When Everything Changes

The coronavirus has hit us on every level: it has affected our communities, our families, our homes, our livelihoods. Those working in the food industry have been particularly hard hit, with restaurant closures and little relief in sight. But some, like chef and caterer Woldy Reyes, have been looking for ways to both serve their communities and keep their businesses afloat. 

We talked to Woldy about the work he’s doing to help healthcare workers and other at-risk communities, what he’s cooking, and how he’s taking care of himself before and after a long day of cooking. Below, you’ll find links to organizations that you can support right now, as well as Woldy’s GoFundMe page where you can donate meals for healthcare workers.

On Finding a Way to Help

The life that I knew before this, and my livelihood, have completely flipped 360 degrees. I worked really hard to get my catering business to this point, and now, the future looks scary. Food entrepreneurs are all trying to figure out a way to survive through this. 

For me, I’ve decided to volunteer my time. I’m operating my business out of my friend’s cafe, to help people who couldn't get food or do not have access to food. I’ve been making meals along with FIG, to help the Ali Forney Center, and the Street Vendor Project. I also started to do a GoFundMe initiative, because I wanted to help out the healthcare workers and first responders, who need meals that can keep them healthy. They need to stay energized and fed. For me, cooking keeps me grounded, and if my cooking can help out others, that’s really gratifying. 

I know you're supposed to stay at home, but being so isolated is very difficult for me. So I’ve found a way to use my skills to help other people. Because I couldn’t stay home all the time. And I can hopefully try to save my business, and make a living.

200 meals (and counting!) donated
With healthcare workers in Brooklyn, NY

What I'm Cooking

I’m cooking at home now more than I ever have, because I’m used to cooking in commercial kitchens. I lean towards Filipino food, but I modernize it by adding a fresh perspective.

The Filipino food I ate growing up was very indulgent, very comforting. It was a lot of stews, and very meat-forward. So I've been reinterpreting what that looks like from my vantage point. I’ve been cooking a lot more veggie-forward meals.

There's a dish called adobo—it’s a nationally known dish in the Philippines, seasoned with soy sauce, vinegar, and bay leaf. Each household has their own interpretation. So I remembered how my lola (my grandmother) made it, and how my mom and dad made it, and took all those ideas and made it my own. I used tamari instead of soy sauce to make it gluten-free, I used coconut palm sugar and coconut vinegar, and some sambal oelek, then instead of the more traditional meat I used black beans. So I make a sort of a black bean adobo and eat it with rice.

Cooking something I remember eating in my grandmother’s kitchen, and trying to make my own version of it: to me, that’s comfort. Anything that reminds you of your childhood, and being in that safe space. 

How I'm Staying Connected...

I’ve been sharing my version of modern Filipino food on Instagram, and I’ve been really inspired by the whole thing. Before, I shied away from being on camera, because it made me uncomfortable. But then all this happened and I was like, well, everyone is cooking at home now, so it’s an opportunity to share the food you know. And I also want to educate people about what Filipino food is. I use a lot of ginger and vinegary things; Filipino food has a lot of vinegar, a lot of spice, and it’s really comforting.

Once I started sharing recipes and cooking demonstrations, people really started to enjoy it. People say things like, "I made this because of you!" Or, "I made this for my girlfriend’s birthday, and she loved it!" Messages like that give me a reason to keep doing what I'm doing. 

It's an emotional time right now. We’re always trying to be stronger than we are, but it's okay to say we’re feeling this way and we’re sad. And we can connect with people through that shared experience. 

In the first month, I forgot how to laugh, because we're all so inundated with negative news. But laughter is a necessity. It brings a little bit of joy to an unfortunate situation. Making sure that you're dancing, cooking, and laughing is so important, as well as trying to build community any way you can. We can still be connected with each other virtually. And I just can't wait until the day that we can all be at a table together, touching one another, sharing our food with each other.

"Cooking something I remember eating in my grandmother’s kitchen, and trying to make my own version of it: to me, that’s comfort. Anything that reminds you of your childhood, and being in that safe space."

... and Staying Distracted

When I need a break I love just going on TikTok. There’s so much joy when people are dancing or doing choreography or just being creativity and silly. If there’s creativity there, there is joy there.  

I know this might sound corny, but I’ve been watching Top Chef. I can’t even imagine what people with restaurants are going through right now, but I’m so inspired by the dishes they make. I also find joy in watching Ina Garten—her voice alone brings so much calm and comfort. She can do no wrong in my book. 

I also read my horoscope. I use the Co-Star app, and I like it when I get a little alert from them, because I will follow it religiously. It sounds so silly, but when they give you the quote of the day and tell you what you should be doing or focusing on, I follow it to the T. And that helps, because it guides me in some way. Everyone wants to be a better person, and I’m trying to practice that.

"In the first month, I forgot how to laugh, because we're all so inundated with negative news. But laughter is a necessity. It brings a little bit of joy to an unfortunate situation. Making sure that you're dancing, cooking and laughing is so important."

My Self-Care Routine

I love coffee, and it’s a morning ritual for me, but since all of this happened, my anxiety levels have been through the roof. So I decided to try cutting it out, and I started drinking herbal tea instead. I’ve been drinking it every day—herbal tea is my new best friend. I’ll have an herbal jasmine tea, ginger turmeric tea, or even just some ginger in hot water. It keeps me feeling way better than coffee does. 

Those minor changes in your daily routine can actually make you feel better. You have to listen to your body to know what's helping you and what's not helping you. My anxiety is lower now—I still have it, but i can not have to fuel that by not drinking coffee. 

And every morning, when I wake up, I try to take a deep breath a couple times. It feels good just breathing in and releasing that. And I go for a really long run in the very early morning, so I don't see anybody. That puts me in a different, more positive mindset, and then I get my day started.

If You Want to Help

  +   Food Issues Group

  +   World Central Kitchen

  +   No Kid Hungry

  +   Woldy’s GoFundMe