New cookbook eases lockdown food cravings while helping keep Wellington eateries afloat

A cookbook is being touted as a solution to lockdown food cravings, with a group of the Wellington’s eateries teaming up to help not only home cooks recreate their offerings, but also each other.

Founder of the Pandemic Pack Jackie Lee Morrison of Lashings, a brownie business in Wellington. Source: Supplied

Released this week, the collaborative electronic cookbook is the brainchild of British pastry chef turned brownie business owner Jackie Lee Morrison. She originally formed the Pandemic Pack group of 14 eateries whose businesses were slowing due to Covid-19.

“We've written the book in such a way that, hopefully, home cooks will be able to follow,” Lashings owner Ms Lee Morrison told 1 NEWS.

“But if in doubt, reach out to the businesses because we're all just sitting around at the moment and we have plenty of time to answer all questions.”

The cookbook’s sold through a pay-what-you’re-able model, with a $10 suggested base price. It contains 41 recipes from 16 local businesses—from award-winning Jano Bistro, fried chicken joint Soul Shack Hot Chicken to New Zealand’s first manual coffee brew bar Pour & Twist.

Contents of the Pandemic Pack's collaborative electronic cookbook. Source: Supplied

Over 2700 cookbooks were sold within a day of its release, with some choosing to pay $100 to $200.

“It’s been very, very, very fast and very overwhelming and very humbling,” Ms Lee Morrison said.

Creating a cookbook wasn’t part of the original plan for the Pandemic Pack. Shortly before the Level 4 lockdown was announced, Ms Lee Morrison came up with an idea of a collaborative no-cost delivery service that would allow people to order from multiple places at once.

“I’m immuno-compromised, so when all of the Covid-19 stuff started to come to New Zealand… I was thinking about how we can continue to offer our service and feed people without putting my health, my staff and my customers at risk,” she said.

“Whenever the lockdown is lifted, and we’re able to trade again as a delivery service, the plan is to go ahead with it.”

But even after the lockdown was in place, she said the Pack kept cooking and sharing their creations on social media.

“There were so many people who were saying that they were missing their favourite eateries and they didn't know what else to cook at home.”

Ms Lee Morrison said the proceeds from the cookbook would be split evenly with collaborators to go towards their “many” ongoing overheads. She said many of the businesses in the Pack also applied for the Government’s wage subsidy. 

“Overwhelmingly, it's the rent situation,” she said.

“I think there's a misconception that business owners are rolling in money when the reality is we really don't have anything. 

“The difference between a good day and a bad day is enormous. It means whether or not we can pay this invoice and whether or not we can hire a staff member to help out when we're already completely overworked.”

She said the Government must “continue to keep the channels of communication open”.

“Listen to the industry when they tell you that what we need is not more debt.”

She said encouraging small businesses to take out loans—for example, the Business Finance Guarantee Scheme—is a “band-aid for now… but at some point, you’re going to need to pay”.

Sarah and Taz McAuley of Food Envy Catering, Wellington. Source: Supplied

It’s a similar story for Sarah McAuley, business manager for Food Envy Catering and member of the Pandemic Pack. She said the company, run by her and her husband, was “slammed” with work to the point it was recruiting until the lockdown was announced. They’d also recently moved to larger premises.

“We’re slightly freaking out because we doubled our rent. We were doing so, so well just before the lockdown happened,” she said.

“I feel like I just blinked and it changed… it went from 100 to zero within two weeks.”

But Ms McAuley said they were one of the lucky ones.

“We have very, very good landlords who are very understanding,” she said.

“I am talking to other business owners, and I hear a lot of people saying that their landlords are not even speaking to them.”

She said targeted government support for small businesses would help.

“We're getting the help from the bank… it's help, but it's just more debt.”

Ms McAuley said consistency from the Government about what’s considered an essential business, whether a large or small one, would also help.

Aside from helping home cooks, she said the other good thing that’s come out of the situation is the sense of community the Pandemic Pack has created among Wellington’s eateries. Some in the Pack didn’t know each other before the pandemic.

“We’re talking not just about the hospitality industry, but also just venting our frustrations.

“Being able to chat daily and have that support network with people that are in the exact same situation and know the exact struggles you’re going through… I’m so grateful.”

William Nguyen of Willi's Kitchen in Wellington, which he runs with wife Trang Vu. Source: Supplied

For Trang Vu, who runs café Willi’s Kitchen with her husband, the Pandemic Pack’s become a place to turn to for comfort.

“If someone’s feeling negative or someone’s quite tired because of the stress they’re being put under, we’re just there to remind each other that everything’s going to be okay, that we will do everything together and we will come out on the other side together,” she said.

The couple has had to crowdfund to cover their expenses after their revenue started to become inconsistent from January.

“Our family relies on the income of the business to survive… it’s our baby, we really don’t want to let it go,” Ms Vu said.

“For every single business, we need our regular and our loyal customers to help us during this time.

“It’s the only way every single one of us can get out of this crisis together.”

Restaurant Association figures show 57 per cent of its members need or are considering restructures, and one fifth is considering permanent closure.

The Government said it was considering ways to help commercial tenants with rent, with an announcement expected in the coming days.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced yesterday Cabinet would meet on April 20 to decide whether to move out of alert level four. She said this would give businesses two days to make arrangements if the country moves to alert level three.

Ms Ardern said in the meantime, businesses can look into the ways they can assist with contact tracing, do business contactless and allow for social distancing.