Covid-19 times – reflections with João Rodrigues

How has coronavirus affected Lisbon and one of the best Portuguese chefs, João Rodrigues of the restaurant Feitoria?

How did your city change because of the virus?

Everything is closed, people are aware of the situation and they are being responsible, staying at home and keeping the distance. The worst part is that we don’t know what to expect, it changes every day and of course, not being able to get out, to work, to be with your friends and family… to have our lives back. I feel that people are more sympathetic towards each other, more calm, more respectful more aware of others’ needs.

What was your first thought when coronavirus appeared and how do you see it now?

At first, I didn’t expect it to be something of this dimension, now I think that is a world issue and we have to realize that we have to do our part and our best to help to turn this whole situation around.

How are you spending these days?

Well, I have four kids, so pretty busy, lol…

Trying to listen to my records, to read, to draw, work on , to think about what we will do when we go back, what we can change, what options do we have…and of course, cooking a lot.

Did you transform your restaurant’s activity for these times?

No transformations. We decided to close everything and minimise the damage. We accepted the government’s support line for layoff to keep all jobs. Let’s hope it doesn’t last too long, but it seemed the best way to keep all the jobs and all the team safe at home.

I think when we re-open, we will have to change our offer in some of the spaces we have, look at the local and national clients, adjust the food offer, teams, prices (Portugal’s economy depend 70% on tourism) so we will have to reinvent ourselves in order to keep going.

For example, a month ago, in Portugal, the main discussion was the project of building a new airport for Lisbon (the city is growing 10% each year)… now, we have no tourists at all. It’s a huge game-changer… so, in the future, we will have to change something, of course.

This is a hard time for all working in hospitality – also for the suppliers of restaurants, farmers, those who offer services to the restaurants. What should we do to support each other and survive also economically?

These are incredibly hard times, not only for the hospitality industry but for all countries, for all the world economy in general. We are on the verge of a worldwide economic recession, so it’s everybody’s problem and we must help each other in all possible ways.

Well, we are supporting small commerce and small producers (they are the ones who keep the countries running right now), trying to create conditions for them to supply people’s homes (restaurants and hotels are all closed) and keep their businesses running. I’m using the platform to show the producers’ work, their difficulties and trying to promote them and help them to sell their produce to everyone who wants. We are selling vouchers for our restaurants and sharing information about restaurants that are offering services like takeaway, etc..  We are keeping in touch with others and helping any way we can.

What are you doing to remain positive?

Keeping myself active and thinking about solutions.

How do you see life after coronavirus?

I think we can take valuable lessons from all of this: be more sympathetic, take time to stop and think, enjoy life better, show more understanding towards others, change consumption habits, buy more local products, eat better, live with less, be more thankful and appreciate others better, be more nature friendly. Live in connection with your neighbourhood, support local and small commerce, support small production and producers.

Do you have any message for other chefs around the world?

We are facing very hard times, probably the worst is yet to come, but people have the ability to adjust to everything, to learn from the signs the world gives us, to learn from past mistakes and overcome them. These are times to work together, be solidary with each other and help those who needs help.

I hope we can all be back very soon, doing what we love, with our teams and our clients.

Be strong… be safe.

Andreja Lajh

João Rodrigues. Photo: Paulo Barata

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