Bay Area chef J. Kenji López-Alt delivers meals to health care workers


The coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of restaurants across the country. In the interim, many are selling takeout or offering meal deliveries.
The Nichi Bei Weekly interviewed chef and New York Times food writer J. Kenji López-Alt by e-mail about how his restaurant, Wursthall in San Mateo, Calif., is staying afloat while giving back to those in need.

HELPING HANDS ­— Kenji López-Alt unloading a box of meals at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. photo courtesy of J. Kenji López-Alt.

While CNBC Make It reported that López-Alt initially had to let most of the restaurant’s employees go when it closed amid the shelter-in-place orders, between partnering with celebrity chef José Andrés, as well as through the donations López-Alt has received through his Patreon page, he has since been able to rehire some of his staff as he delivers meals.
This interview has been edited for length.

Nichi Bei Weekly: Can I have some background information on you?
J. Kenji López-Alt: I was born in Boston and grew up in New York. My mother is Japanese and my father is American of German descent, hence the Japanese middle name (which I go by) and German last name (Alt). My wife is Colombian and we both changed our last names to López-Alt when we were married. Wursthall opened in February of 2018, a little over two years ago. It’s in San Mateo, which is where I reside.

My role (at Serious Eats) was to introduce recipes to the site, and it has since evolved to become a primarily recipe and cooking-based site. I started my column, “The Food Lab,” while working at Serious Eats, which has since become a James Beard award-winning NYT best seller.

NBW: How did the idea of serving meals to people, especially health care workers, start?
Initially, I started by myself. I had a walk-in full of ingredients that were not going to be used because we had shut the restaurant down, so I started thinking about how I could repurpose those ingredients and get them to people who clearly were in need. I put out a call on Twitter for suggestions and SF General was mentioned as a place that needed meals delivered, so I delivered 100 egg salad sandwiches and roasted broccoli salads the next day. For the next few weeks, I spent four nights a week cooking at the restaurant by myself, delivering meals the next day.

Eventually I was connected with Off Their Plate via my old friend Ken Oringer, who helped found the organization in Boston, and that allowed me to be able to start hiring back some employees and increasing our output.
One of our vendors, Chef’s Warehouse, donated several hundred pounds of various things like steak, turkey, chicken, lamb, and bison. California Olive Ranch delivered 20 gallons of extra virgin olive oil. Many community members have been dropping off homemade masks for our team to use while preparing meals.

Workers, Axel Tepau and Orlando Gonzalez, prepare meal boxes at Wursthall. photo courtesy of J. Kenji López-Alt.

NBW: How is your restaurant (Wursthall) with the partnerships Off Their Plate and Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen, as well as your Patreon, enabling (you) to feed people in San Mateo and Oakland? Health care and hospital workers?
Off Their Plate and World Central Kitchen have been wonderful to work with. They have helped us find delivery venues where our food can do the most good, as well as connected us with donors to pay for the food costs, payroll and overhead for making these meal boxes. What’s wonderful is that it has allowed us to keep at least some of our employees on payroll.

We have also been raising money through our own initiatives via my Patreon page. I have been doing a lot of personal community outreach to find other non-health care-related venues to deliver food as well.

NBW: How many boxed meals have you served since the pandemic?
To date, we have served nearly 3,000 meals.

NBW: How many of the original staff have you hired back for this meal delivery service?
: About 25 percent of our original staff.

NBW: What’s the timeline of this service? When do you start making the meals? When do they get delivered? Where do they get delivered to?
We currently operate the kitchen five days a week. Meals are generally prepped the day before and boxed either the night before for morning deliveries, or the morning of for evening deliveries. All the meals are designed to be healthy and nourishing — lots of leafy greens, vegetables and lean protein and we offer both vegan and omnivore options with every delivery. We have donated to many venues so far, including SF General, Palo Alto Medical, Kaiser South Bay, Mission Medical Clinics, Samaritan House San Mateo …

For more information visit: or call (650) 931-4282.

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