Top Hungarian chefs feed hard-pressed hospital staff

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Hungarian Gastronomic Society president Tamas B. Molnar says cooking for hospital workers is "the least we can do"

Top chefs in Hungary have been firing up their ovens to cook up gourmet meals for hard-pressed hospital workers battling to stem the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic.

"It may not look like a fine-dining meal when it's in this take-away plastic microwave-ready box," said Lajos Takacs, one of a group of chefs behind the idea.

"But until that moment it could be served up in any top restaurant," Takacs, 47, told AFP while ladling a sauce over a portion of Bavarian roasted pork shank and steamed cabbage.

After emergency anti-virus measures shuttered restaurants in Hungary, Takacs and two other chefs who run the Hungarian Gastronomic Society (MGE), decided against hanging up their chef's aprons.

Although Hungary has reported just 300 Covid-19 infection cases so far -- and 10 deaths -- the numbers are expected to rise sharply.

"It's like wartime, frontline workers risking their health to do their jobs have our respect, it's the least we can do," said MGE president Tamas B. Molnar, 65, while shredding heads of cabbage.

Founded 15 years ago as a collective of cooks, butchers and bloggers, during "peacetime" MGE typically organises cooking competitions, product sampling, and promotes local gastronomy.

Its appeal for ingredients on social media, backed by several celebrity chefs, quickly bore fruit, as well as meat and vegetables.

Since the initiative was launched two weeks ago food donations arrive in bulk every day at the spacious kitchen, offered by a friend, located in a posh district of Hungarian capital Budapest.

"Tomorrow we have beef and "mangalica" pork (a Hungarian delicacy) coming in from one company, 80 kilogrammes (180 pounds) of mushrooms, crates of eggs and gourmet pasta from another," said Molnar.

"From simple but good ingredients we want to make really quality meals for hospital staff that are easy to eat under work pressure," he said, after receiving a sack of potatoes from an anonymous donor.

After cooking around 100 portions per week the group delivers the meals to Budapest hospitals treating coronavirus patients.

"We just hand them over at the entrance as it's not wise to go in," Molnar told AFP at the entrance of the Uzsoki utca Hospital, before driving back to the kitchen.

"Next, we plan to provide quality hot meals to paramedics and ambulance-drivers," he said.

The initiative mirrors similar drives by leading chefs in cities across virus-hit Europe including Paris, Berlin and Brussels.