Andrea Zick is a trained chef and has gained a 1st class BSc degree in Nutrition and Health from Roehampton University. Since 2015 she has been working as the PA to the GM at the OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie. Here she leads on their corporate social responsibility projects. In this role, representing the restaurant, she led the business to win the Food Made Good Community Champion by the Sustainable Restaurant Association in 2017, with an additional nomination in 2019.
Andrea is involved in a broad range of community projects and initiatives. She continues to use her chef’s skills annually in support of charities such as Action Against Hunger and Crisis and Food Cycle. This engagement was the precursor of her involvement during the COVID crisis with the Bia Project at the Irish Centre Lewisham and a second project helping to set up the OXO Community Kitchen, for which she was nominated as the Food Hero of the Year 2020.
How did you feel when you found out you were awarded Food Hero of the Year?
Honoured! A few years ago I was at the CWT awards ceremony and was so impressed by the people and organisations who were nominated and won awards back then. I never dreamt I’d be one of them one day and surely not in a year which posed so many challenges to all of us.
What is your advice to others who might want to set up community kitchen projects?
Work as a team and find like-minded people. None of the projects I worked on over the last year would have been successful without others giving their time and their passion. Look especially for those who have skills you don’t have so you can complement each other. Take it step by step and build on your successes and never ever be afraid to ask for help; people are so generous with their expertise and time.
What has been the most awarding part of your role?
Being able to create new dishes out of food that may have otherwise gone to waste. I love the creative process and enjoy seeing the reaction of people when they taste something they didn’t expect to be as tasty as it is. Cooking for vulnerable people should, if done well, be as exciting as dining in a restaurant. The love, care and passion going into the meals will translate into the wellbeing of those eating the food. It’s a funny thing, as those eating the food cooking with passion will feel seen and looked after, and that in turn often gives them the feeling of a warm hug especially important when we cannot hug each other as freely as before.
What have you gained from the award food hero of the Year?
It made me confident enough to apply for a PhD and a charity trustee role. It made me realise that I must set myself new goals. I am now, so to say, an advisory to another CWT award-winning organisation which is incredible as I love what they do, and I hope that I can support them well into the future.
What are the benefits of being recognised by CWT as an inspirational food hero?
The opportunity to connect with like minded people and organisations which can help you to increase your reach and impact.
How did you celebrate when you found out you won Food Hero of the Year?
It was during the 2nd lockdown, and I was at home. I took a bottle of champagne which I had saved for a special day and popped it open with my flatmates who I have gotten to know very well over the last year, and we celebrated together with some bubbles that day.
What has been your biggest challenge setting up community kitchen projects?
With most of them, it was how best to follow the ever-changing government Covid guidelines ensuring that everyone involved in the projects was safe at all times.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I think because I’ve handled risk assessments during my career in many different contexts, I was less taken back by the process of reviewing risks and adjusting measures to make the kitchen, service and deliveries safe and, once again, by working together with others collaboratively, you can learn and overcome most challenges. Very much with the mindset where there is a will, there is a way.
Did anything unexpected come from the project?
The restaurant has now put community meals into day to day work, e.g. batch cook once a week and link with street food. It’s now part of the business; looking back on a year, we are still trying to include some of our work.
What are your visions for the future?
Finding ways to engage with vulnerable people, getting them to engage with hospitality and possibly thinking of it as a career pathway. For example, getting people to volunteer to cook community meals experience what it’s like to work in hospitality.
You can read more about Andrea’s award winning work on her CWT Food Hero of the Year page.
Interview by Michelle Slater
CWT Annual Awards Committee Member
© 2021 The Caroline Walker Trust