Humdingers chef given British Empire Medal for running free soup kitchen during coronavirus crisis
- Credit: Polly Hancock
A chef who fed 800 people a day from his soup kitchen during the coronavirus lockdown has been awarded a British Empire Medal by the Queen.
Publication of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list was originally set for June - but it was postponed so it could include people involved in the battle against coronavirus, like Robert Hunningher.
The father-of-two has been using profits from his catering company and Humdingers bakery and pizzeria in Hoxton Street to keep the soup kitchen afloat.
Finding out he had received the honour was “really emotional” for Robert, who was out working 60 hours a week, making sourdough bread and vegan soups for those going hungry in the early stages of the pandemic, while his wife and children were at home.
“We make delicious bread and soup and we want to help everyone in Hackney,” Robert, 42, who worked at L’Escargot Restaurant and the River Café before launching his own business, told the Gazette.
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“For me what it’s about is I see hungry people and I can’t stand it,” he said.
“I make friends with everyone in my area, and if anyone is having a hard time they can come to us for some soup.
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“The accountant said last year, ‘You can get a new car’ because we’d had a good year, and instead of doing that, I opened a soup kitchen and I’ve given it all away.
“It’s so rewarding and when I walk home I have everyone coming up and telling me how good the soup was. I didn’t ever feel this much reward until I started giving stuff away.” His team still serves up 400 portions a week to the hungry, but he now wants to use the award to “push the soup kitchen to another level”.
“I know it’s a big expense for us to do this, but I am literally on a mission to feed the world, and I have got amazing chefs making amazing soups,” he said.
“I think the whole community is in trouble at the moment. More families are struggling, and the schoolgirls are the ones that get me - they say they never get a hot meal as their parents work at night. It’s the girls that seem to talk about it more. They say, ‘This is really nice. Can I have two portions?’ That’s so rewarding.”
Robert plans to install a wood fired oven so he can make pizza one day a week for children who don’t like soup, and to convert his van into a soup truck so he can expand the service further afield in time for Christmas.
“There are too many homeless people, too many flats sitting empty and we need to make a difference. If I dont do it no one else will.”