A few months ago, we had a chance to interview chef Bruno Ferrari about his long experience in China. We are now back with him for a first-hand account of the ongoing Coronavirus emergency.
Bruno, you experienced the Coronavirus emergency onsite in China. How did you feel about it?
At first, before the Chinese New Year celebrations, I wasn’t giving much weight to it to be honest, as the problem seemed to be limited to Wuhan only. A couple of days later, though, the alert came through. Wuhan was put on lockdown, and rumors started circulating about how serious this was. I had been to Wuhan on December 12 for business, as the Hilton hotel had asked me to collaborate to the opening of a new Italian restaurant.
How did I feel? After hearing that the virus had been around since December, I was obviously a bit afraid. The first thing I did was to go to a private clinic for a consultation, just to confirm that I was not at risk. Right after that, I self-isolated at home for 35 days. It wasn’t pleasant to stay inside all that time, but believe me – in China, when you’re told there’s a risk of contamination, you need to believe that and abide by the rules, waiting for everything to be solved.
What actions were the most effective in tackling the emergency?
First and foremost, no doubt, the order not to go out, and to avoid crowded places. The first thing they did was to close cinemas and theatres, events of all kinds were suspended, then restaurants, bars and hotels were closed too. Here in Shanghai, nobody cleared out groceries. Wherever you went – the supermarket, the bank, any other office – your temperature would be taken, as well as your phone number, personal data, passport number, the time you entered and left the place. Technically, there was no injunction forcing us to stay home here in Shangai, but people’s common sense made it so that nobody would go around if not absolutely necessary.
What do you think of the measures taken in Italy?
Based on what I see and read every day about it, the Italian government has been doing a good job, especially in shutting everything down and putting the population in quarantine. If only this was observed as it should, I think cases might drastically decrease by the day, but I can’t really see all this will to respect rules.
For what concerns businesses and entrepreneurs, they need more significant assistance. We’re all well aware that problems were there before the virus outbreak too, I only hope the Government will find a way to better support businesses in order to help them recover when all of this is over.
Were you forced to close your restaurants too? How is it going now that you have reopened?
At first, I closed my restaurant on January 23 for the Chinese New Year, and I intended to reopen at the end of the month … After what happened, though, we remained closed for around 42 days overall – not few, I must say. Before reopening, we had to follow extremely strict standards, such as getting documents that certified we had followed certain practices, like sanitizing the restaurant every day and keeping track of this, using an infrared thermometer to check all guests’ temperature before letting them in, keeping a log of all staff members’ clock-in and clock-out times, and monitor temperatures at least twice a day.
Strict laws have also been implemented about employees washing their hands, and taking all raw food off the menu (like carpaccio, salads, etc.)
Guests cannot seat one opposite the other at the table, but just one next to the other. If the restaurant can hold up to 36 customers (as it is my case), you can welcome no more than 15 for dinner, and tables must be placed at a distance of 1.5 meters from one another. Anyone showing up without a mask should be rejected. If their temperature is higher than 37.3°C (99.14°F), we should call a dedicated number, and the police and nurses will be over to pick them up for health checks.
I reopened two weeks ago, and things are a bit slow right now, but we’re holding on because we know that it will be alright.
Any advice for your colleagues in Italy?
First, to respect rules and stay home, obviously. I know it’s hard, I’ve been through this too, but believe me, it will be even harder if you keep going out without realizing how serious this is. Don’t wait until it’s too late!
We need to believe in recovery. Personally, I have already signed a contract for a new restaurant that I’m planning to open in my region, Abruzzi, in the city of Pretoro.
I was supposed to be back mid-March, but given the present circumstances, I think I’ll have to put it off to late April, hoping that the situation will improve – at least a little. The restaurant will be called “Bruno Ferrari Ristorante”, and will have no more than 30-32 seats. It was hollowed out in the cave, and it’s really peculiar. I will only use ingredients from my homeland, Abruzzi, and all recipes will have a modern twist, for a different – but not too different – take on the region’s traditional cuisine …
I believe in Italy, and I’m sure it will recover from this.