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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Excess food from Emirates Palace iftars distributed to Abu Dhabi’s needy

True to the spirit of Ramadan, Emirates Palace distributes food left over from iftar to the city’s poorest residents.
Emirates Palace executive sous chef Carmine Pecoraro gives leftover iftar food to Saving Grace, an arm of Emirates Red Crescent, to be distributed to poor people. Vidhyaa for The National
Emirates Palace executive sous chef Carmine Pecoraro gives leftover iftar food to Saving Grace, an arm of Emirates Red Crescent, to be distributed to poor people. Vidhyaa for The National

ABU DHABI // Iftars at the Emirates Palace are lavish affairs that are often served to members of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.

After the grand feasts, however, true to the spirit of Ramadan, the hotel makes sure that the city’s poorest residents are treated to the leftovers.

“When we hold events for the Crown Prince’s Court we prepare our full menu, and we also tend to get a lot of food sent over from the royal palaces,” said executive sous chef Carmine Pecorano. “On those days, there’s a lot more food that goes uneaten.”

On such occasions, the South African calls the Emirates Red Crescent for the charity to send along one of its vans.

At 8.30pm, when the buffet is cleared away, any dishes that ­remain untouched are loaded up and distributed to labour camp workers and cash-strapped families for their late-night suhoor.

Sultan Al Shehi is manager of Saving Grace (Hefth Al Ne’ma), the arm of the Red Crescent that collects and distributes leftover food from around the country.

“Our team are trained by Abu Dhabi Food Control ­Authority,” he said. “We keep the food fresh using thousands of blocks of ice. This is the most hygienic way to transport it.”

He said the Red Crescent gives his organisation a list of needy people to take the food to.

“We do this throughout the year, but of course Ramadan is when much food is wasted. Last Ramadan, we donated more than 45,000 meals to those in need across the UAE.”

Saving Grace also collects and distributes second-hand clothes and furniture.

The initiative launched in 2004 and Emirates Palace has participated since 2012.

The link-up with the hotel had lost momentum over the years, but about 18 months ago Mr Pecorano revived it.

“These days, we also tend to call up the Red Crescent when there’s a female wedding party at the palace,” he said. “It’s reassuring to know that the leftover food is not going to be wasted.”

According to the Centre of Waste Management, Tadweer, between 35 and 50 per cent of the total waste generated in the capital is food. Over Ramadan, even more tends to be left over after mealtimes.

Mr Shehi said at this time of year his 45 staff and 25 vans were busier than ever.

“The St Regis, the Rotana and the Hilton hotels, and also the Officers Club, all their restaurants are dealing with us,” he said. “A lot of the local palaces also donate their leftovers.”

Although rice and meat can be transported safely, regulations dictate that other foods – such as cut vegetables and salads – cannot.

In Dubai, however, the Waldorf Astoria on the Palm Jumeirah has recently employed another method to keep its raw fruit and vegetables out of landfill sites.

Since February, executive chef Jens Muenchenbach has been encouraging his staff to put the hotel kitchens’ fruit and vegetable waste, shells and granules from the coffee machines into their new custom-made composter. The contents, once broken down into compost, can then nourish the plants in the hotel’s new organic garden.

The resulting fresh herbs and vegetables end up on the plates of diners at the South-East Asian sustainable dining restaurant, Lao.

Mr Muenchenbach is from Germany, a country where composting is commonplace. “We Germans compost a lot because garbage is taxed,” he said.

To start a composting culture at the Waldorf, Mr Muenchenbach called up Agriculture Box. The organic gardening company set up a composting system along with garden boxes for planting and a watering system.

Right now, the hot weather means his cherry tomatoes are wilting, but the heat has not yet affected his herbs.

“I’ve never seen basil grow like this before. The Portuguese oregano is also thriving,” he said.

newsdesk@thenational.ae