Would you eat food prepared by HIV-positive chefs?
A pop-up restaurant in Toronto, Canada, is trying to dispel the stigma around HIV/AIDS. June’s HIV+ Eatery opened after a research study found half of Canadians would not knowingly eat food prepared by people who were HIV positive. Many Canadian erroneously believed HIV could be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, by sharing cutlery or drinking from the same glass or through saliva — despite the fact that these myths were debunked years ago.
To combat the social stigma that still lingers around AIDS, Casey House, Toronto’s first and only stand-alone hospital for people with HIV/AIDS, partnered with PR agency Bensimon Byrne, opened up a restaurant where all meals were cooked by 14 HIV-positive people. The bistro, named after Casey House founder June Callwood served four-course dinners on Nov. 8 and Nov. 9 priced at $125 per person. The tickets to the event quickly sold out.
Not many of the 14 chefs had set foot in a restaurant’s kitchen. But for the cause, they created four-course dinners for more than 100 patrons and sent jars of fancy soup to newsrooms across Canada as press invitations.
The cooks worked with top Canadian chef Matt Basile to design the menu, which included Thai potato leek soup, heirloom salad, Arctic char parpadelle and grilled skirt steak and gingerbread tiramisu for dessert.
The chefs wore aprons that read, “Judge the cooking, not the cook,” “I got HIV from pasta, said no one ever,” and “I’m not a cook with HIV. I’m a cook.”
The restaurant is closed now but people can still donate at its page.
The event comes as seven Canadians a day on average are diagnosed with HIV.
“Any negative coverage or social sentiment allowed us to bring the stigma that was largely hidden into the spotlight,” said Joseph Bonnici, executive creative director and partner at Bensimon Byrne. “It was the entire point of the pop-up — exposing the ignorance and blame around HIV and AIDS.”
“Everything we did had to take into consideration what they had gone through to get to this point,” he added. “Our HIV-positive chefs, who come from all walks of life, bravely came forward to show they have nothing to be ashamed of, and more importantly, cook a meal for hundreds of people in Toronto who have nothing to fear from them.”
Banner/Thumbnail: REUTERS, Sheng Li