43-47 Drake Boulevard, Altona. Phone: 9368 5900
I’ve been so looking forward to laying eyes on the Community Chef building.
Especially since reading glowing praise by the The Age’s architecture commentator.
As it turns out, the location near the intersection of Kororoit Creek Rd and the train line to Geelong means I’ve been passing nearby on a weekly basis for a couple of years.
I’m a little underwhelmed. It looks, to my stupendously untutored eye, not much different to the other buildings and enterprises with which it shares its Altona industrial estate.
Which only goes to show, of course, that if I can claim expertise in anything, architecture is NOT one of them.
The welcome I receive, happily, is a whole lot more warm and generous than I perceive the premises to be.
Community Chef customer relations manager Trish Love seems genuinely happy to spend as much time showing me around as required, making me lunch and answering my seemingly endless list of questions, some of which I suspect strike her as a little whacky.
Community Chef is the newish whizz-bang multi-jurisdictional outfit that is taking Melbourne “meals on wheels” into a new century.
It is collectively owned by 20 councils, with its tucker finding grateful customers from the Surf Coast to Dandenong.
Locally, that includes the councils of Hobson’s Bay, Brimbank and Moonee Ponds, but not our own Maribyrnong, which has chosen to use another provider.
Having already emailed an earlier list of questions to Trish and checked out the Community Chef website, I am well prepared to have preconceived notions dispensed with.
Mental images of steaming hot meals issuing forth from the Community Chef kitchens and being dispatched with cheerful haste to customers are way, way off base.
But first, lunch … following the hopeful hunch that I’d be presented with an opportunity to sample the Community Chef fare, I have avoided a noon meal, and Trish is happy to oblige.
After adjourning to the staff canteen, she quickly whips my meal into shape.
Knowing what passes for our usual criteria while out on the fang are of little or no use in this kind of setting, I try to sup with an open mind. As I expect, though, the food is a lot less salty and seasoned than is the Consider The Sauce norm, though Trish tells me there are curry dishes in the line-up with an element of oomph.
The pumpkin and red lentil soup is the big winner. Tasty!
The osso bucco with polenta is none too shabby, either.
The Community Chef statistics are staggering.
It prepares up to 2.2 millions portions annually.
It employs 72 staff in total, with 61 staff in production roles and 11 in administrative roles.
Community Chef offers six menu choices per day – Anglo-Australian, international, Asian, vegetarian, roast or a salad or sandwich.
Within its broader parameters, Community Chef is able to cater with flexibility for a wide variety of nutritional requirements.
For those customers with specific needs such as halal, kosher and gluten-free, Community Chef provides supplier contacts.
“The majority of meals are also offered in four texture modified versions – soft, cut, minced and moist or pureed,” says Trish. “These are particularly important for older adults with swallowing difficulties or who have other medical needs. We also have a special needs kitchen where a specialised meal, able to meet complex medical requirements, can be made for meal recipients.”
Unlike other such providers, Community Chef’s meals are pasteurised, meaning they have a shelf life of up to 30 days.
Community Chef’s two trucks deliver the meals to individual councils, who in turn deliver them to their clients.
More than ever, our experience in bringing Consider The sauce to the world has convinced us that food rituals are about far more than food on plate or in bowl.
I express concern that Community Chef seems forever at arm’s length from the very people who eat its food.
I am vastly reassured when Trish tells me that councils regularly bring their clients through for “the tour”, tastings and feedback sessions. (Feedback – ho ho!)
“Some councils even seem to make a point of bringing their toughest customers,” says Trish with a grin.
As well, in due course, Community Chef hopes to cater to community interest by offering the same sort of tour that I am privileged to be enjoying.
The building and systems – the work of Williams Boag Architects, with French food-processing systems architect Francois Tesniere – put a premium on health safety and environmental concerns.
Ewater is used, the ceiling in the massive food preparation area is low to save energy and interior lighting responds through sensors to outside weather conditions.