Published On: 18 February 2021Categories: Stories

Loaves and Fishes enables Pat O’Connell to indulge his two great passions of creating exceptional food and encouraging the next generation of cooks.

The kitchen manager loves that food has the unique ability to bring people together.

“There’s no hierarchy around the table,” he said.

“Everyone’s equal. Food has that unique ability to bring people together from different nationalities and backgrounds and economic status. It’s a place to do life together and enjoy.”

Passionate Pat (pictured above with school-based trainee Amelia Ciantar) is obsessed with producing and presenting the nation’s best emergency food relief meals for Tasmanians and developing the most competent and confident adult and school-based trainees.

The Adelaide-born cook has been working with the Loaves and Fishes team to plan and package a new range of meals for food recipients.

The nation’s best emergency food relief

“Rather than producing big bags of cryovac stew and casseroles, we’re moving to curated tray meals in single serve, double serve or family packs,” he said.

“We will have more flexibility in the type of food we produce, and the packaging is recyclable and compostable.

“One of the things I love about Loaves and Fishes is our ability and willingness to be flexible and change anything in search of producing the best food possible.

“While I love the quality of food we produce, it’s also about the people; seeing them develop their potential.

“I also love that Loaves and Fishes plays a support role, providing food for other agencies to deliver without trying to take over.”

Pat, 32, loves the challenge of inventing recipes from the constantly changing ingredients being donated by food partners.

“I love going to the warehouse to see what’s on offer. It’s a bit like Christmas every week because we have no idea what’s coming in.

The combination of generous food donors and Pat’s inventiveness enables Loaves and Fishes to produce two nutritious, tasty meals for $1.

Pat joined Loaves and Fishes in October 2018 as night production supervisor to develop the range of sauces, jams and chutneys for retail sale, before moving on to day work to manage the kitchen when the other manager, Renee de Bruyn, went on maternity leave.

COVID proving ground

His role on her return was unclear until COVID hit. The pandemic became Pat’s crucible of fire, a proving ground for a cook who had quit cheffing six months short of graduation to become a volunteer missionary with Youth with a Mission.

The kitchen ramped up almost overnight, operating two shifts producing up to 25 separate dishes and 12,000 meals a week.

“I’ve always had these doubt about am I good enough,” Pat said. “The imposter syndrome.”

Any lingering doubts evaporated in the praise of local chefs unable to work due to COVID who were amazed at Loaves and Fishes’ inventiveness and skill in producing the volume of such high-quality meals.

“It settled something in me. It also proved to me what was possible. We had talked about the various numbers that the kitchen was capable of, now we proved it.”

Pat said he had always been fascinated by food.

“My earliest memories at home involved food.

“I always knew I wanted to be a chef.”

By Paul O’Rourke

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