Swiss chef returns to Odette-ravaged Siargao to cook in community kitchen

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Ivo Zwicker, who lost his restaurant during the onslaught of Typhoon Odette in Siargao, thought of leaving the Philippines but changes his mind

SURIGAO DEL NORTE, Philippines – Swiss chef Ivo Zwicker lost the restaurant he built on the island of Siargao the day Typhoon Odette (Rai) unleashed its fury on Surigao del Norte in December 2021. Despite the misfortune , he returned to help the people of the island whom he came to love.

Zwicker, a 33-year-old Swiss chef, lost his restaurant, Kung Fu Ganda, along Tourism Road in the town of General Luna. The restaurant and everything in it was destroyed during Odette’s first landing on December 16.

He thought about leaving the country but changed his mind. He returned to Siargao from Manila and, along with his friends and other good Samaritans, organized and set up a community kitchen on the typhoon-ravaged island that is world famous as the surfing capital of the Philippines.

For weeks, Zwicker has been cooking meals at Vedya, a restaurant that has withstood Odette’s fury. It has since been transformed into a community kitchen where a few hundred meals are produced daily for communities in need.

MORPH. Vedya, a restaurant in the Siargao village of Catangnan, is transformed into a community kitchen after the devastation of Typhoon Odette. (Roel Catoto/Rappler)

Five days after the devastation, Zwicker flew to Manila. His plan then was to return to Switzerland.

“But I felt so sad for the people there. My conscience did not allow me to give up the place I have come to love,” he said.

After a few days in Manila, Zwicker returned to Siargao with a passion for helping and seeing what he could do to make things easier for the islanders.

He said he was doing what he knew best – “cooking”, but, this time, not for profit but for the hungry and needy.

Zwicker first arrived on the island in September 2019. Seeing its potential as a major tourist destination, he decided to move there and build his restaurant there.

What he hadn’t anticipated was the global COVID-19 pandemic that hit a few months later.

“For more than a year, it’s been a disaster. First the COVID-19 hit, then the super typhoon knocked us down. But that didn’t rid us of our passion,” Zwicker told Rappler.

Vedya, the community kitchen where Zwicker now cooks, is known for its sumptuous vegetarian meals. He still manages to produce healthy meals that now include meat.

Several other foreigners stayed to help.

A Chinese freelance journalist, for example, was vacationing on the island of Siargao in December. She ended up staying and volunteered to help in Vedya.

“We deliver food to different communities,” Wendy Lin, 28, told Rappler when asked how she helps the community. “It’s really amazing to see people helping each other.”

VOLUNTEER. Vacationing freelance journalist Wendy Lin finds herself on the island of Siargao to help with the rescue. (Roel Catoto)

But that’s not all. Lin, who saw the island take a beating from Odette, single-handedly helped raise 1.4 million pesos in donations from her friends for the relief efforts.

Lin said half a million pesos were spent on canned food and the rest on medicine, bottled water, solar lamps and building materials.

Filipino-German Erik Reinnermann, who has helped relief and rehabilitation efforts on Siargao Island, praised the volunteers at the Vedya community kitchen. “They keep the fire going in the kitchen, producing food for hungry stomachs,” he said.

Joselito Saavedra, president of the Catangnan barangay in General Luna, said he was very grateful to everyone who helped the people of his village and other islanders.

“Our people were able to receive their food. They are heroes in these troubled times,” Saavedra said. – Rappler.com


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