Queens Chef Project shows appreciation for restaurant industry during pandemic

Andrew Bellucci – Bellucci’s Pizzeria
Andrew Bellucci from Bellucci’s Pizza photographed with Lord Hanuman statue. (Photo credit to Drew Kerr)

An independent photographer from Queens has recently released a collection of photos and stories from chefs who have overcome difficulties brought on by the pandemic. 

For the past year, Drew Kerr traveled around the borough to photograph chefs, asking each person to pose with a  significant object in their kitchen or restaurant. Kerr, who grew up in Flushing and Howard Beach, started the project in February 2021 and was originally inspired by the perseverance of the food industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I’m looking for pictures that show joy; I’m not here to show sadness,” Kerr said. “I’m here to show that these people came through. They love what they’re doing and they have fun with these objects. I wanna bring people up.”

Kerr’s website, Queens Chef Project, compiles the photos of 50 chefs and their chosen, meaningful objects. In addition to playful photos of the chefs, the website also shares their personal stories along with audio and video of them explaining their craft.

Nelly from Arepa Lady photographed with the flour measuring cup they use when making arepas. (Photo credit to Drew Kerr)

Alejandro Osorio from Arepa Lady in Jackson Heights tells the story of his mother immigrating to New York City from Colombia 25 years ago. She started the famous food cart and Osorio took over to open the brick-and-mortar shop in 2014. Osorio and his wife are photographed with a flour measuring cup that his mother used for as long as he could remember. 

Alejandro Osorio and his wife Nelly at Arepa Lady located 77-17 37th Ave. in Jackson Heights. (Photo credit to Drew Kerr)

“It’s not like they grew up and went to go work at a restaurant, but somehow fate intervened and they end up there,” Kerr said. “People have found their way into this business which they’ve come to love.”

Kerr said that he loved being able to picture chefs in a different light, especially after surviving the pandemic which he knew was such an emotional time for them. 

“I’ve managed to persuade them to do funny, unconventional things with their objects,” Kerr said. “The spirit of this is fun.”

Kerr pointed out one photo that stood out to him of Ardian Skenderi from Taverna Kyclades in Astoria that shows him holding up a fish and laughing. 

Ardian Skenderi from Taverna Kyclades, located at 33-07 Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria. (Photo credit to Drew Kerr)

“Here are these chefs who are usually taken so seriously having so much fun,” Kerr said. “There are moving stories there but also photos and comments that are just really fun.”

According to Kerr, the takeaway of this project is that there is a lot of ingenuity and love in the Queens food industry that has helped all of these restaurants remain open during the pandemic. 

“What are the odds of 51 restaurants over the course of one year, with everything going on, still open and thriving,” Kerr said. “This project shows that there’s not just the resilience but there’s more than what’s served on a plate.”

The project has been sponsored by Queens Together and Queens Economic Development Corporation and has received support from popular Queens-based food writer Joe DiStefano.