AN ESTEEMED restaurateur who helped feed people in his community during the coronavirus pandemic hopes to continue his support long into the future.

Tarek Thoma, of Oven in Middlesbrough, will receive a British Empire Medal (BEM) in recognition of his dedicated work.

The 55-year-old, who famously cooked for George Bush and Tony Blair when he worked at the Dun Cow in Sedgefield, opened the Teesside restaurant in 2015.

He has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants including the L’Escargot in London and Chapter One in Kent, but it is the BEM award that he admits is the most surprising moment of his career.

"Just to be nominated is enough for me but to received a BEM is mind-boggling," he said.

Mr Thoma played a key role in working with local charities and authorities during the height of the pandemic last year to deliver essential items and food to the vulnerable and shielding in the town.

Read more: Middlesbrough’s Oven is making a difference

Any profit that they made was ploughed back into providing fresh meals for front-line staff at James Cook Hospital, with up to 150 meals a day, freshly cooked and delivered by Tarek and his team of six staff.

They also delivered chef-quality ready meals to three different women’s refuges and children’s homes.

He said: "We were active, and playing our part in the community - we just did what we could.

"Community work is something we don't usually advertise but during the pandemic we put it out on social media. We wanted to extended our hand out to anyone we could help because we had the time and we had the food.

"We managed to cooperate with the council to create a really good operation. People have worked to the bone during the pandemic to make sure we could deliver food."

Mr Thoma heaped praise on Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston for administering the operation, and hopes to forge a permanent partnership designed to tackle future crises on a local level.

"It was a phenomenal collaboration between businesses and local government," Mr Thoma added.