2020 has been a learning curve for everyone and CASA has had to adapt
January – Healthy eating
We started the year with an article on healthy eating. Covid-19 was a phenomenon that was happening in isolation in Wuhan China. We were completely unaware of the impact of this pandemic on our society and in particular the hospitality industry. The importance of healthy eating was still relevant throughout the coming months, but was a hard path to follow when food, cooking and the eating thereof was where many turned to for comfort!
February – Love
Still on track for a ‘normal’ year – we celebrated the love of food, people and oneself! We looked at the relationship we have with food and for me it was about balancing my foodie preferences with a degree of moderation. This all went well until mid-lockdown!
March – Food and drink pairings
Initially I planned a simple food and wine pairing article – which took me on a journey through the science of taste and flavour. With lockdown starting this month I do believe that I may be held responsible for all the scientific experiments you all undertook testing wine! We adjusted to takeaways, including delivery, and I certainly learned to have greater sympathy with delivery drivers and postmen. “It is the pink house” – not overly helpful at pm on a dark March evening!
April – Covid and Easter
This was the first month that we were in full lockdown. We had no idea how long, uncertain and variable the year ahead was going to be. In my article for April, I wanted to share the way we as a team pulled together to adapt to these unprecedented times. We had launched Meals on Wheels for the elderly and vulnerable and this grew significantly in popularity during the coming months. We were also supporting businesses with sandwich bag deliveries to save their employees trips to supermarkets. This is one of the new adaptations we now plan to grow and develop.
May – Covid’s impact on hospitality
This was when it started to bite – the general public were feeling the isolation, we were missing the face-to-face service. Those of us who enter into a career in hospitality do so because we like food AND people. The joy comes from seeing and hearing the diners enjoy themselves. We did, however, take a great deal of pleasure in delivering food to our customers’ homes. On more than one occasion I even sang (badly) happy birthday to the recipient. They must have been feeling isolated as they apparently appreciated my rendition!
June – Holiday in UK and Club CASA
Our adaptation has always been about giving the customer what they want. The social media comments at this time focused on people pining for a traditional holiday destination. Our menu, being Mediterranean led, was ideally suited to bringing the Riviera and Costas to Suffolk.
We now knew that we were going to be closed until July, so we set about creating a holiday feel and making the interior and the terrace ‘continental’. I would say we were excited and intrepidacious in equal measure.
July – Reopening after COVID
Well – this was a task and a half. Rules, different rules, ambiguous rules. . . or were they guidelines? Then, the announcement that there was to be a scheme to boost sales in August meant that lots more planning and investment needed to take place. We had to have screens, sanitiser stations, systems for toilet use, exit and entry plans, distanced seating, masks/visors, plus QR codes and lists of diners’ details. Trying to plan how many staff we needed on a shift and how much food to buy and prep was also an immense challenge. Furthermore, we were also now trying to balance sandwich deliveries, takeaways (collection and delivery), plus meals on wheels! We needed more space. . . The old Peatling’s wine shop had become available so we negotiated a lease on this and this brought our seating capacity back to pre-covid numbers – YAY!
August – EOTHO & Staycations
Oh my! It felt like Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams – “build it and they will come”. We had built it and they did come – in their droves. From August 4 we did not come up for air – it was insanely busy with staff working crazy hours. I must say that all the additional procedures kept the mind and body very active. So many people were just so glad to be able to dine out and it was lovely to hear they had thoroughly enjoyed their dining and felt safe.
September – Autumnal Influences
This felt like the first ‘normal’ month for this industry for some time (I know we still had lots of space between tables, were wearing masks, etc, but it was more normal). I chose to write about seasonal produce because there was a greater feeling of supporting local producers and being community focused. This naturally flowed through into using local and seasonal produce. We had all experienced the cleaner air during the travel restrictions and many of us had been prompted to reconnect with the environment and the challenges we face. This is something we intend, as a business, to continue with in to the New Year.
October – Reasons to celebrate
We said goodbye to summer and felt the drawing in of the nights, cooler days and the approach of winter. This is when many religions and nations have celebrations. I wanted to encourage people to make the most of a bad situation. I am a firm believer that what we have right now is a starting point and that many of us expend much physical and emotional energy trying to control things we have absolutely no control over. My personal coping strategy for this year has been to only channel energy into things I have some control over.
November – Spanish food
This seemed like a good time to reconnect with the core of what we do – tapas. It was prompted by a lovely surprise pack from Spanish Food and Wine, which was accompanied by a Zoom tasting ‘meeting’. It reminded me how much I personally miss the travelling and discovering new tastes and food experiences. I am very fortunate that through our excellent supply chain I can obtain almost any ingredient I wish to cook with. This follows on with the idea of helping our customers to travel through dining.
This month has been another rollercoaster. We wait with bated breath as each new announcement comes out. Going back into tier 2 meant we had a flurry of cancellations as many of our December bookings were for mixed households. By the 3rd we had been asked by numerous customers if we had covered and heated outdoor space. The solution, a marquee with heaters and, of course, Christmas decorations and blankets. This has been so popular we had another one delivered this week ready for the weekend! This also allows us to carry on into the New Year with outside seating and through into the spring.
We know that Christmas for many this year will not be what they would wish it to be in an ideal world. There are ways though that we can make it better for ourselves and each other.
Many people will be on their own on Christmas day as travelling and mixing is not advisable. So, a small edible gift, a knock on their front door and a short chat will make a huge difference
Fancy making the gift? Keeping the kids occupied in the process?
Here are a few simple ideas:
Shortbread (see recipe)
Chocolate Truffles (see recipe)
We are delivering Christmas lunch to our regular meals on wheels customers who need it, before starting our own celebrations – it has its own Christmas feel-good factor to it. My Mum’s neighbours in Nottingham will be checking she is ok as she is one of those choosing to hold fire until she has had her vaccine.
Perhaps even, dare I say, the true spirit of Christmas may sparkle quite brightly this year?
150g really good dark chocolate (chopped up small – food processor is good for this if you have one)
150ml extra thick double cream
25g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons rum, brandy, Cointreau (or any other decent booze!)
1 tablespoon thick full fat Greek yoghurt (such as Total) not the Greek ‘style’
1 tablespoon cocoa for dusting.
Warm the cream, butter and alcohol in a pan. If using the food processor to chop the chocolate then leave the chocolate in there and gently pour the mixture in whilst the machine runs. Then add the yoghurt and mix again. If doing by hand, make sure your bowl is on a damp cloth to stop it moving and have a spoon ready to stir enthusiastically as you add the liquid. Then beat in the yoghurt – this is good exercise and will help counterbalance the calories consumed when testing!
Spread on a tray you have lined with clingfilm and pop in the fridge overnight. Roll into balls and then roll the balls in the cocoa powder. You can open freeze these, and then pop in a bag. Keep them chilled until ready to eat and consume within 4 days.
200g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar (plus sprinkling)
300g plain flour
Preheat oven to 160C/140C Fan/Gas 3
Mix the butter and the sugar together by hand or with a hand mixer until pale and completely smooth. Gently mix in the flour – do not over work the mixture or it will not have the crumbly texture synonymous with shortbread.
Option one: Roll in to a sausage shape and wrap in cling film – place in fridge for around half an hour to chill. Remove clingfilm and slice into discs.
Option two: You can roll out gently on a floured surface and use cookie cutters.
Place on a lined baking sheet, sprinkle with sugar and bake for about 15 minutes.
Cool on a baking rack and eat – sorry, I mean serve!
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2021
For anyone running a business that has been impacted by Covid these are tumultuous times. I feel that at CASA our diversification and adaptability, combined with the community and customer support, has allowed us to ride the storm relatively well. That doesn’t mean we can be complacent. The marquees in the new year are going to be used at times for Après Ski and Fondue nights; the old wine shop is currently being used as extra kitchen space and we have further plans for that in the spring. . . watch this space.
Around the World in 80 plates
We plan to extend the nationalities of food that we provide – the theme being travel without leaving Suffolk.
Very social – social distancing!
Just to be around other people eating and drinking is good for the human soul – so remember to follow all the guidelines of wearing a mask, washing hands and sanitizing, but we also have an extra rule for you.
PLEASE SUPPORT US
The rapidity of change is deeply destructive to the hospitality trade. Food quickly deteriorates and for those restaurants and cafés that pride themselves on freshly-prepared and cooked produce this causes challenges at both ends of the cycle. London’s restaurant trade has this week been plunged into tier 3. This means huge amounts of food will potentially go to waste. The amount of prep to reopen is also very costly as we found when we reopened after the lockdowns. We had to have lots of staff in just to get all the dishes prepared and slow-cooked to be ready. The supply chain will also be crippled by this as they will supply multiple restaurants and this trade will have dried up overnight. It is therefore vital that the public continue to support this trade in any way they can. Vouchers, takeaways, deposits for pre-bookings and, of course, dining out are all ways you can help with this.
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Tel 01284 701313