2021 sees the welcome return of Tuddenham Mill’s chef patron Lee Bye as one of our regular columnists. Here, he looks back at a turbulent year and asks us to get behind local businesses as they fight to survive
March 23, 2020: ‘From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home’.
‘SERVICE! How long on the garnish, Harvey?’
‘Turn the volume up, chef’
‘Focus on your plates, please. . .’
My iPhone perched between the ticket machine and lukewarm mug of Yorkshire; one ear on our PM, and two eyes on the Angus beef and foaming butter in my pan; the brigade unknowingly cooking the last of spring’s larder on the stoves at the very beginning of its season.
An invisible inferno was surging right towards us, and all side effects were destined to rip through our beloved industry.
The code has always been ‘carry on’ in hospitality. From dusk till dawn, a royal wedding, cut thumbs, rugby world cup finals, Christmas Day, no KP, even cooking with no gas – nothing stops a service from starting or finishing.
But the rhythm was over. We had to stop. We had to go home.
Neuroscience research teaches us that uncertainty registers in our brain much like error does. It needs to be corrected before we can feel comfortable again.
For weeks and weeks, I yearned for clarity so that I could establish what was next. I needed answers, and they never felt close. I was glued to industry Twitter, punching the bag, planning my next round of restaurants to fall in love with – I even tried my hand at being a Year 4 maths teacher! We will leave it there with how that went. . .
I recall my mother saying these words to me as a young father nine years ago: “Focus on your children first, and your career close behind.”
As Forrest said: “Mama always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.” Family always comes first, however much life washes over you.
By applying that very same message from nine years ago I was able to pare back the personal and professional minefield of pressures and re-align my focus. As the days and weeks slowly passed, I could feel myself going up the gears and the energy and momentum I crave was present again in what became a new normal. Little by little, compass in hand, I was growing through challenge, smiling again. Remember, mum knows best!
Every chef, restaurateur and hotelier I speak to has dug deep to shift their businesses over this last year. Creative meals for the NHS, bringing fun viewing on Instagram, new level takeaway or even re-modelling bar areas into village shops. There has been so much innovation across the country and some of the best is right here in our own county of Suffolk.
Hospitality like many other sectors wears scars of this pandemic, in what has been a year like no other. The industry’s supply chains have rolled with every punch and jumped through every hoop to ensure we continue to give and serve our local communities. It’s what we do in hospitality, and for many, sadly the reality is they have not got much time left with their doors open, closed or slightly ajar. Surviving for so many is the stark reality.
I urge all readers to really get behind local businesses that are getting out there every day mapping their journeys for business survival. It really is day-by-day. A voucher for someone’s birthday, a restaurant takeaway for an anniversary at home, or simply walking through your village and buying your vegetables from the roadside. Look hard at what producers, restaurants and independents are doing on your doorstep. It has never been more meaningful today to support and invest in local.
Furlough, grants, VAT cuts, CBILS loans, business rates holidays. . . it cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. With a possibility of reopening in the spring I really hope the Chancellor will bring forward plans to work with hospitality in government (#seatatthetable) to ensure collectively we can build a road back for our battle-worn, bruised industry.
Please do have a look at hospitalityaction.org.uk, @seatat_thetable, @GatehouseBSE and share where you can with awareness.
For now, we must hibernate. . . time for a cup of tea.
FAREWELL TO THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL. . . THE GODFATHER
On January 4, Albert Roux, OBE, sadly passed away after being unwell for a while.
The opening of Le Gavroche in 1967 was the start of a gastronomic revolution here in Great Britain. Albert and his late brother Michel became the first to earn three Michelin stars and went on to train, in my opinion, the two best chefs in our gastronomic history: Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsay.
Students at Edmunds Restaurant at West Suffolk College were fortunate to be mentored by Albert over the years in collaboration with Chez Roux. Albert’s advice was always ‘work hard and persevere’. Fitting words for where we find ourselves now.
Lee Bye is chef patron of Tuddenham Mill, High Street, Tuddenham IP28 6SQ
Call 01638 713552