Dealing with the constraints that Tier 2 puts on the hospitality industry has proved challenging, but 1921’s chef patron Zack Deakins finds a silver lining to the restrictions
I was not born to be a salesman. Talking positively when I am not feeling that way, I find uncomfortable. The Tier 2 restrictions have really knocked some of the wind out of our sails and left me with a depressing deflated feeling.
To give you a quantifiable idea of how the restriction affects us and our industry you only have to look at last Saturday night. We originally had 52 covers booked, after the announcement that had to drop to 24 – more than half the cover gone. We were still fully booked, which is amazing, and we are thrilled that people still want to come out and see us. But when people can’t bring their friends and extended family and tables drop from sixes and fours to tables of two, you just can’t rack up the same numbers. Less covers means we need less staff, so some of the team remain furloughed. It also means we are buying less produce, which of course filters down to our suppliers and their producers. Everyone in the chain struggles.
So walking back into the kitchen after lockdown 2.0, I felt exhausted before we even started.
I think of oil tankers as a good analogy for restaurant kitchens – they take a huge amount of effort to get moving and if you don’t plan your stopping properly you end up with a disaster. When you are moving it glides, chops through the water. It’s just not really designed to do the other two, and we have had to do them both twice this year.
Bringing a kitchen to a standstill feels so unnatural. You always have the next few days in your head normally, planning which jobs you will do to use your time best. When winding down the kitchen you have to stop yourself doing that or you will end up with a whole load of food in the rubbish bin. Obviously, financially you don’t want that to happen, but for me it’s the feeling that you are throwing away things you have put love, blood, sweat and tears into that is worse.
Then there is getting the ship moving – firing up the stove and getting cooking. There is so much planning that goes into it. It’s a bit like planning family meals and writing the shopping list for the week. Only the family is of 400 and every meal has eight plus components, and however many ingredients each component then has. Writing the menus, working out recipes, writing prep lists, planning the dishes and their presentation, I can easily go through a pad of paper in a week. It’s tiring, but it’s wonderful, I actually find it gives me energy.
It was somewhere in the middle of Friday night service I realised this. . . I was plating our new beef dish, which is sirloin of Suffolk beef with celeriac, stout-braised cheek and truffle dumplings, whilst simultaneously thinking of a new dish for next week, which is going to be Sutton Hoo chicken breast stuffed with black garlic with a creamed sprout and chicken fat mash tartlet. It was then it dawned on me – we can use the extra time we find ourselves with to bring new dishes and ideas to the menu, to ensure everything we do, from the food we put on the plate, to the coffee, to the service we offer is 100 per cent the best we can do at all times, and that is actually quite exciting. In this industry you just don’t get that sort of time normally.
The other thing I am excited about, like so many others, is Christmas. Understandably, even before the announcement of easing of the restrictions, it felt like we all started to look to Christmas especially early this year. The thought of something fun, positive and exciting bringing out the big kid in all of us. A light in the dark. Having worked so many Christmases I now really appreciate what time with people you love over the festive period does for the soul, and this year it feels like it’s even more important. So we will still take a short break away from the business, then we can look forward to reopening on a date we choose with even more energy and passion – to draw a line under 2020, to really charge at 2021 and turn it into something special.
Zack Deakins is chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds.
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