The countdown to reopening has begun and 1921’s chef patron Zack Deakins couldn’t be happier. . . but he doesn’t underestimate the challenge for everyone in the hospitality industry after such a long lay-off
May 18th is finally starting to feel not too far away. I mean as I write this we still have 60 days to go, but we have been closed for 90, so we are on the home straight at least.
The thought of re-opening brings with it a huge amount of excitement. I find myself waking up at night with butterflies in my stomach like a kid on Christmas Eve. The thought of having the restaurant pulsating with life again is such a dream. The buzz that guests and the team bring into the building has been sorely missed.
Of course, there is also the thought of getting stuck in, back in the kitchen for real. This makes me feel really quite giddy. We have done our Valentine’s and Mother’s Day heat-at-home meals, which were fun to do and we have had some lovely feedback for them too, but it is just not the same as preparing and presenting a dish for the restaurant. I love doing it and cannot wait to get back to it.
I must admit though, there are some serious nerves as well. It is almost going to be like starting a completely new job. Make no mistake it is going to be a huge push. By the time we reopen, through no choice of our own, we will have effectively worked five months out of the last 14. The reality is, although we will be charged up and raring to go, we are going to be a little rusty.
Throughout lockdown I have cooked every day. But trust me, cooking dinner for the four of us almost has little to no relevance to that of cooking for a restaurant full of guests. . . a busy service. For starters I will not be sipping a beer or glass of wine. Back to the gallons of water and trying to stay hydrated in our roasting hot summer kitchen. This is a small detail though really. At home I may have two or possibly three things on the go at once. In the middle of a busy service there is a good chance I have at least 10 pans on the stove, each with a different component of a dish in. Each will take a different amount of time and need finishing in different ways, and yet they all need to be ready within a minute of each other. This would just be for one table, but I will have checks on for possibly as many as eight tables, so I will be thinking about these and getting bits ready for them at the same time as working the pans already on the stove. All this while communicating with the rest of the kitchen as to what stage they are at and making sure they have their garnishes ready.
There is also a dialogue to maintain with the front of house team so we know what is going on in the restaurant. It is an environment unlike any other I have experienced. It is such a buzz, such a rush. Just writing about it I can feel my heart rate elevating. We find joy in this fast-paced environment, your brain has to work at 200mph and make decisions quickly.
When you haven’t done it for months, it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to feel natural. The repetition of doing it day in and day out is one of the reasons we are good at it. It also brings muscle memory and habit, which means a lot of what we do happens without even thinking about it. We train our bodies and minds to do it, and to do it rapidly. You would normally associate training with professional athletes or perhaps a football team, and really for us this is no different. You wouldn’t expect a runner to turn up to an event without months of preparation, and yet the whole of the hospitality industry is about to go through our equivalent of just that.
It will be a challenge, but one I am sure this industry that I love so much is up for. Some of the most passionate, resilient, dedicated and hardworking people I have ever met are within it. I know they, like us at 1921, are ready to stand up and push the wretched year we have endured behind us. That beer or glass of wine will be waiting for us at the end of the shift.
Zack Deakins is chef patron of 1921 Angel Hill in Bury St Edmunds
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