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Essential Cuisine

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Chefs During Lockdown ft. Robin Dudley

23rd July 2020

Introducing our new series of blog posts, Chefs During Lockdown, we will be interviewing chefs to discuss their experience during the ongoing pandemic. To kick start our new feature we are speaking to our very own Robin Dudley, one of three business development chefs here at Essential Cuisine.

"With everything that has happened over the last few months, my role in the company has changed massively. Before lockdown, nearly every day I was traveling the country doing demos on how to use our products or showing current customers our new innovative ideas. I always worked with a colleague, and no two days were the same. Nights in hotels and dinners out, it was great to be busy, feel part of a team and see new places and meet new chefs.

When we had to stop doing this, and pubs and restaurants started to close, changed. Initially, myself and the other two BDCs had time to write recipes, talk concepts and ideas, exchange and catch up with contacts.  Everybody thought it would be just for a few weeks, then everything would be back to normal. People were upbeat, happy to relax a little, but looking forward to returning to work properly.
 
After some of the team were furloughed, and minds became focused on the reality of this pandemic, we had to re-evaluate how we do things.
 
As a company we liked to do face to face demos, with tasting and eating a huge part of our demo style. I used to go to the head office once or twice a month for training, meetings or customer demonstrations. This has now changed into us looking at Skype or Zoom demos, making “how to” videos at home, or sending “cook along” boxes for customers to do with us. We have not been able to go to the development kitchen at head office for months, so ideas for recipes have been done at home, not easy when you are used to commercial kitchens. Combining working from home with home schooling 2 children has also brought about its own challenges!
 
Social media has become a larger part of how we communicate with customers. The staff twitter BBQ a fantastic example. Everyone has done a great job of helping keep each other positive, from our 3 times weekly teams catchup, to calling our furloughed colleagues and friends / contacts within the industry, to see how they are doing. Its important to remember that being furloughed, while being a holiday at the start for some, has deep implications on the mental state of others, with job and money worries being at the forefront of their anxiety. Others have had to let friends and colleagues go and make difficult decisions about their own businesses. This is something that will stay and be a part of peoples lives for a long time yet.

With the catering industry starting to reopen, we have seen huge changes. Restaurants with 30-50% occupancy, hundreds of no-shows. Menus reduced to in some cases 1/3 of the original size. Customer confidence at a real low. Kitchen and front of house teams reduced massively with huge job losses in all sections of our industry. This has put enormous strain on the chefs as they are now sometimes operating on their own in a kitchen. It has made chefs and owners re-evaluate their business, changing from a high-end restaurant to a home delivery, a café to a deli or shop.

 On a positive note, it has shown how resilient those that work in our industry are. How quickly we can adapt to whatever new normal is put in front of us. The ideas and ingenuity have seemed non-stop with everyone happy to pool ideas. Jobs have been shared countless times as we look to help our own where we can. Its always been a competition, but right now that doesn’t seem important.

We as a company are trying to reach out to as many of our contacts as possible to remind them, we are here and can help with concepts, recipes ideas, menu creation for all sectors. Our whole range of products are designed for exactly this, to save the chef time and money. Coming from a chef background, our whole team understand how long a proper stock takes to make, how precious a jus is.  Sometimes even the time saved weighing out ingredients for a bechamel or crème anglaise can seem a godsend. Whisking hollandaise is dead time, better spent elsewhere.

For now, It's about helping to rebuild our industry, to ensure we and our customers have a business to bring our furloughed colleagues back to. I don’t think we will return to the old normal in the near future but if chefs are allowed to be chefs, with all their passion and ideas, then the new normal of hospitality can be just as exciting."
 
Do you want to share your experience on our new blog feature? If you are interested in sharing your story, please email [email protected] for more details. 

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