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Kitchen Confidential: reasons to be cheerful

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Despite some trepidation, The Secret Chef is optimistic we will experience a new Roaring Twenties

It has been hard to chisel out even the tiniest nuggets of creativity and positivity from the coalfaces recently. By ‘recently’, obviously I mean the last 12 months – a time period that has played with our perceptions. Planning for the future is something we all do, we need activities to look forward to, but this persistent turbulence has left us unable to do so. Consequently, we exist in a frustrating continuous present, a state of being where the novel and the joyous is agonizingly out of reach. 

But if history has taught us anything, it is that eventually life will ease back into something that at least resembles normalcy. The apparent success of the vaccination programs across the globe is enough to ensure that there is at least a glimpse of light amidst the darkness, and gives me some hope that we will soon be able to remove ourselves from the frustrating carousel of opening and closing, of indoor and outdoor dining, of plating onto crockery or into takeout boxes. 

But how will the experiences of the early 2020s color the profession for the next 10, 20 or 50 years? 

My honest answer is that I have no idea. If I was able to predict the course of events I wouldn’t be earning my living in a kitchen. What I do know is that there are reasons to be cheerful, some small shiny treasures to chip away from that dark mine. 

Chiefly, I’ve been amazed by the grit, determination and downright resilience our profession has shown over the last 12 months. The ability of operators to turn on a dime and make enormous changes to established business models – often with minimal governmental or financial assistance – has been truly incredible. The lessons learned from this flexible approach to hospitality will be vital as we move into the post-Covid world, especially if it is going to take several more years to fully get the disease under control. 

Foodservice on the front page

Moreover, the spotlight that has been shone onto the workings of the hospitality sector has highlighted more systemic problems within the profession. Placing these issues (many of which I have previously talked about on these pages) onto the front pages of national and international publications can only have a positive effect in the future. We’ve long known that there is an inherent fragility to many of the systems that have become pervasive within the restaurant and hospitality trade, I hope wider acknowledgement within the public at large will, hopefully, move the needle in the direction of resolving them sooner. 

Closer to the ground, I’ve been buoyed by the democratization and connectivity that has swept through the profession, both between operators and with the dining public. Embracing social media to engage with each other, and our customers, is a step in the right direction – especially at the high level of haute gastronomy. Personally, being able to create an offering that allows me to connect with, and cook for, hundreds more people over the course of a month than would have been possible under normal circumstances, has been liberating. I’ve also been staggered by the way operators have turned their offering into something that can be sent through the mail, both in terms of the online ordering process and the physicality of the food. I cannot now see a future where this doesn’t become a standard addition to nearly every business plan. 

Finally, despite much noise to the contrary, I have high hopes for Main Street and the resurgence of city center dining. We are seeing a slow, but significant and long-reaching, shift in the balance of power between tenant and landlord. A swift recovery is dependent on property owners being accommodating to those who are willing to take a risk establishing new businesses. With traditional retail seemingly in a death-spiral, there will be plenty of spaces for food, drink and hospitality. It is with some degree of trepidation, but also with an air of optimism, that I say bring on the Roaring Twenties.

The Secret Chef