For thirty years I learnt how to read lips from across the kitchen, it is a necessity. Try communicating with a mask in a busy kitchen in between banging pots, humming extractor, ticking docket machine and the manager mumbling something about a last order at 20:30.
December 2020 felt like an eternity, we were cooking food for the first time since March 2020. It was like opening a new hotel. But this was a new world, a world where we had no prior experience, literature or books to reference. We had no idea how to plan our next steps, fear and uncertainty was everywhere. No patterns or trends to reference.
We had visions to reboot and reinvent, as this was the first time we had a perfectly good opportunity to do so, but one cannot help feeling guilty using this pandemic as the force behind the change and at what expense. Many hotels will not reopen and the others are looking at the end of this year. Leaving many people without a source of income.
As it is the hospitality industry has been on crutches for many years, pretending that it was OK.
With many restaurants, catering facilities, canteens and hotels already closed one can only hope that the remainder can hang in and open even stronger.
Most likely for every restaurant that has closed a potential new restaurant will open, competitive competition will continue with paying excessive rent and neglecting the well-being of staff, the system must change. Something has to give and it is not going to be the paper thin margins.
During the initial lockdown at the start of people in the culinary world, from caterers, restaurants, hotels, industrial and canteens all had to reinvented themselves in order to survive, from making sauces to cakes, elaborate and simple home cooked meals, the public could and are still enjoying fantastic selection of takeaways from home cooked chef meals for curbside collections.
Most do not have a second skill set to rely on, so we do what we can do best, cook or serve. It has become clear that a second skill will become a requirement in order to survive, this is only the start.
What we can agree on is the fact that people have lost jobs and families are in need of immediate support.
Late in March a call for help went out from chefs who immediately identified an urgent need to feed marginalized families affected by the virus. This is still ongoing with selfless farmers donating supplies and selfless chefs contributing to feeding people every day. It is not like they have businesses that need to survive or have anything else to do, these people continue to fight long queues of hunger.
A number of years ago we started a journey at the hotel, we had a vision and I was hell-bent in achieving our vision, working less, having quality time, accountability, transparency, ownership became our buzz words. Our careers and focus became more about the people and relationships than serving a pretty plate of food, we were so close. Then the ship went into lockdown.
As leave was the only option, it was the first time in my career that I had more time to reflect than my mandatory holiday reflection.
The uncertainty of where to next when we went into the first lockdown is nothing to what followed, the continuous nauseating roller coaster ride has become unbearable to watch and I still have a job.
The hospitality industry keeps on fighting an unfair one sided battle as chairs remain empty. The ripple effect is real as it is not just the restaurants and the people in it who suffer. Farmers, wine producers, bottle producers, pot washer, tour guides, hawkers, brewers, butcher, taxi drivers, printers, designers, content creators, fishing communities, delivery drivers, parking guard, waste collectors, they all suffer and so will their families and the suppliers they support, this is a second pandemic that we will be facing, and it is coming very fast.
Travel demands will fall, flights will decrease, tourists will disappear, the industry will have to change as we need tourists to survive and grow. We continue to see bookings move to later dates, putting occupancies in single digits, this has an unsettling effect on all our futures.
Nothing prepared us for the hurt in saying goodbye to friends, we shared ideas, visions, struggles, sweat and tears. We lost three quarters of our kitchen family, it was a devastating year! Dreams and visions were shattered. There simply was no alternative, many have moved on and reinvented themselves.
Selfishly I used the initial lockdown as an opportunity to reflect on my own needs, to reinvent myself and look at what makes me happy, what is my passion, did I have any passion left. I could not just go into a depression after all I still had my job, even if I felt a certain amount of guilt.
Pencil, acrylic, charcoal, paper and canvas became good companions and allowed me to focus a little, but it was getting back into the kitchen even if it was at home experimenting making cheese, tofu and fermenting everything that made me happy and somewhat content.
As operations opened up and we looked forward to a bright future, albeit a different one to what we imagined, nothing could have prepared us further for the stench as the roller coaster ride did not want to end. Everyone was just patching together their lives and their businesses and some light was visible, rules were implemented with no thought of consequences past sandy beaches.
It was supposed to be a joyful festive celebration as we were supposed to see the tail end of a virus. We should have known better as the virus keeps bouncing around causing havoc. Continued travel restrictions keep on putting doubt in the future of the industry. Another announcement and more legends relook at the landscape and the future, pockets are only so deep, then you are left with no choice but to cut the apron strings.
Some still have their strings attached, but for how long before they too must face the reality of financial ruin as they leave behind empty seats, empty spaces and empty dreams.
We have lost so many professionals in our industry, we just hope they have the strength to return and continue to provide great food and service.
There are many establishments who followed the rules during lockdown and even more who choose to rather remain closed as it was simply not viable. There are many establishments out of desperation who continued to trade even if it meant breaking the law, serving alcohol and not enforcing protocols from social distancing, wearing masks to maximizing capacity. It is a paper thin line to cross.
We want to continue our journey, we want to support our small suppliers, we want to invest in our employees, and we would like to remain optimistic about the world of hospitality and travel.