March 2020. What a month. Like most you reading this the initial shock of lockdown hit me hard. Ever since my first job in a kitchen, 17 years ago, I longest I’ve been away from a stove and a hard morning’s prep is about nine days! And even then, my head would be still be awash with menus and new ideas.
Initially I was still very much in chef-proprietor mode. It was a stressful time; between furloughing staff, cancelling the suppliers and the unknown consequences of closing the doors of 63 Tay Street, life was far from fun.
I also discovered that my life in the kitchen was really just my life! 63 is so much more than a job for me – it’s who I am. My team are my friends, my customers are people I genuinely like. My suppliers need me and I need them in equal measure. To have this all so rudely stopped was a shock to my entire system.
And then came April. I began to relax and enjoy the new slower pace of life. I took my knives home and started to cook properly in my own wee kitchen, for my own family. I’m talking the full works here – the kids never knew what had hit them! I rarely get the time to indulge in proper take easy cooking and it was bloody marvellous. My children suddenly ‘got’ what I do and my passion for taking ingredients and creating honest, simple dishes. It was wonderful.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth with other frustrated chefs; the main dilemma being what do people wear seven days a week? Turns out I’m 42 and don’t really know how to dress myself without whites 5 days a week.
I ended up doing a few ‘frustrated chef’ videos at home – simple one pot wonders that can be whipped up easily from freezers and store cupboards. Check out our Facebook page if you’d like the recipes.
There was a lot of walking, of foraging – we caught that glorious wild garlic season and my soup pot never stopped bubbling. I took to baking – not my strong point, we have Lee for that! – and joined the nation in banana bread overload.
I almost cried come asparagus season. We had three or four really nice dishes just waiting for these 3 short weeks of the year and it came and went without any of the usual pomp or ceremony. The covid timeline very quickly turned into seasons lost timeline for me and so when it was announced we could reopen all I could think of was thank goodness we didn’t lose all of the berries!
It was mixed emotions at first; my restaurant chef brain had to be reengaged and on top of that we had to work out a whole host of new processes, systems and safety checks. I was determined that we could make it all happen without losing any of that special 63 service – thankfully, it seems to be working out and our customers are all so delighted to be back the visor doesn’t matter to them at all.
Menus need to be more restricted of course, but for us that was easy. Because we change with the seasons and offer fresh, local produce at all times our customers expect quality over quantity when it comes to choices. Therefore, we’ve decided to run with our Tasting Menu options which have always been a hit. If you’ve never tried them, get booked in now. £24 for four courses at lunch and £47 for five courses at dinner. Tremendous value!
On re-opening weekend I packed those menus full of everyone’s favourite dishes and it felt amazing to be back at the helm of our wee ship. By the time the last hour came round I felt as though I’d never been away – and I mean that positively!
We’re also now offering a full restaurant experience as a takeaway for those who still prefer to be at home and even this was a learning curve. Lee and I had to think hard about how we could ensure that 63 quality when it was being reheated in someone’s microwave – again, we’ve cracked it and I think this may well be a long-term offer from our kitchen.
I think it’s safe to say that all aspects of our life have changed during this time, so inevitably how we eat and cook has undergone a mini-revolution. People have learned new dishes, have taken time to enjoy recreating old ones and sat down, at their own tables to break bread and chat with their tiny inner circle.
For me, the storm was rough but now that things are slowly taking shape it might just be that we can learn how to enjoy the best of both worlds.
CHEFS TIP: Embrace your new found love of cooking with an easy two- pot wonder. 2 tatties, diced, run under cold water and dry in a towel. Add olive oil, seasoning and garlic and place in an oven tray. Add sliced white onion and sausages and cook in the oven at 180 for 30 mins. While that’s cooking, put your favourite green veg in a bowl with seeds, a knob of add butter, salt and pepper. Ping in the microwave for 2 mins and add to your sausages. Perfect!