Lee Bye, Tuddenham Mill | www.tuddenhammill.co.uk
A very personal piece on the effect of the pandemic by Chef Patron of Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk Lee Bye.
March 3 2020: ‘From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.’
‘Service! How long on the garnish, Harvey?’
‘Turn the volume up, Chef!’
‘Focus on your plates please…’
My iPhone perched between the ticket machine and a lukewarm mug of Yorkshire tea, one ear on our PM, and two eyes on the Angus beef and foaming butter in my pan, the brigade unknowingly cooking the last of spring’s larder on the stoves at the very beginning of its season.
An invisible inferno was surging right towards us, and all side-effects were destined to rip through our beloved industry.
The code has always been ‘carry on’ in hospitality. From dusk till dawn, a royal wedding, cut thumbs, rugby world cup finals, Christmas Day, no KP, even cooking with no gas – nothing stops a service from starting or finishing.
But the rhythm was over. We had to stop. We had to go home.
Neuroscience research teaches us that uncertainty registers in our brain much like error does. It needs to be corrected before we can feel comfortable again.
For weeks and weeks, I yearned for clarity so that I could establish what was next. I needed answers, and they never felt close. I was glued to industry Twitter, punching the bag, planning my next round of restaurants to fall in love with. I even tried my hand at being a Year 4 maths teacher! We will leave it there with how that went.
I recall my mother saying these words to me as a young father nine years ago.‘Focus on your children first, and your career close behind.’
By applying that very same message from nine years ago, I was able to pare back the personal and professional minefield of pressures and re-align my focus. As the days and weeks slowly passed, I could feel myself going up the gears and the energy and momentum I crave was present again in what became a new normal. Little by little, compass in hand, I was growing through challenge, and smiling again.
Every chef, restaurateur and hotelier I speak with has dug deep to shift their businesses over this last year. Creative meals for the NHS, bringing fun viewing on Instagram, new level takeaway or even re-modelling bar areas into village shops. There has been so much innovation across the country and some of the best is right here in our own county of Suffolk. Hospitality like many other sectors wears scars of this pandemic, in what has been a year like no other. The industry’s supply chains have rolled with every punch and jumped through every hoop to ensure we continue to give and serve our local communities. It’s what we do in hospitality, and for many sadly the reality is they have not got much time left with their doors open, closed or slightly ajar. Surviving for so many is the stark reality.
I urge everyone to really get behind local businesses who are getting out there every day mapping their journeys for business survival. It really is day-by-day. A voucher for someone’s birthday, a restaurant takeaway for an anniversary at home, or simply walking through your village and buying your vegetables from the roadside. Look hard at what producers, restaurants and independents are doing on your doorstep. It has never been more meaningful today to support and invest in local businesses.
Furlough, grants, VAT cuts, CBILS loans, business rates holidays – it cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. With a possibility of reopening in the spring, I really hope the Chancellor will bring forward plans to work with hospitality in government (@seatatthetable) to ensure collectively we can build a road back for our battle-worn, bruised industry.
For now, we must hibernate. Time for a cup of tea.
- Tuddenham Mill is part of Agellus Hotels which also has The Chequers Inn and The Lifeboat in Thornham, in North Norfolk.