Chefs have been in the limelight a great deal during the pandemic and it’s been inspiring to see their resilience, passion and creativity. Chef Chris Taylor MIH shares how he is getting through lockdown.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career history…
I am currently employed, but furloughed of course, as a carvery-kitchen chef at Ye Olde Smokey House in my village of Marldon in South Devon. My career began back in 1995 in my hometown of Sutton in Surrey. I started out as a ‘catering assistant’ for a small operation specialising in Italian and Tex-Mex food and since then have held just about every job role from kitchen porter all the way up to catering manager. Five years at catering college, eventually graduating with my HND in Hotel, Catering & Institutional Management provided me with the breadth of knowledge I needed to work effectively and progress within the industry.
Did you always want to be a chef growing up? If not, what did you want to do?
No, despite always having a keen interest in food and wanting to help out at home with lunch or dinner, I toyed with the idea of becoming a police officer for a while and also looked at IT as an option. Ironically, my interest in computers probably came from the countless hours spent on them doing my coursework for my catering studies, but I was always pretty computer literate.
What is it about being a chef that you love most?
There is always that natural urge to want to experiment as a chef. I love going through the stages of cooking new dishes, perfecting them over time and then altering them to create something different. I have always loved that fundamental idea of creating something that people can enjoy while at your restaurant, in the company of others. It’s a very cool thing and ultimately that’s what I enjoy most about my job and the hospitality industry in general.
How have you kept yourself busy during the various lockdowns?
Keeping fit has been a necessity for me as working with food and having a great love for it, I find it is easy to put on the pounds unless I do regular exercise. The temptation to sit around everyday has been too great and I try to keep myself as active as possible through Pilates, running, sorting things around the house and reading. This has of course included reading new recipes and I have just bought Tom Kerridge’s ‘The Hand & Flowers Cookbook’ which I shall soon start working through. My workplace has recently started doing take-aways and deliveries on weekends so I also do a four hour shift to help out. I make a point of ordering a meal from them once a week also and encourage my colleagues to do the same. A small price to pay I feel for being kept in furlough pay and ultimately a job!
What advice would you give to other chefs to help during the pandemic?
Keeping fit and active really is essential given the nature of our jobs under normal circumstances. We must after all stay ‘battle ready’ for post lockdown and a likely surge of people wanting to return to the social scene and eating out again. I feel that we should expect a busier summer season than normal and, as good as that is for business, we must remain able and agile enough to cope with it! Developing new recipes and menu ideas is also a good use of time, as well as looking at and comparing supplier pricing. Anything we can do to maximise profits and create supplier competition on our return should be scrutinised.
Tell us about your preferred style of cooking
Steaming is the most effective way of cooking food or pre-cooking meats, poultry or fish without losing too many nutrients. It also helps to retain as much moisture as possible in food. Given my want and need for a healthier diet these days, I prefer where possible to steam and then finish things on a grill. Frying and sautéing are also firm favourites of mine though that will happen at work a lot more than at home.
What would be your perfect lockdown dish to cook?
Risotto, I love it! It’s a healthy enough dish for me and there’s so much one can throw into it to make it interesting and tasty every time. My favourite would be a seafood risotto with prawns, mussels and scallops accompanied by a Caesar salad. That taste combination always works so well for me.
Describe your cooking style in just three words
Comforting, creative and resourceful.
What is your hope for the future once things return to more normal?
First and foremost, I hope that despite the obvious need for everyone to get back to normal again, that they take the time to appreciate what we have achieved together and the sacrifices we have all made. We will be at the very beginning of an eventual claw back to the way things used to be and I think this should be approached with a kind of cautious optimism by all. Teamwork will be the name of the game for some years to come and a renewed appreciation for each other and the roles we all play. I think there will be a more natural attitude within the workplace in the future.
Do you think there have been any positives during this situation?
Yes! I think besides our new appreciation for our key workers and the incredible job they’ve all done throughout the past year, we have all seen or been on the receiving end of much kindness and generosity during these times. It has in many ways brought out the best in people and taught us not to take anything for granted. The last year has given us time to think and reflect, which is never a bad thing.
You are a member of the IoH, how has this helped you during the pandemic?
I find being a member a very helpful tool in keeping up to date with the latest news and initiatives from the top minds within our industry. I like to read and I find that between the quarterly HQ magazine and online content, the Institute is never in short supply of new material. Over the last year, I have taken part in a few webinars and have found them interesting too. I am also of course mindful that, should I need to move jobs at any time due to the pandemic, my membership with the IoH should carry some extra clout. It’s a great institution which I am proud to be a part of!