With last year’s Food On The Edge event in Galway, Ireland, mothballed due to the coronavirus pandemic, founder and chef JP McMahon decided on another plan. Instead, he directed the collective energies of some of the sharpest minds in gastronomy towards a lasting document that can help predict the consequences of the pandemic on the industry, and build a foundation for a better future once we get back to service.
The result is a free eBook, Lessons from Lockdown: Cooking After Covid, and it’s available for all those who want to know about what we need to do in the world of food, not only to get back to where we were, but to improve our ways of working.
Chef and founder of Food on the Edge, JP McMahon
“The idea behind this book arose due to the necessity of cancelling our annual gathering in Galway (October 2020),” writes McMahon in the foreword. ”Though the actual idea of doing a book consisting of emails from chefs and friends of Food on the Edge did occur to me before; the lockdown and the effects of the pandemic spurred me forward. It is important to ‘keep the fire lit’ and just as we lit a fire well over six years, it is vital to keep it going.
“Moving forward during this time seems impossible. But every era has its challenges, and it is important to see this pandemic in terms of the many hurdles we have overcome as a species. Perhaps a more attuned historical consciousness would help us deal better with pandemics and how we should cope with them. The world has passed through many difficulties and we have come out the other side, changed but still eager to move forward."
There is a lot insight, empathy and optimism contained between the virtual covers of this eBook, and as the Food on the Edge festival was sorely missed last year, this is the next best thing. Hopefully, the 2021 edition of the symposium goes ahead as planned and by October the industry will be in a healthier, happier place.
Who was going to tell us that at the beginning of March 2020 that this microscopic bug was going to change our modus vivendi, cause more than a million deaths and modify our behaviours in such a way that we find ourselves in front of a new reality to which we will submit a whole generation.
The two months of confinement that we had in Spain are already in our memory, it was quite an experience to be more than sixty days without going out to the street and I understand that there were as many different realities as there are people and families.
In my case, I realized that I had been on an infernal and insane pace for the last 10 years, that led me, among other things, to open eight restaurants.
Those days at home I focused only on cooking and I realized that if I was cooking, I was working and felt that at least I was not wasting time. In fact, I am currently in the making of a vegetarian book that I shaped during confinement.
There came a day when in Spain people were more worried about knowing when the restaurants, bars and terraces where opening instead of focusing on much more important matters.
We hope soon that this is nothing more than the end of a nightmare from which you wake up, get up and say today is a new day and we are going to enjoy it!
For the first time this generation has seen what terror looks like, in the shape of food shortages in the early days of the pandemic. We who have had the luck of abundance suddenly saw how everything was dismantled and it gave us a cold dish of reality."
"The changes I’ve made were something I’d been toying with for a while but the opportunity to really take time to think things through because of lockdown was actually a boon. I’ve never been one for fancy sauces and gimmicky dishes and all that thinking made me realise that the way forward, for me, was to strip back and simplify everything; getting back to basics and cooking food I like the way I like it. However, that doesn’t mean cutting corners or compromising on quality.
In fact, it means quite the opposite, after all, with no fancy sauces or gimmicky tricks to hide behind, the main ingredients need to be the very best available and they need to be cooked to perfection. Of course, like everyone else in the industry, the future of my business has been of major concern and many sleepless nights were had to try to work out what to do. After many hours pondering, I’ve realised that at the end of the day, life goes on and people will always want to eat out somewhere that offers excellent food and hospitality. Food trends change with time but generally, the customer can see through the gimmicks and will choose somewhere that consistently offers what they want, to a standard they expect. I’ve had to adapt and have been willing to do that and whilst the future is by no means certain all the time this virus is out there, I know I can be flexible without compromising my values.
So, keep smiling and look forward even with the uncertainty we face at present. Remember, always be up for a challenge, it keeps life exciting!!!"
"I always knew that hunger and the lack of real food was an issue but this pandemic truly opened my eyes to it. Now more than ever, I am completely committed to supporting local business and highlighting the amazing products being created all around us. There is no reason for us to import ingredients or goods from other countries when we should be embracing our local creators. Our communities will be stronger for it and our environment will begin to heal.
The change that needs to be done in this world is obvious. Take this time to breathe, as I did, and open your eyes to the beauty that is right in front of you. Support one another and give back when you can because we are all connected in some way. Please be conscious of your place in humanity and be well."
"For me personally, it has shown me that what happens inside the four walls of Amass is a catalyst to create a voice for real change. I am not talking about change within our immediate industry. I am talking about change within our food system. Cooking for people is great and making people happy is great, but we as an industry need to realise that this is not enough. We need to engage outside of our restaurants. We need to use our restaurants as catalysts to tell a story. Not a story about what is wrong with how we as humans consume food, but a story about what is right about how we should view food as humans.
A story about respect.
A story about responsibility.
A story about impact.
A story about awareness.
A story about humility.
A story about compassion.
A STORY ABOUT EACH OTHER.
To say this is a time of uncertainty, is an understatement. Will Amass be here in a year from now? I am not sure. I have realised that I have let my Restaurant define who I am over the last seven years. I have also realised that this cannot be the way forward.
So, I have made a personal promise to myself. No matter what happens moving forward, I will not waiver from what drives me as an individual. You do not need a restaurant to strive for the goals that you have set out to achieve. What I am about to say might sound extremely cliché, but I guess that’s why people say stuff like this.
OUR RESTAURANTS DO NOT DEFINE US. OUR ACTIONS DEFINE US."
"It’s hard to predict the future in such complicated times. But we are resilient, and we are definitely going to have to be more ingenious. Chefs have been committed to improving the environment for quite some time now but we are going to have to be more sustainable than ever. We need to prioritize local consumption to support the producers in our areas. We have to take different approaches to our businesses, adjust costs wherever possible, improve management in every area and look for new business opportunities.
"We are all missing many things as we wait to reopen. At Arzak, both the family and the team miss each other. The majority have been with us for many years. Their understanding and messages of encouragement mean the world to us in this moment. We are used to being together, close together, everyday with a shared goal: to cook and serve our guests, to bring happiness. Personally, that’s what I miss most: the day to day of a chef, side by side with the team working on that goal. To nourish. To bring joy. That’s why we do this, and it is always worth it. So, stay hopeful and keep your dreams alive.
If I could do it all again, I’d be a chef. No doubt."
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