How Britain’s food community came out fighting in a tumultuous year for the hospitality industry.
1) Global talent
Immigration is essential to British food’s vibrancy, and kitchens offer vital work to many new arrivals. Stories like that of Modou Diagne, sleeping rough when he arrived from Senegal via Spain but this year named chef-owner at Glasgow’s 111, or refugee Imad Alarnab, who is working to open Soho’s part-crowdfunded Syrian Kitchen, gladden olive’s hearts. Hopefully yours, too.
2) Dream dishes
This year’s hot restaurant topics (household mixing rules, hand sanitiser quality) have put food in the shade. But chefs are still creating fun, clever dishes that’ll make you swoon: the oxtail madras pasty at Manchester’s Higher Ground; Noto’s fried chicken katsu sando; or Chuku’s caramel and peanut kuli-kuli-spiced chicken wings.
3) Boxing clever
Did you ‘Heat Your Greens’ from Leeds’ Eat Your Greens? How was Elite Bistros? Should we splurge on Tommy Banks’ Signature Box? So ran the lockdown video chat among foodies as restaurants started boxing up part-prepared meals for nationwide delivery. Many schemes are still active to sate this new appetite for experiencing our best restaurants remotely. Here is our pick of restaurant meal kits.
4) Producing when it matters
Without the tireless small farmers and producers, there would be no exceptional restaurant food. olive salutes those chefs and restaurants who, acknowledging this, made moves to not just help themselves during lockdown but suppliers, too. The post-Nordic Moorcock Inn in West Yorkshire switched to high-spec grocery delivery, while Orwell’s Community Shop near Henley-on-Thames sold local, artisan and homegrown produce.
5) Hot take (away)
Indie restaurants diversifying into takeaways is a lifeline for us and them. The ability to click ’n’ collect Bundobust’s tarka dahl and egg bhurji is, we hope, the new normal.
Tom Kerridge slammed “disgraceful” diners for no-showing when restaurants reopened in July, as the Manchester-born #nomorenoshows went viral. Hopefully, both emphasised the damage no-shows cause in, says Kerridge, “an industry on the verge of collapse”.
7) Red newsletter day
Akin to blogging’s studious cousin, food newsletters – emailed long reads considering food in often provocative ways – have energised food writing in 2020. ‘Pandemic newsletter’ Vittles, is essential on class, race, community and practices in British food and the global food industry
8) Growing acclaim
olive’s favourite workaround of 2020? Where the Light Gets In, whose team, unable to access its rural farm, built a kitchen garden atop a Stockport car park.
9) Alfresco action
In newly pedestrianised streets and fast-tracked open-airs, such as London’s FLORA or Freight Island in Manchester, Britain embraced outdoor dining, and in creative spaces combining everything from music to retail. Some spaces will pop up intermittently over winter, lockdown-dependent. Expect more to blossom come the spring.
10) The pizza pivot
Covid constraints caused many kitchens to refocus on one high-quality product that was easy to serve for takeaway, often pizza. Cue terrific, NY-inspired slices at Manchester’s Common or exotic forays into lamb bacon and Yorkshire pecorino at York’s Cave du Cochon. Park the lockdown pizza kit and leave it to the pro.
11) Secret recipe
In a morale-boosting PR masterstroke, Wagamama let slip its katsu curry recipe during the first lockdown, and IKEA its meatball method. Don’t tell us you’re not tempted.
12) Invisible chips
On menus from Hawksmoor to BrewDog, these non-existent fries (invisiblechips.org.uk, £3) have enabled diners to donate to Hospitality Action as they order. Manchester’s Tast brilliantly offers its ‘bravas’ with invisible citrus mayo (tastcatala.com, £1.50).
13) Fighting inequality
Whether questioning the lack of senior black chefs or how African and Caribbean cuisines are marginalised, 2020 has been a watershed in how we discuss race and inequality in food. In Black Book, a new global representation platform for black and non-white people working within hospitality and food media, spearheaded by chefs, writers and communications professionals, including olive Pro vs Punter reviewer Eileen Twum, that scrutiny is forcing change. More is needed. Genuine equality of opportunity will be a long haul.
14) Trolly jollies
Covid forced Cumbria’s L’Enclume to park its majestic ‘cheese chariot’ (© olive). But Maison François’s gorgeous dessert trolley rolling into view softened that blow.
15) Cupboard love
16) Big up yourself
Be it Jay Rayner writing only positive reviews or the foodists sharing #bekind, most diners took this new world of apps, regulations, shortened menus and temperature checks in their stride. They appreciate staff, working in PPE to keep us safe and well fed, can’t wait for Covid to end, too.
17) Defiant optimism
From Adejoké Bakare’s West African Chishuru in Brixton to ex-Forest Side chef Kevin Tickle’s inn, Heft, in Cumbria, talented folk are still opening new venues, despite the threat of lockdown interruptions. Support them when you can.
18) Lockdown Learnings
Whether learning how to make anything from sourdough to cocktails to gingerbread with BBC Good Food, exploring the Middle East with Honey & Co, nailing cookies with pastry chef Ravneet Gill, or joining Italian super-chef Massimo Bottura for #KitchenQuarantine, lockdown saw an explosion in invaluable free cooking tutorials. Watch out for olive’s very own webinars, coming soon.
19) Community spirit
Pubs and restaurants often extol community with little concrete action. But this year they stepped up: from Cardiff, where Kasim Ali’s Waterloo Tea coordinated the professional chefs feeding frontline NHS workers as Feed the Heath, to Chester, where chefs cooked for Soul Kitchen’s homelessness outreach programme. In London, Zoe Adjonyoh’s catering company, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, fed vulnerable locals, while Cheese Bar founder Matthew Carver launched Got Milk – this ingenious crowdfunder bought excess milk and cheese from badly hit producers, which FareShare then distributed to groups fighting food poverty. Some lockdown projects, such as Eat Well or Open Kitchens, have become permanent aid schemes, and olive hopes this legacy lasts.
20) Book up, sunshine
Book sales took a battering this year. But cooks looking for chef-led inspiration enjoyed a bumper autumn. Treat yourself to The Pie Room (£26, Bloomsbury), from the Holborn Dining Room’s self-proclaimed “pastry deviant” Calum Franklin; Ottolenghi Flavour (£27, Ebury); or Amy and Emily Chung’s Burmese food primer, The Rangoon Sisters Cookbook (£20, Ebury).
21) And not forgetting Marcus Rashford
A menace to opposition defences, footballer Marcus Rashford emerged, this year, as arguably an even bigger threat to the political establishment. In June, the England and Manchester United striker forced the government into a humiliating U-turn as it belatedly agreed to provide free meal vouchers to vulnerable kids over the summer holidays. ‘RASHFORD 1 BORIS 0,’ as a banner in Wythenshawe put it – the area of Manchester where a young Marcus and his mum, Melanie, relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals and occasionally food banks.
Awarded an MBE in October, the 23-year-old FaresShare ambassador was not distracted by such accolades. Resolutely, without rancour or grandstanding (“This is not politics, this is humanity”), he ramped up his campaign to the extent that, when Parliament voted against extending free meal vouchers over autumn half-term, an army of volunteers sprang up to feed Britain’s hungry children. From high-street cafés to brands such as Wagamama, more than 2,000 participating venues were mapped at allofustogether.uk, with many operating beyond that.
That pressure forced a second government U-turn, as it later agreed to fund free meal vouchers over Christmas. Rashford’s response? He immediately began lobbying on behalf of the approximately 1.7m children who narrowly miss out. Despite the demands of his day job (October’s Champions League hat-trick against RB Leipzig stands out), expect Rashford’s push to #endchildfoodpoverty to intensify this Christmas. As pupils at Birmingham’s Anderton Park school enthused, in naming a classroom after him: “He does not give up.”