In March 2020, the UK went into lockdown and I started to wonder about how the world was about to change. The coronavirus pandemic was here. Convenience vanished. Shopping for food became difficult. The culture of the sandwich at the office desk was no more. The shops that made sandwiches were closed, and offices with the desks were shut. Most of us stayed at home, though millions continued as key workers, and to them, we shall always be indebted.
On my own, and in my flat in London, I would call my mum in France. A woman of less than five feet, she had never let her lack of height get in the way of a good meal. I found myself craving, and then cooking, childhood meals that were simple to make and full of goodness. All of them could be rustled up speedily: tartiflette, a plate of crudités, a morteau sausage salad, an onion or tomato soup – and the one that my mother made with the season’s vegetables and chervil, when I was her young helper and runner.
Since 1984 I have spent so much of my time in the kitchens at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and Brasserie Blanc, but my professional life became a struggle, filled with tremendous stress and strains; the turmoil of a business put on hold. Slowly, however, I began to really relish the fun that comes from cooking at home. I took to social media, sharing recipes that my British friends would call ‘easy peasy’.
As the weeks of solitude progressed, it was as if we had been ‘given’ more time. We devoted this time to the garden (the weather was glorious), to yoga, puzzles, TV boxsets. And the cooks among us spent that extra time in the kitchen. The fast, fast world in which we lived had stopped zooming along, and was now in slow motion. The hurried breakfast bowl of cornflakes made way for the deep, rich scents of freshly baked banana loaf. The cheap burger on the hop was replaced by the cheerful barbecue in the garden. People spoke of finding positives in this new climate of negatives and, for those of us who love to cook, we did not need to search too far for pleasure.
The pandemic has helped us understand the impact of our lifestyles and the food we eat. I think we will now seriously tackle food waste, and we will be closer to our farmers, butchers, fishmongers, cheesemakers and our other food producers. We need to reconnect more with seasonality, and the provenance and authenticity of produce. Sustainability must be the driving force in the years to come, and we will rediscover our skills. We will grow more and import less, which will be good for the farmers and the economy. By digging into the past, we shall find our future. Maybe I am just an old romantic, but I do believe this will happen.