With the hospitality industry in hibernation, we seized the opportunity to catch up with the South West’s food and drink bods to find out how they’re coping in lockdown.
This week Cornish chef Jack Stein reveals which TV series he’s bingeing and the cookbooks he can’t put down
What’s your new daily routine?
Being at home and spending quality time with the kids, which I’ve not always been able to do.
I’ve been cooking a lot and practising things I’ve never previously had time to master. I’ve put my pastry making skills to the test – it’s not my forte but I’ve enjoyed trying something different.
I’m also doing a lot of work and planning for the year ahead. Navigating the first lockdown and what to do with the business was probably the hardest I’ve ever worked and it took its toll on me mentally. Now I feel much more confident about what’s to come.
What’s kept you sane?
I’m quite a resilient person, but I’ve found lockdown difficult as I miss work and having company. Focusing on my family has kept me sane.
While spending more time with them at home, I’ve watched a lot of TV, listened to podcasts and tried to read more as it’s rare to have this much time on my hands.
I’ve also been going to the beach which has given me a clearer perspective on the situation: I know how lucky I am to live in Cornwall – other people have not been so fortunate during lockdown.
What’s been the most challenging part of lockdown?
This one is very different from the first when the weather was amazing and we had weeks of lovely sunshine to enjoy outside. Now, with the winter weather, it’s really tough. No matter where you are, everyone’s feeling it.
The stop-start nature of the lockdowns has been difficult for everybody, businesses especially but, as we’ve done it before, it’s not quite as bad as the last one business-wise.
The good news is the vaccine is rolling out, so there is something to look forward to. We can start thinking ahead and booking holidays.
Which recipes have been on repeat?
Hyper-regional Isan Thai food. I did a TV show in Bangkok and learnt about this area of Thailand which I previously didn’t know much about. The food is ferociously hot but delicious. We’ve been using classic techniques and David Thompson’s cookbook [Thai Food], plus some recipes I got from my time out there.
There’s an interesting spice blend called Phrik Lap which contains a mix of 15-20 different spices. It’s so hot it’s ridiculous but we have a big bag from Thailand and it’s become my go-to. I’ve been using it to make Thai crab omelettes for breakfast.
Have you taken out any food/drink subscriptions?
I haven’t, but we’ve just started a new subscription service [Stein’s at Home] which I’ve roadtested a fair few times.
We recently sold 5,500 Stein’s at Home boxes in one day, which is great considering we thought we’d only sell 50 a week in the first lockdown. It means we’ve been able to provide work for around 40 members of staff who didn’t qualify for furlough.
We’re looking to build the brand while also using our platform to support fantastic Cornish producers, so we’re hoping to include items such as ceramics and art on our webshop. A lot of small producers have lost a huge chunk of their income from the closure of the hospitality industry.
What TV, books or podcasts have provided the best escapism?
Bridgerton. It’s not usually my kind of thing but I found it very compelling . It’s a mix of Downton Abbey and Gossip Girl – I’ve always been a big fan of Gossip Girl.
Podcast wise, I’ve been listening to a lot of the cricket podcast Tailenders, and The Rest Is History.
I’ve just started reading The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman. I met him when I did Pointless Celebrities and he was such a nice guy. When I heard how well the book was doing I decided to put it on my Christmas list.
Best thing you’ve cooked in lockdown?
I made a gala pie which I was really happy with. I used a recipe from Calum Franklin’s amazing book The Pie Room. His pastry work is incredible, he uses an egg-washing technique which creates a lovely dark mahogany-brown crust.
What have you learnt about yourself?
That parenting is a lot harder than going to work. Kids are hard work and I think stay-at-home parents and teachers deserve a pat on the back and a pay rise because it’s so full-on. I’m guilty of going to work and being fully focused on that, then coming home and they’ll be in bed. Now I’m with them all the time which is brilliant – but tiring.
Picked up any new skills or hobbies?
I started jogging which was something I never wanted to do. I usually swim but as the pools are closed and the sea is a little too cold at the moment I’ve taken up jogging to keep active.
Hopes for 2021?
I hope that, with the vaccine roll out, we’ll start to see more confidence in reopening parts of the country and hospitality. I think this year is about celebrating Great Britain. International travel is going to struggle, so we want to encourage staycations. We’re working on something new with St Austell Brewery about holidaying here in Cornwall – we want to show the rest of the country that having a holiday in the UK is a fantastic thing to do.
Once confidence is back in the hospitality industry, we need to start paying back the loans a lot of restaurants and companies have taken out. It’s going to be about hard work but it’s important to build for the future.
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