Larkin Cen

Larkin Cen

With restaurants closed, non-essential shops shut and the hospitality industry in hibernation, we seized the opportunity to catch up with the South West’s food and drink bods and find out how they’re keeping busy in lockdown.

This week we chatted with Larkin Cen, founder of the Woky Ko family of noodle dens and bao bars in Bristol

What’s your new daily routine?

During lockdown we had a baby which was a big adjustment, especially as we had to self-isolate in the lead up to the birth.

I’m usually a very hands-on person so learning to work remotely was difficult at first but now I’m in the swing of it. Day to day, I’m managing the open sites while also getting stuck into research.

While most of our Bristol venues are closed, we’re using Queen’s Road as a delivery and click-and-collect hub. We also acquired new premises in Newport [South Wales] last year which will soon become a manufacturing site for a few retail products we’re working on, but right now we’ve adapted this facility into a dedicated takeaway hub for Newport.

What’s kept you sane?

There’s been so much going on behind the scenes and I’ve been trying to use this time really wisely. The challenge for me is balancing the obligations to my family and my second family: work.

What’s been the most challenging part of lockdown?

The goalposts changing all the time. You can’t underestimate how much the lockdown is affecting people’s mental health. When you bring someone back from furlough, it’s a bit of a shock to the system. My hope is that I can get the whole team back as soon as possible.

Which recipes have been on repeat?

As we’ve got a newborn, I’ve been doing fewer things on the hob and using the oven more for ease. I’m really into retro dishes at the moment: last night I made oven-roasted sea bass with a potato and anchovy gratin.  

I’ve also been cooking a lot of pancakes. I’m a master of the old pancake. This morning I had them with roasted pineapple and yogurt.

What TV, books or podcasts have provided the best escapism?

I haven’t had a lot of time to read over lockdown, but I’ve always enjoyed listening to interviews with entrepreneurs – people like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett. I’ve always loved the idea of building something from nothing.

Best thing you’ve cooked in lockdown?

Cooking Christmas dinner as a new family was pretty special for me: just the usual suspects but with the added occasion of having a new baby in the family. 

I also made some great sourdough doughnuts as part of some research.

What have you learnt about yourself?

I think I knew myself pretty well anyway. I think you don’t really know yourself until you go through those really difficult moments in life and I went through that with my first venue Hokkei in Cardiff. So, when lockdown hit, I was surprisingly calm about it.

Have you taken out any food/drink subscriptions?

I haven’t, but I’ve supported local food and drink businesses by ordering takeaways. I love Lebanese and Greek style food, especially in summer. There’s nothing better than a homemade flatbread topped with barbecued meat, salad and pickles.

Hopes for 2021?

That we can get back to some sort of normality so we can start living our lives again. Hospitality is not a highly paid sector and living on 80 per cent of your wage on furlough isn’t a lot, so the sooner we can get the team back the better. I’d like to think we’ll build back stronger as a community.

www.wokyko.com

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