Let's forget about Covid-19 for a few moments and remember the happier times, says Robin Hutson.
I am officially boring myself by writing about the twists and turns of restrictions and the effect of coronavirus on our industry. That's not to say it's not at the forefront of my mind, but I, for one, need a change of subject.
The constant cloud of this bloody virus hangs over everything we do, and it's starting to take its toll on everyone's mental state. By nature I am someone who tends to see the positive in most situations, but nine months on, I have definitely noticed that my mood has taken a gloomier turn. So in an attempt to cheer myself up, this week I am turning my thoughts to the things that we love about this industry – namely the business of food and drink.
It has become clear during this year that the one big thing everyone misses is the relaxed hospitality offered by our hotels, restaurants, pubs, clubs and cafés. Yes, it's about meeting friends and having fun, but the catalyst at the centre of what we do is always food and drink. I am not talking about fancy Michelin-starred meals washed down with classed growth claret (though they can be memorable experiences). My mind is much more focused on that simple plate of pasta cooked with love or that perfect roast chicken family Sunday lunch.
They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well, I am convinced that applies to the many happy food and drink memories, now becoming slightly distanced memories, from those carefree pre-Covid days.
There is one annual fixture that I will particularly miss this year, which, under normal circumstances, Judy and I would be looking forward to right around now: the Padstow Christmas Food Festival. It's a joyous event, held each year at the beginning of December, attracting up to 40,000 visitors to this Cornish harbourside town.
For us it marks the start of the festive season and we wouldn't normally miss it under any circumstances. There is always an action-packed long weekend programme of chef's demos, artisan producers showing their carefully crafted produce and, of course, lots of eating and drinking. It's a great chance for us to catch up with some industry friends.
A few years back, we started what has now become something of a tradition. We host a very simple, rustic beach barbecue for a bunch of the visiting chefs to drop into between their demos and other activities. The menu never changes – Peter Hannan's salt-aged beef, Cornish potatoes, tomato salad (which is the cause of much ‘cheffy' debate) and usually a few bottles of something red and delicious from Tuscany.
It can end up as a bit of a Who's Who of the culinary world, but everyone loves the simplicity of the food and the relaxed camaraderie. We all agree it's one of the food and drink highlights of the year. Let's just hope and pray we will be approaching normality by December 2021.
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