Nick Smith Hospitality Sector
I think most people would agree that 2020 has been a year of disbelief, no more so than for the hospitality sector that is for sure. I can remember in the beginning, all the news circulating about Coronavirus and to be honest I never really took it that seriously. I couldn’t imagine what this year would bring.
At Ashurst, we had just come out of a busy year; the hospitality sector was rocking and my brilliant brigade were flying. We had a new site mobilisation, client events, fine dining, a full-on Christmas and me taking part in the UK’s most prestigious culinary competition, National Chef of the Year (NCOTY) where I finished in third place.
After a few days rest over Christmas, we were back into the New Year and planning brilliant things for 2020. Ashurst kicked off and was busy straight away and we slipped into our natural routine again. Three of us had entered competitions at the HRC Show at Excel in March 2020 and we were busy planning and preparing for this. I was also excitedly waiting for the new NCOTY brief to be released from Paul Ainsworth. It was so exciting hearing he was the Chair of judges and I was ready to go again and aim to take that title. Things were looking great for the year ahead.
News started coming in thick and fast that the pandemic was upon us and you could see that things were getting much more serious than we had first thought. I remember the day I received a message from my general manager telling me that Ashurst was closing until further notice and that I needed to come in and close the kitchen. I just could not believe it. By this time, I was also halfway into finalising my National Chef of the Year entry and I started to wonder if the competition was even going to go ahead.
After announcements from the Government that lockdown was imminent, that we needed to self-isolate and the furlough scheme was being introduced, 2020 started to look a whole lot different to when we were all excitedly planning it back in January. I was without a doubt scared, worried and questioning what the future held for everyone.
Being a dad of two boys, and their world being turned upside down too, I had to turn my worries into positives. Supporting them at home with schooling was a very different thing, focusing and motivating them while my wife continued to work.
So how did I focus and motivate myself through this? Well, firstly by having time with my family – more than I have ever done before. Being able to cook at home for them every day and teach my eldest son, who has taken food tech at school and has a real passion for cookery, was something I loved and a real joy.
It’s been great to have the time to do this and show him how the simplest and frugal of ingredients can make a dish fit for a king when it’s done right. Also, on the plus side, it was a great benefit to improve my skills in teaching kids about cookery. I think this is so important, getting them to understand how fun cooking can be. My son has even said to me he would love to be a chef when he leaves school, and this makes me really proud.
NCOTY was a huge way to also focus my time on something positive and I’m sure for the many other chefs that entered it did too. I could concentrate on it more than I have done before. One of the benefits was having the time to source my ingredients and to delve deeper and discover what was right on my doorstep. I would encourage this to anyone who has a love of food, especially under the circumstances we are in now. It’s so important to support those local producers and this was something I enjoyed so much.
So now looking to the future, so many things have been running through my mind during this pandemic and on my success with NCOTY. I have always dreamt big with this competition and I wouldn’t let the scenario we are in quash it in anyway. If anything, it drove me on more. Yes, I have had down days wondering when this would end but we can’t let it win. I have been using my time to plan the future ahead. Even though there is so much uncertainty looming at the moment, I’m sure after this pandemic we will pull ourselves out through this dark tunnel and hit the ground running. The hospitality sector will shine bright again.
The original version of this article was first published in: https://foodservicecircle.com/finding-focus/