There is no doubt that food has been on the brain for the majority of the population in the last six months more than ever, as it became an outlet for variety amid global stasis. I asked Tony how has food changed for him and what does it mean now in 2020 to be a chef?
‘What it means for me is it just shows where the government needs to spend money. We need to look after the NHS, they need to look after education’.
Illustrating the latter, Tony recalls witnessing salad being amongst early lockdown panic shopping, explaining that education about food is a powerful and invaluable life skill and whilst others are stockpiling store cupboard items it is the knowledge around how to use them that is most important.
'As a chef, you are always thinking about food but what the lockdown made me think of was the lack of education from a young age about food’ and whilst there are food banks and there visits soared in lockdown people may not have the education to use the foods they access there. Whilst parents may not have this knowledge themselves or are occupied with work, Tony stresses that this knowledge can be shared amongst families and from children to parents.
From his work with charities, Tony has seen the many facets that lack of accessibility can entail when it comes to food from education to utensils. As such he notes that whilst social media was proliferated with people sharing homemade sourdoughs and bakes this engendered an implicit narrative of exclusion with food at the centre. ‘Food has always been fashionable, but now there is a negative edge and it is used to separate people’. As such Tony has witnessed how both lack of accessibility and education around food has created division during this lockdown period, exasperated he notes by the ostentatious and performative nature of social media. On his social media, Tony recalls how he was keen to share simple but wholesome recipes or those that he was creating for the NHS.
Speaking on eating out in the new normal and despite hospitality being his own industry, Tony emphasises that it is a high-risk category. To protect essential workers, there should, in particular, be tighter restrictions on alcohol as Tony adds that in any situation where rules are to be followed the addition of alcohol has a negating effect. Turning to the 10 o’clock rule Tony adds that this is similarly counteractive, ‘It will force people to drink earlier or to have stronger drinks’. Regarding the future of eating out, Tony predicts that if there is not a second lockdown, restrictions will become stricter and that there will need to be some level of standardisation in protective measures across restaurants and smaller independent restaurants will require extra support. ‘There will be people who will not be able to sustain their business and it is a shame’.
Looking to the future and what he proposes to be done about the disparity around food that the pandemic has shown, Tony advocates for greater home economic and life skills to be taught at a younger age, which can even be combined with other subjects such as bread making and chemistry. He believes that children should be taught to budget for their food and how to create meals. Explaining my own secondary level of food and nutrition classes, the first lesson being how to make a fruit salad, I certainly support Tony’s ideas to amplify the teaching of material life skills at all levels of education. For those who have already left education, Tony has worked with food banks in the past to train service providers to hold cookery classes with the ingredients they are given and to share this knowledge.
Speaking about his future projects, Tony explains just how difficult it is to commission new shows for TV during the pandemic, as the COVID risk adds approximately a third on top of the show budget. Currently ‘the hardest thing is we don’t know what to plan for’ which Tony himself acknowledges is still a privilege during this global crisis.
As we end our Zoom, recalling a British sitcom from the 1980s called The Young Ones about student living, for which my only frame of reference is the hilarious Fresh Meat, Tony has shared his recipe for dal. A versatile, nutritional and filling South Asian lentil dish that can be cooked in one pot – the stuff of lockdown student kitchen dreams.
250g red Lentil`s, rinsed until the water runs clear
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 small red / white onion, chopped
4 whole green chillies, chopped with seeds
100g fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped finely
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped Finley
½ a tin chopped plum tomatoes
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
1½ tsp ground coriander
120 g unsalted butter
Handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped
Place the lentils and 1200ml of water into a saucepan, stir well and bring to the boil. Skim off any froth that forms on the surface of the water with a spoon.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry for 20 seconds, or until fragrant.
Add the onion, chillies and ginger and fry for 4–5 minutes then pop into the lentils.
Add the garlic, tomatoes and the ground spices and mix well.
Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, stirring regularly, for 35–40 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender, adding more water as necessary.
When the lentils have cooked through, remove the pan from the heat and use a whisk to break them.
Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped coriander and butter just before serving.
Read the first part of this interview here.
Edited by Anoushka Chakrapani, Food and Drink Editor