RESTAURATEURS have revealed how they have continued to engage with local communities, despite eateries being shut during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since lockdown began in March to stop the spread of the coronavirus infection, restaurants and pubs were instructed to close down with imminent effect. Although some have been able to stay open for delivery and takeaway, many others have had to halt their usual operations.
A number of establishments have therefore come up with innovative ways to keep engaged with customers and to provide support to local communities.
British Asian restaurant chain MyLahore, with locations in Leeds, Bradford, Manchester and Birmingham, made efforts to help those in need. They regularly donate food to NHS workers and emergency service staff. Staff also visited bus depots in city centres and dropped supplies off to drivers.
Operations director Ishfaq Farooq told Eastern Eye how the deliveries have had a positive impact on the community. “It really goes a long way and everyone has been so appreciative of it,” he said. “If you’re happy and your morale is high, you perform better. So we hope we can do that for them, and raise their spirits and create a positive vibe.”
Staff have also been delivering food to families who are struggling financially. MyLahore has set up an emailing system, where people can message for help and stay anonymous.
“We know some people may not want to give their name, so we wanted to keep it anonymous,” Farooq said. “That has been really popular; we get dozens of emails per day. “We know a lot of people are struggling during the pandemic, so we know providing a hot meal for them can go a long way.”
Cyrus Todiwala, proprietor of Café Spice Namasté in London, is also working to support the local community. Although his restaurant remains closed, the chef has been working to give supplies to St Paul’s School in Barnes, southwest London, to assist families who have had financial struggles during lockdown.
He has also teamed up with Tilda Rice – the popular brand is donating money from every rice pack sold to feed a poor mother and child for a day in Bangladesh.
“We also have been able to get some help from Tilda to give (St Paul’s) some rice and some other provisions so that they can help those in need,” he told Eastern Eye.
Meanwhile, many other restaurateurs and chefs have taken to social media to share recipes and insights into the culinary world with fans.
Michelin star chef Atul Kochhar has begun to post regular videos onto his Instagram feed, guiding followers on recipes. Recent recipes include Punjabi fish curry with mustan chana and barbecue lamb leg. He has also set up Live in Conversation streams, where he speaks to culinary experts around the world, including celebrity chef Dipna Anand.
“I’m always cooking at home now so I thought, why not film it and show people some simple recipes and how easy it is,” he told Eastern Eye. “It initially began as a joke when we first posted a video on Instagram, but it started getting lots of likes and people were asking for more videos, so it just went from there.”
Nisha Katona, the founder of Mowgli Street Food, has also begun to post cooking videos on social media since her restaurants closed in light of lockdown. The chef shares a live quarantine cooking video every day, cooking a variety of meals from across the world.
“People are reacting very well to the videos and they are viewed across the world,” she told Eastern Eye. “They are home spun dishes with humble ingredients – store cupboard and leftovers. This makes them accessible; it is the way I generally do cook at home.”
Todiwala has also been making efforts to post recipes. He has treated fans to several dishes, including lobster thermidor with asparagus, sautéed mushrooms and roast potatoes. However, he admitted he has had to learn the tricks of social media.
“I’m not so clever on live streaming,” he said. “We hope to record some stuff here and there and post them. The home kitchen is not ideal but it’s doing overtime these days,” he joked.