29 May 2020
‘Not all superheroes wear capes’ – so the saying goes. You certainly need look no further than Northamptonshire’s food and drink sector to see a wealth of community champions helping in the fight against COVID-19, who would give any Marvel comic strip character a run for their money.
Among them is James Peck of Burnt Lemon Chefs in Northampton, runner-up in the ‘Chef of the Year’ category in last year’s Food and Drink Awards, who, with fellow ‘New Local Drink’ finalist Benjamin Jelley of Jelley Distilleries at Brixworth, has created a social isolation supper club. This is enabling fine diners to come together online to enjoy a three course meal of local ingredients, paired with organic cocktails.
Their first event, in April, was supported by both BBC Masterchef finalist Christian Day and Awards Patron and Telegraph restaurant critic William Sitwell. They have planned their third event for Saturday 20th June, to mark Father’s Day weekend.
As James explains, they are delighted to be helping lovers of good food and drink survive the lockdown. “Part of the reason for launching the club was of course as an opportunity to create some income, but it was also to offer as close an experience to dining out as possible, rather than having yet another laptop meal in front of the TV. So we create the menus, deliver the produce and then in real time show those at home how to prepare and cook it” said James.
“It means that they are not only having the fun of a cookery lesson from a top chef in their own kitchen, but also trying out new techniques and perhaps some new flavours and the best thing is that, after washing it all down with Ben’s delicious vodka cocktails, they don’t even have to take a taxi home!” he grinned.
Meanwhile ‘Booker Young Chef’ finalist Charlie Garrett from The Plough at Shutlanger is not only offering a takeaway and delivery service, but has also converted its restaurant into a shop, stocking everything from biscuits to butternut squash, lemons to lemon curd as well as, not surprisingly for a venue renowned for its wine list, a full complement of sauvignons and merlots!
Not to be outdone by his fellow whites-wearing finalist, ‘Booker Young Chef’ runner-up Kenny Markham from Northampton is also using his skills for the benefit of others, having signed up as a volunteer chef with the newly-created Northamptonshire Emergency Food Aid Alliance.
The Alliance was set in April to provide up to 1,000 meals a day to feed the county’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged through the crisis. Kenny is now giving up two days a week to join the kitchen team at Portfolio Events in Kettering to ensure that their meals continue to be supplied to those who need them most.
That effort is also being replicated by Michael O’Gorman, another of last year’s ‘Chef of the Year’ finalists, who, alongside selling and delivering meals through his own business, Side Order Catering, is also working in a care home in Kettering during the lockdown.
In addition, Michael has just launched a series of short videos on social media entitled ‘Chefs Hacks’. This offers top tips on a variety of culinary techniques, something he hopes will help home cooks avoid some of the usual kitchen pitfalls.
“I know the celebrity chefs on TV might have you think that you can’t achieve what they can, but cooking’s not really that complicated when you know some of the tricks of the trade!” revealed Michael.
“So, after becoming aware that more and more people were really enjoying spending a little of their extra time on baking and creating more imaginative dishes from scratch, I thought I would share some of my skills. Like easy ways to prepare more exotic fruit and vegetables or time-saving methods to make meals go further, which I hope viewers are finding as valuable as I am fun and rewarding!” he enthused.
Finally, but by no means least, reigning ‘Chef of the Year’ Danny Tompkins, with help from fellow finalist Reece Brooks and a team of others, is using his workplace kitchen at Althorp – where he is now private chef to Earl Spencer – to create around 300 meals for staff at Northampton General Hospital as part of the Food4Heroes campaign.
Alongside publicly honouring the many like those outlined who have transformed their usual roles to ones supporting others, the Weetabix Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards offers business support to the sector to enable them not only to survive the crisis but also to return to full pre-COVID operational levels at the earliest opportunity.
To that end, they are staging a series of free Q&A webinars on a variety of topics identified through the Awards’ research with over 150 food and drink sector businesses, including building your brand, legal advice, social media and PR.
Weetabix Food Company Marketing Director, Francesca Theokli says: “The Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards team would normally be flooded with entries at this time of year from those keen to reap the reputational benefit from this prestigious competition. Instead, the platform is re-focussing its efforts on offering much-needed business support to companies across the sector during this remarkable time.
“Weetabix are incredibly proud and humbled to play a small role in helping enable this” she added.
For more details of the free webinars, the Northamptonshire Emergency Food Aid Alliance or to nominate someone or a business you know to be deserving of public recognition, please email Rachel Mallows at The Mallows Company – [email protected] or call 01933 664437.
You can also share your stories via social media on Facebook at @foodawardsHQ, on twitter and Instagram at @foodawards and on LinkedIn at @weetabixnfadawards