Stuart Slevin is the Executive chef at The Fish Factory, a popular seafood restaurant in Worthing. During the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurant was shut completely, allowed to open briefly with restrictions and then operate a delivery service only. Stuart has worked in a limited capacity during each of these episodes. Despite mass producing meals for frontline workers and others during this time, the longevity of the restrictions has had a huge emotional impact.
During the first lockdown in April 2020, Stuart and his team stepped in to help feed exhausted NHS staff working 12 hour shifts.
“As the weeks progressed we wondered what to do with all of the ingredients that were just sitting unused in the closed restaurant. We have a pasta machine, unused ingredients, vacuum and bagging machines – it was the easiest thing we could do with the least amount of people in the kitchen, to put it all together and help the NHS staff.” Donating their time and expertise, over 200 kilos of fresh pasta was produced for hospital staff.
“We also worked with local charity, Turning Tides, making 350 batch cooked meals and fish and chip suppers for the homeless – logistically it was quite tricky, I managed to get 30 fish pie dishes at a time, on a countertop to be piped with mashed potatoes – little things like this kept the kitchen alive a bit.”
Throughout August 2020, the Government Eat Out To Help Out initiative aimed to boost demand and protect jobs in the food service sector. Subsidised discounts of 50% were offered on food and non-alcoholic drinks eaten in cafes or restaurants. Morale in the restaurant wasn’t the same as before. “It was crazy, everyone went mad and people were exhausted. We could feel the customers were excited to come out again. Although we were given the green light, there was a hesitancy too. Even with the few staff that were in, all milling around each other, like a swarm of bees, but not bumping into each other.”
The pre-pandemic kitchen was always fun. Stuart loved cooking certain dishes; “Bouillabaisse was the best. I use halibut bones to prepare the stock which takes about 4 hours alone to make. There was lots of banter between colleagues and regulars at the restaurant.”
The Rule of Six allowed customers to return to the restaurant in September 2020. “The restaurant didn’t have that ‘vibe’ anymore. Even amongst the staff we tried to keep morale up – but there was nothing to say to each other, it’s the same day for the last year. It was eerie really.”
The second lockdown followed in November 2020. “Christmas would have been buzzing. We’d have all of the office parties – but all that was stopped. Coming into my kitchen at the moment is like walking into a graveyard.The buzz and enthusiasm that goes with a packed restaurant and bustling kitchen has gone. I don’t like this new normal.”
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Stuart piping fish pies for homeless charity, Turning Tides