Normally at this time of year I like to reflect back over the past year and share with my “Covert” customers and followers some of the events of the year.
We have had quite a year to reflect on and one that I sincerely hope is a once in a lifetime occurrence and one that we will not see again for some considerable time.
I am writing these thoughts between the festive period of Christmas and the New Year and when I reflect back to last year around this time the excitement was mounting for me and Mrs HC as we were about to embark on a holiday of lifetime to Australia and Singapore. At the same time we were also keeping back flood waters from our home. We are again on Flood alert so nothing new there!!!
So our trip to Australia was a truly exciting one and a first for us both… starting out in Melbourne we then headed onto Adelaide to see an old college friend for a few days before then heading onto Sydney to meet up with our daughter who had just spent two and a half months backpacking her way round the country. A quick sojourn up to the Whitsunday Islands for a few days before flying back to Sydney where we then spent the remainder of our “Ozzie” time enjoying everything from trips to the Hunter Valley wine region and Blue Mountains we then realised just how vast the continent is especially on our way back via Singapore – it took us some 5 hours to cross the continent in Australian airspace on our flight. Back in Singapore we enjoyed a few days with some local friends and bumped into some of our English neighbours who unbeknown to us were staying in a hotel next door to us.
We really had some food highlights on the trip from a visit to the “Wonderpies Factory Outlet” in Melbourne and catch up with chef friend Raymond Capaldi to then a truly outstanding meal at the Adelaide Botanic Gardens with friends John & Margaret and my first tasting of Kangaroo.
Our return to UK in early February was then met with slightly more uncertain times as we watched the world go into a pandemic mode as Covid-19 swept across the globe. We had already seen some of the precautions going on in Singapore but little did we realise how rapid our lives would change.
I managed a visit in early March to my old seat of learning at Oxford Brookes University where with some old college friends we enjoyed a last meal in the Hospitality School “training restaurant” for the last time before it closed for good (a real backward step in my opinion and definitely an accountant’s influence) A night of frivolity in great company was had as we reminisced of our time together there some 40 plus years ago.
March 23rd a date ingrained on many of us was the day the UK went into total lockdown and we were urged to stay home to save lives and save the NHS. With no real idea how long this would be for we all battened down the hatches and started to binge watch TV box sets or panic bought toilet rolls for some strange reason!!!
A chance encounter with a neighbour, who then sowed a seed in my brain about feeding some vulnerable neighbours close to where I live. Plus the need to occupy myself in a more active way meant I launched my Covert Community Bakery where I was baking bread and Viennoiserie pastries for my local customers.
So I must have got through about 150 – 200kgs of assorted flours and baked easily 1500 to 2000 assorted pastries since then up to just before Xmas. In fact at the height of Lockdown I have a fond memory of taking some 25kg sacks of flour off down the road to a rendezvous point just off the M25 in a lay-by where another chef friend desperate for flour met me clandestinely for an exchange from car boot to car boot. It felt more like a drug drop rather than an exchange of flour. (Not that I know what a drug drop is like)
So as the summer progressed I baked like a demon making assorted breads almost daily – all by hand, my arm muscles have never been so well toned. Early morning starts became the norm and I expanded the offer to include some wonderful sourdough initially from new baker Dan Westby of Pilgrims Bakehouse till he decided to then work for a bakery in Whitstable and I switched to The Bicycle Bakery in Tunbridge Wells who will hopefully start again after their festive break.
We also had a bit of garden makeover during the summer of 2020 and basically this meant we had an outdoor space that we could then use for potential Hari Covert Suppers along with what we now term Hari2Go – Takeaway Suppers.
Early on in the original lockdown I had started feeding my vulnerable neighbours with a lockdown supper once a week where I would put together a two course supper with assorted simple nibbles that was all served up in a Tiffin Box that I had lurking in my garage – this then provided the inspiration for the Hari2Go suppers and approximately every two weeks I offer a takeaway supper – the theme varies and has included a Chinese one to a more simple one. I have also decided now with restrictions in place likely until the spring to continue the takeaway service for my village and any others who wish to partake.
The Tiffin Boxes themselves are reserved for my more local customers who then when they return them get the added advantage of a morning pastry. It certainly provided me with a challenge to think about what dishes could be reconstituted by the recipients in the privacy of their own homes. There are now regulars who make a date night out of the suppers and others have even dressed in black tie for the occasion. We seem to have also had others partake from much further afield (Canterbury, Dartford & Crowborough to name a few)
The end of August yet another challenge was thrown at me when after a really sociable luncheon with a friend and his daughter I slipped once again on our tiled floor and found myself back in hospital with a broken fibula & tibia that again required surgery with more metalwork – those of you might remember the broken femur just over two years ago – anyway I have recovered well and the leg has mended fine and physio is slowly building up my strength albeit frustratingly I seem to have reached a plateau at the moment.
So now looking forward to 2021 – the Covert Community Bakery will reopen in the New Year and customers will be able to once again pick up their Sunday morning fresh pastries and then my twice weekly baking of Focaccia & Beer Bread will resume. I will continue to offer Hari2Go hopefully every 2 – 3 weeks and then once the weather warms up and hopefully we have fewer restrictions we can resume dinners in my home venue both indoors and alfresco on our new purpose built deck.
The pandemic has thrown many challenges at the hospitality industry and it is wonderful to see so many inventive ways they have adapted. Equally I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thanks to all who have supported me through it all and here’s to a much better 2021 for us all.
Bring it on.