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Reasons to be positive – by Chantelle Nicholson

They say necessity is the mother of invention. Against the backdrop of a public health crisis which has devastated communities, economies, and industries – looking for positives might seem fruitless. But it’s the way we react to times like these that defines us – as industries, as communities, and as individuals. And if you look, there are positives to be found. Not least of all, the ways people have pulled together in a time of great need.

Like many industries, ours has had to innovate to survive. When our doors closed to the public, Tredwells pivoted to focus on delivery. This trend has seen some amazing and affordable platforms spring up – helping break the duopoly on delivery and opening it up as a viable revenue stream for restaurants like ours, that aren’t a natural fit for the likes of Deliveroo. This has not only helped us to survive in the short term, it’s paved the way for a more diverse offering going forward – one we can scale up should something like this happen again.

It’s also challenged us to work creatively and adapt, developing dishes that would travel well. We offered some ready to heat dishes, like mushroom filo pie, and also meal kits, so customers could basically finish dishes off at home. The emmer wheat and mushroom risotto worked really well in that format actually.

Like lots of businesses, we’ve had to downsize our operation to protect jobs long-term. Going from a 7-day week to a 3-day week has come with some challenges, particularly around food waste. But it’s also meant more downtime, which my team have put to good use. You’re never too old to learn. And whether it’s honing your skills with a boning knife or learning how to prep a globe artichoke – there’s heaps of resources online to help you do that.

Most of all, I’m proud of the way many young chefs have used their extra time to help others – volunteering to prepare much needed meals for vulnerable people. When times are tough, it’s easy for people to go into self-protect mode and worry less about others. But in actual fact, what I’ve seen – across our sector and beyond – is quite the opposite. I think that’s pretty positive.

The future holds plenty of challenges for our industry – rebuilding consumer confidence will now no doubt be one of them. But it’s also essential we don’t take a step back, that we continue to innovate, developing concepts that are both sustainable and commercially viable.

At the beginning of 2020, the noise being made about top quality meat-free dishes was deafening. Consumer demand is there. As chefs, it’s up to us to not just meet that demand, but to fuel it, working with more environmentally friendly proteins like Quorn and exploring new ways to deliver great flavour in meat-free dishes.

Young chefs have such an important role to play in that – driving the industry forward by bringing vitality, energy, and a willingness to challenge the notion of what can be done. That’s what makes YNCOTY such an amazing thing to be a part of.

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