matt T/A covid

A Silver Lining

Image source: Contributed

A takeaway boom helped anyone who could make a boxed version of their speciality get through the first of the lockdown

When I’ve bumped into old friends in the street over the past six months or so, the first question they generally ask is “How has the pandemic affected you, being in the hospitality industry?”

They already know the answer, and I’m sure most would expect me launch into a monologue of negativity and bitterness, but the first thing I always tell them is “It could have been so much worse.”

All food businesses have struggled this year, and in turn their staff have suffered, producers and suppliers have taken a hit, in fact everyone in the chain has had a tough time. But I think if you asked almost anyone in the region who has a restaurant, café, bar or catering business, they’d all agree we were much better off here than almost anywhere else in the world, and we have to be grateful for that.

And most would say that the sudden need to adapt quickly in order to survive actually benefitted their business in the long term. A takeaway boom helped anyone who could make a boxed version of their specialty get through the first of the lockdown, and by the time restrictions were loosening up everyone was ready to follow and abide by any rules necessary to keep the community safe and start trading again.

Thankfully, and surprisingly, there have been very few restaurants who have closed their doors permanently in the past nine months, and while some may certainly still be trading on a knife’s edge, a welcome barrage of Queenslanders holidaying in their own state over the past few months has taken the pressure off.

Events are slowly starting to come back. Tourism Noosa had to cancel the Noosa Eat & Drink Festival in May, but the ‘pop-up’ ‘Noosa Eat & Drink Summer Celebration’ from  4-6 December proved there is an appetite for events. With special guest chefs cooking at lunches and dinners in restaurants all over Noosa and most of them sold out, it’s inspired them to continue with more events, more regularly as featured in the previous pages.

The IN Noosa Magazine wine lunch at Light Years Asian Diner was also a sell-out success and the XO wine lunch in a few weeks is sure to follow suit, particularly with a certain young winemaker coming to share his passion and wines with hungry diners.

We’ve had fun at Peppers with events starting up again, including the Black Cockatoo fundraiser that was held on Melbourne Cup with not a horse in sight!

Our team at the newly-named IN Publishing (to represent the growth of the business into a publishing empire) has been busy helping local chef Nilla Tomkins of VanillaFood realise her dream of publishing her first cookbook. Having read and tested more than 70 of Nilla’s recipes I can tell you that there is plenty in there for everyone, particularly vegetarians and those with dietary needs. VanillaFood the Cookbook is now on sale and sure to sell like the proverbial hot cakes… or gluten-free Buckwheat and Cardamom Waffles!

At the beginning of the outbreak, as toilet paper wars erupted in supermarkets and shoppers stocked up on baked beans and two-minute noodles, an interesting change happened in the food world. As panic set in, people started to worry about food security, and as every vegetable seedling vanished from every shelf in every nursery in Australia, people were forced to ask themselves ‘where does my food come from and who grows it?’

And about two weeks after planting their bean and tomato plants I’m sure most would have asked ‘how long is this going to take?’

The public’s interest in the provenance of the food they eat has taken such a huge leap over the past nine months, with more consumers wanting to buy direct from producers and have a connection with their farming community.

So while we might not necessarily look back fondly on 2020, it may have been just the reminder we needed to value just how lucky we are to live in such a special part of the world, surrounded by talented, passionate producers and food vendors, and to never again take for granted the simple pleasure of sharing a meal out with friends and family.

But bring on 2021!

About the Author /

Matt Golinski is a highly regarded chef with a passion for simple, produce-driven cuisine based on seasonal, fresh local ingredients. He is an active member of the Slow Food movement, a champion of artisan producers and a generous mentor to keen young chefs. He is the Food and Culinary Tourism Ambassador for the Gympie region; Ambassador and Advisory Executive Chef for Peppers Noosa; and a festival favourite.

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