Chef reveals ‘lockdown survival’ guide

By Dave Wall, head chef of the Unruly Pig, Bromeswell, Suffolk

- Last updated on GMT

Trade experience: Dave Wall previously worked at Claridge’s, the iconic Bibendum and latterly at Le Talbooth in Dedham
Trade experience: Dave Wall previously worked at Claridge’s, the iconic Bibendum and latterly at Le Talbooth in Dedham

Related tags: Coronavirus

Dave Wall, head chef of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, has laid out seven top tips on how to keep busy amid the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

So 2020... the year our world fell apart? Covid-19 has turned everyone’s life upside down, causing tragedy and turmoil for so many. Naturally, the first and most important concern is for those whose health has been directly affected by the deadly virus. We must all work together to stop the spread by staying at home and distancing ourselves from one another.

In an industry whose sole purpose is exactly the opposite – to host bringing people together for pleasure – this is counter-intuitive but hospitality has very much had to move to the back burner for now. I truly hope the Government’s measures can help our businesses to survive in these unprecedented times.

Facing a new challenge (spending a long time at home), I decided to create my personal strategy for survival (and sanity). Like many chefs and those in the hospitality industry, I ordinarily spend my life in the fast lane, working crazy hours at a frenetic pace.

Add a couple of kids to raise into the bargain and there is rarely a dull moment. Adjusting to this new tempo could be easier said than done – like so many in our trade I like to think I am a natural grafter and busybody who doesn’t like sitting still for too long.

So I hope it helps, if only a little, if I share my approach because it is at least helping me keep vaguely sane. What follows is hardly rocket science (but sometimes in life, it is good to get back to some basics).

1 – Create routine and structure

It might be the natural instinct, when going from 100 to zero, to turn into a bit of a slob and over-indulge in the R&R. Indeed, at first after lockdown, I thought to myself that I deserve a rest.

But instead, God knows how or why, I managed set an alarm, get up and have a shower and get dressed early instead. Don’t get me wrong here though: the allure of a lie-in or lazy slouch on the sofa in pyjamas until gone 12noon was very real.

However, now I am in a routine, I am relieved because I believe pyjama/sofa mornings would have ended up dragging me down. Instead, can I suggest you create a weekly schedule and plan as to what you need to achieve, what you are going to do and by when?

As totally unnecessary as it may be for you, nevertheless for me, I have found a diary to be a useful tool of focus (especially as the extent of a day’s activities were otherwise in danger of just being a walk, making a loaf of bread and cooking dinner).

For what it is worth, I have found this written weekly schedule has really helped me build structure into my days so I can still have that feeling of have achieved something real. 

2 – Stay off the news and social media

Following the news is important when so much critical information is being relayed and updated so rapidly. But endlessly obsessing with the devastation and destruction this disease is leaving in its wake is potentially a one-way ticket to depression.

Watch the news once or twice per day at most to keep updated, but then leave it alone and focus on positives.

Don’t spend hours glued to your phone, reading endless threads full of everybody’s opinions. Twitter and Facebook are awash with alleged ‘experts’ and getting involved with their debate will be sure to leave you feeling considerably more broken than you were already.

3 – Set boundaries and rules

While it is tempting to gorge on your long Netflix list that you’ve been wanting to watch for ages (while smashing multipacks of crisps), setting some discipline has really helped me easily fill my days with positive activities.

At home, there’s restrictions on TV time, pyjama wearing and how long my family and I can spend on social media, etc. Instead, especially for the kids, time has to be focused around learning, cooking (of course), reading and crafts.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Wall family are no saints. We have our fair share of failings and, of course, treats but I am clear that at least for us, the setting of boundaries and goals has really helped us all.    

4 – Keep active

I’m lucky enough to have a few weights knocking around the garage and now, finally without my standard excuse of not having enough time, I’m attempting to throw them around a bit.

Even if you don’t have access to any kit, there are loads of body weight exercises you can do at home. Even if exercise is simply not your bag, still be sure please to use that hour of exercise outside – even if you don’t enjoy the activity then the change of scenery is worth it alone and will do you the world of good.

In these troubled times, my family has found simple fresh air to be disproportionately therapeutic. 

5 – Plan your meals and get cooking

No doubt a given for the chefs currently stuck at home but for anybody in times of austerity, it pays dividends to be clever about meal planning and making the most out of your larder.

Plan meals for the week being sure to maximise what you have available. Write lists when you go shopping so you can keep those trips to a minimum and make as much as you can from scratch to fill out the time.

6 – Learn something new

Or practice something you want to get better at. I’ve always been a bit average at making sourdough so have jumped on the bandwagon and set myself the challenge of becoming a master of it before the lockdown is over.

If that doesn’t excite you, you could learn a new language or perhaps just keep your mind active with sudoku or quizzes. Why not read up on and verify your wine knowledge and pairings?

Bon chance with learning a new language though, I concede that may be ambitious for the best of us but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained?

7 – Stay in touch

Just because we’re trapped at home doesn’t mean that we need to become unsociable. Call up other chefs. We all need encouragement and support because otherwise it can be a lonely old world.

Telephone and video call your friends and family, use Zoom​ or conference calling to get a group of you together. My mates and I have designated Friday night as poker night and have a game via video call and a little too much alcohol. There’s loads of banter and it’s almost as good as a night down the pub.

So plan ahead in all that you do is my obvious advice to help you get through this lockdown. It has helped me. I hope some of the above helps you too but as you will have gathered, I really am no saint. It is important to try to do what you enjoy though.

Related topics: Chefs, UnitedWeStand

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