After a creative block, recent dining experiences are providing inspiration for chef Alex Rushmer
At the risk of making some dangerous assumptions, I am hoping that by the time you read this, there will be a veneer of normality draped over our collective lives. I know from my own experience – and from talking to the many wonderful people who bought our Vanderlyle To Go meals over the past year – that creativity in the kitchen has been in short supply. Despite my career as a professional chef, not to mention dozens of shelves filled with hundreds of cookery books, I have often found myself desperately lacking inspiration when deciding what to eat at home.
On a few occasions, I have turned to others to help fill the void. Locally, Restaurant Twenty-Two, The Cambridge Samosa Company, Tzatziki and La Latina Bustaurante have all stepped in to provide some truly delicious treats.
We have also been fortunate enough to sample delights from a new national delivery service called Dishpatch, which facilitates the logistical challenge of allowing London-based restaurants to provide meal kits to those not living within striking distance of the capital. Consequently, we’ve feasted on Empire Biryani’s signature dish, as well as incredible food from the original vegetable magician, Yotam Ottolenghi. For those more carnivorously minded, I have it on excellent authority that St. John’s cassoulet is majestic – if somewhat rich.
The sounds of laughter were every bit as delicious as the plates of hummus
But these are exceptions that serve to prove the rule: a year of lockdowns has atrophied our creative muscle. For every vibrant, multi-course offering, there have been many plates of beige, assembled from forgotten corners of the freezer and eaten in front of the television. Knife and joy not required, simply supply a fork and your own capacious stomach.
With restrictions easing, these micro-experiences can expand into ones that are more wholesome and community-minded, and this is exciting. We had a glimpse of the old normal just recently when, over the course of several hours, a few of us shared some small dishes at the reopened Kingston Arms. The occasion (as if one were needed) was the celebration of the last day of Vanderlyle To Go, which we stopped at the beginning of May to focus efforts on reopening this summer.
Despite the cool air and social distancing measures still in place, the sounds of laughter, conversation and glassware were every bit as delicious as the hummus plates, roasted vegetables and fresh labneh with bright, verdant olive oil. There was also great delight in traversing a (quite phenomenal) wine list somebody else has created, rather than another trudge through the same bottles at the local convenience store. A perfect prologue to what we all hope will be a long, intricately plotted summer, replete with the creativity that only grows robust in shared moment.