It’s not easy being a chef at the best of times. Long hours, hot kitchens, high costs and tiny profit margins are challenges they face everyday, and COVID-19 lockdowns have affected the hospitality industry more than most.
But despite the difficulties, two Canberra chefs can’t wait to get back into the kitchen.
Adrianne Davo is head chef at Queenies, a Kingston bar that opened only a year ago. Queenies has been closed since lockdown was announced in August 2021, but Adrianne has been finding creative ways to keep herself and her team occupied.
“I decided to grow my social media as a way to connect with people all over the world – doing tutorial videos and food videos on my TikTok and Instagram,” she tells Region Media.
Adrianne’s housemate is also a chef at Queenies so together they’ve been busy experimenting with new flavours in their home.
Adrianne is keen to continue making videos after she’s back at work, but she has really missed the “organised chaos” and community of the kitchen.
“I miss creating food and talking to customers,” she says. “We’re an open kitchen which means anyone can just talk to me at the pass whenever they want.”
While the team at Queenies is looking forward to getting back to work, there are still challenges to overcome. The seasonal availability of produce has changed so Adrianne needs to replace the menu she wrote in July. And the front-of-house team will need to enforce the new rules for dining in, and potentially dealing with difficult customers.
“We have to adhere to certain restrictions and some people sometimes don’t understand that,” she says. “I understand the frustration – ‘We want to go out, we want to have a good time’ – but we have to follow the rules and keep everyone safe so we can end these restrictions as soon as possible.”
Malcolm Hanslow is head chef at Pilot restaurant in Ainslie, which has been offering a limited takeaway menu during lockdown:
“It’s super important to me to be able to keep our team together and keep them working, and to keep offering our clientele something so we’re not forgotten,” he says.
As a fine dining restaurant, the pivot to takeaway was a challenge for the team. Malcolm found it limited his style.
“It’s really hard to do something creative and then put it in a box because what I really want to be doing won’t travel well so ultimately it’s not the right thing to do for the customer,” he says.
“It’ll be cool to be able to cook how I want to cook again.”
Both chefs express concerns about ongoing levels of government support for people out of work, and for businesses which will struggle to make ends meet with limits on customer numbers.
But they also feel Canberra’s high overall COVID-19 vaccination rates mean hospitality businesses are able to feel confident there is a lower risk of transmission onsite. It also means the choice to go back to work is safer for staff.
“I’m going to get my full vaccination and, of course, hygiene has to be 100 per cent in everything we do,” says Adrianne. “We have to be more cautious, and we have to be treating people right.”
Despite ongoing restrictions and concerns about case numbers, Adrianne and Malcolm are confident Canberrans will continue to support hospitality businesses.
“I think people still need a drink so lucky we’re a bar,” jokes Adrianne.
“Human beings are social creatures, and [dining together] is the way we socialise and reconnect with peers and family. So I’m not that worried.”
If you are planning to dine in at your favourite local cafe, pub or restaurant in the near future, don’t forget to book ahead, follow the rules and be respectful to staff.
It’s been a tough lockdown, but Adrianne and Malcolm are looking forward to feeding us again.