How food businesses are helping us beat lockdown boredom

As we’ve cooked like never before, bought more food online and ordered takeaways instead of eating out during lockdown, many restaurants, pubs and food producers have switched their business models quickly to survive – offering new ways to enjoy food from home. Some have changed how they sell food, with producers who once sold to restaurants now selling directly to the public, and restaurants offering takeaway deliveries. Others have launched online cookery classes for kids and adults alike. So what’s on offer and how can it help us deal with our lockdown misery while supporting struggling businesses?

Online cooking workshops

With 15 percent of Brits looking for a new hobby this year, some food businesses have launched online or kit-based cookery classes.

Bookings for online bread, pasta and cake making classes have ‘exploded’ since the first lockdown, according to ticket agency Eventbrite, who have had more than 40,000 bookings for courses in the UK since last March. Professional biscuit builder (Ed: best job title ever!) Emily Garland, who changed her business from in-person baking workshops to online membership-based tutorial package ‘The Biscuit Academy’ after lockdown, agrees. She says her business is “growing into a wonderful group of keen biscuit builders”, ranging from beginners to professional pastry chefs.

Many of these workshops offer more than an online tutorial. Those signing up to The Biscuit Academy classes can choose between simple ‘biscuit tin’ recipes or a 3D project, for which they receive templates. Kate Lieberman, a wedding cake designer, launched digital tutorials for Italian cakes and bakes ‘Dolce Lusso online bake-alongs’, and includes an ingredients box for some of the classes. She points out that connecting with others is just as important as the food, “much like eating in Italy, it’s a social event, and an opportunity to connect with like-minded people”.

With many craving travel, some have turned to food for a new cultural experience at home. When Loc Bui’s Vietnamese restaurant was unable to open, he set up online cookery courses. “I want [people] to fall in love with cooking Vietnamese food”, he says. Noticing some people found a few core ingredients for his recipes hard to come by, he set up a store-cupboard essentials box too.

Eventbrite say more the 30 percent of the audience for UK classes has logged in from abroad. As digital cooking and baking courses are hosted all over the world, you can learn how to make Singapore chilli crab, Malaysian laksa or Sichuanese mapo tofu.

Shelly Mantovani
Loc Bui, who offers online cooking school Loc’s Taste of Vietnam

Kids can join in online learning too

Recipe boxes for kids come with online tutorials

Keeping kids occupied in lockdown isn’t easy, but cook boxes are one way to relieve the boredom – and hopefully provide something good to eat! Most come with a recipe card for an easy and fun dish, plus ingredients. Lots of companies offer them, including BakedIn and Little Cooks Co. Food educators Cook School produce boxes for children to cook a healthy meal for their families and include a QR code that links to a video of children cooking the dishes (so they can learn from their peers) and a card with links to videos teaching skills needed for the recipe. Cook School’s Amanda Grant says the aim is that “from the age of around eight kids can follow [the recipe] without adult supervision”.

Food box schemes

Cheesemonger, Andy Swinscoe, is one of many offering artisan foods directly to the consumer rather than selling to restaurants

Many food producers, including dairies, bakeries, veg box schemes and butchers, started selling ingredients directly to consumers rather than to restaurants when lockdown started last March – giving us the chance to buy ingredients that might have previously been difficult to find. They offer online ordering and delivery schemes.

Lockdown hit cheesemakers who supplied the restaurant industry hard. Yorkshire-based cheesemonger Andy Swinscoe from The Courtyard Dairy says he “lost 70 percent of trade overnight”, and he wasn’t alone. Then a coalition of cheesemongers and makers set up the ‘Save British Cheese’ box initiative, and Jamie Oliver stepped in to ask people to support British cheese. It turned out the public were very willing to eat the cheese and the crisis has provided an opportunity to try lesser-known British products. Swinscoe was part of the initiative. “A farm making cheese with its own milk might employ 20 people or more. It keeps the rural economy going”, he says. Although the scheme has ended, many cheesemakers continue to offer a similar service so you can keep on trying new cheeses!

Lockdown has also given us the opportunity to buy under-appreciated types of dish through Call4Fish, set during the first lockdown to connect consumers to British fish suppliers. Call4Fish can deliver fresh fish to your door and help with how to eat under-appreciated and less expensive types.

Taking takeaways to a new level

Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson is opening a deli to sell dishes from his kitchen and produce from his restaurant’s suppliers

Restaurants, cafes and pubs have had to find ingenious ways to make a living during lockdown restrictions, offering takeaways and meal kits. For consumers this has provided a relief from everyday cooking – and a chance to support a local business.

Some have overhauled their premises. Nottingham-based husband and wife team Craig and Rosea Poynter converted their café ‘The Bakehouse’ into a bakery within days of lockdown being announced last March. As well as bakes, they offer bread-making kits and supply other local shops. Craig says he’s proud to have locals come in for a “slice of normality” while walking the dog or on a run.

Restaurant meal kits are some of the great lockdown launches, and with many delivering nationwide we can all now take a culinary world tour from the comfort of our armchair. From Dishoom’s bacon naan roll kit to Hoppers’ Sri Lankan meal kits, Rosa’s Thai Café Pad Thai kit to Benito’s barbacoa beef burrito kit, there’s a world of flavour available.

Just under a third of consumers have reported buying more food from local shops in lockdown, according to a report from the Food Standards Agency, and this can include trying locally produced ingredients. For chef Merlin Labron-Johnson this change in habits provided an opportunity when he was forced to close his restaurant Osip in Bruton, Somerset within months of opening. At first he offered a takeaway service, but now he’s gone a step further and is opening a deli ‘The Old Pharmacy’. “We work with growers who produce directly for us and we were desperately trying to do different things to support them. We started doing little boxes, and that led to a shop”, he says.

Celebrate at home

Birthdays, engagements, graduations and other celebrations have been family-you-live-with affairs during lockdown. To up the celebration vibe, some businesses have launched dinner party kits – or you can even order a celebration tea delivery. Sophia Butler of ‘Sugar Tea Room’, hosts afternoon tea parties, but switched to a delivery-only service during the first lockdown. Her tea boxes, including sandwiches, cakes and scones, are mostly delivered to North London, but she has even had orders from Spain!