Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Pandemic leaves top chef struggling


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LONDON: Pascal Aussignac, a Michelin-starred French chef based in this city, had been counting on delivering Christmas dinners to recoup his restaurants’ losses after a year blighted by the pandemic.

Then everything fell apart in the space of just a few days. “I’ve got 50 capons and ducks stuck in France; they’ll never arrive in time for Christmas dinner because we should have stuffed them (already),” he told AFP.

Restaurants in London were forced to close unexpectedly last week in the middle of the crucial holiday season as strict coronavirus restrictions were imposed.

A “no-deal” Brexit would make matters even worse for Aussignac’s restaurants, imposing customs duties and quotas on the local French produce that is his specialty.

Then a snap decision on Sunday by a number of countries including France to halt travel to and from Britain caused a fresh crisis.

Trucks full of food from France have been left stranded on the other side of the Channel. Aussignac had to break the news to his customers that he would only have stuffing to sell them for their Christmas meal.


“They have to find English poultry,” he explained, adding they would have to cook the birds themselves. Some customers did not appreciate this development and made their feelings known, he said.

“But this is beyond our control. We are all victims of the situation,” said the restaurateur, who has worked in London for 22 years.

Even if Aussignac ends up not having to pay for the delayed poultry, he is still disheartened by the loss of hoped-for income from the festive meals. The accounts of his six premises — which include a cocktail bar and a fish and chip restaurant — were already in the red.

They had suffered, like the rest of Britain’s hospitality industry, from a first lockdown that stretched from late March to early July, a second in November and the third which began in mid-December because of a new strain of the virus deemed highly contagious by the British authorities.

“They’ve really clipped our wings,” Aussignac said, sitting in his flagship Club Gascon restaurant with its marble-paneled walls and empty turquoise velvet armchairs.



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