Victoria and Jesse Mulligan have been enjoying Eleanor Ozich's bread recipe. Photo / Eleanor Ozich

Isolation Diaries: Positivity Is On High As Auckland's Best Chefs Start Cooking Again

Jesse Mulligan is anticipating great innovation from chefs as lockdown lifts

If you're not much of an arty type (I'm not much of an arty type) you might assume that creative people long for absolute freedom — the figurative and sometimes literal blank canvas on to which they can expel the delights and horrors of their subconscious, with no rules to get in the way.

But it's not true. For centuries, the great artists have flourished under restriction — the best poems written under the restrictive regulations of the sonnet, the greatest movies made within tight budgets, where directors were forced to create a new thing because the old thing cost too much cash (Steven Spielberg's mechanical shark sank to the bottom of the ocean while filming Jaws so he made a movie where the monster was barely seen; nobody realised this would make it even scarier).

This is how I'm thinking about our beloved restaurants over the next few weeks, as the anticipated lift of level 4 restrictions allows a small window of possibility for our best chefs to start cooking for Auckland again.

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We saw a hint of it at level 2, which lasted just half a second but which saw Sidart offering takeaway staff meals, Paris Butter dispatching three-course set menus you could plate up at your place, and The Grove launching an "at-home" service where their chefs and front-of-house staff come to you.

I can't predict what our dining scene will look like in the next few weeks, but isn't that sort of part of the fun? I've talked to half a dozen of our best chefs and they are almost without exception feeling positive — amped, even, about getting back to the hotplate and doing what they do best.

Overcoming barriers is their strength — now, as well as cooking according to what's in season, they'll be cooking according to what the law and common sense tell them is right in this moment: art can't be separated from its context, and nothing you will get from a restaurant in the middle part of 2020 would ever have been created if it weren't for Covid-19.

Maybe you've been having the same sort of journey at your place, making the best of what's in your pantry. I'm out of gin (New Zealand is out of gin!) so I'm making sake negronis until I run out of Campari too.

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Victoria has somehow found time to bake and, I mean, you’re going to think I'm part of some gourd and squash lobby group but she's been substituting pumpkin in Eleanor Ozich’s sweet potato almond bread and it's the most incredible thing — with a dash of maple in it but almost nothing else, it makes life without flour seem like some sort of heaven.

We've also been forming more direct relationships with food suppliers — the (MBIE authorised) arrival and unpacking of three giant bags of spray-free vegetables each Saturday morning is now the key social event of the weekend.

As with those hellos you wave to other people on the street, who a few months ago you might have ignored, the lockdown seems to be strengthening personal relationships as much as it is straining them.

You might not have picked that’d happen when the lockdown first started, but of course the best thing about the future is that you don't yet know what delights it holds.

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New Zealand Herald

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