Isolation Diaries: Life In Lockdown During The Great Flour Drought
Jesse Mulligan talks flour alternatives and how chefs are innovating at home
The story of the lockdown might one day be told through flour. Bakers have it and can’t use it. Householders want it and can’t find it.
With the invisible hand of the market currently in handcuffs there’s apparently nothing to be done but for everyone to sit patiently and hope this is over soon.
Tom Hishon at Daily Bread tells me he has 15 tonnes of flour and could be making 800-1000 loaves a day. But his retail stores are closed and he’s taking online orders only. It’s hard to hear, particularly when it’s sometimes tricky even to find bad bread at the supermarket.
Then someone sends you a link to a boutique whiskery offering delivery of single malt (three bottles max, orders currently halted due to the backlog) and you think “are we getting this essential services thing right?”.
Restaurateurs who tried hard at Level 2 to innovate are almost completely stuck for ways to turn their skills into money.
At Ima, where Covid hit right on hot cross bun season, owner-chef Yael Shochat has plenty of flour and is planning to celebrate Easter in the restaurant after lockdown (you know, even the pope doesn’t have the power to delay Easter, but if you’ve ever met Yael you wouldn’t bet against her).
Some people have flour but they don’t have yeast. Others have yeast but they don’t have flour.
If you’re stuck at home waiting for fresh supplies of Champion High Grade it might be a good time to try out those freaky flours you bought once in a moment of unrealistic optimism and haven’t broken the seal on yet.
I was talking to Kelly Gibney recently about her recipe for pear and blackberry galette which, as you’ll see in the picture, isn’t exactly fine dining but has a French farm restaurant appeal that is almost irresistible — like a spicy curry it’s one of those dishes that, once it’s in your head, you can’t stop thinking about until you’ve eaten it.
Kelly’s recipe uses a walnut pastry, made with the sort of flours you read about on wellness blogs.
When I got home that night I asked Victoria without much hope, “Do we have tapioca flour and brown rice flour?” and she looked at me as though I was asking whether our house had a roof.
Kelly tells me she uses those flours for flavour and structure, not because they happen to be gluten-free (though that’s a great bonus for coeliacs and their kith).
Along with walnuts (they’re in season but you could use a bag of shelled supermarket ones for this) they make a pastry with incredible fatty, nutty appeal — and you can heap a pile of whatever fruit you like in the middle.
I made one with the last of the stonefruit and some frozen raspberries and it was *chef’s kiss*.
Kelly is a brilliant chef and deservedly has a huge online following.
Meanwhile, other chefs are dealing with home life in different ways: Nadia Lim is demonstrating flatbread for the yeastless; The Grove’s Michael Dearth is making his way through the restaurant’s supplies in his kitchen at home; and Nick Honeyman from Paris Butter tells me that, despite worrying about the business and his staff, there is a bright side for him personally: “I have absolutely no pressure at the moment and I’ve never been more present in the moment with my family”.