'I'm very much in isolation:' Michelin-starred Alex Bond is cooking 400 meals a week for NHS workers

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Alex Bond's reaction to the coronavirus outbreak has very much been one of 'rolling with the punches.' When people were warned to stay away from restaurants, his first concern was to make sure his team still got paid, so he launched a delivery service in and around Nottingham. 

"We were going all over the shop, some postcodes you might as well be in Birmingham," he laughed.

The Michelin-starred chef owner of Alchemilla said the service proved so popular that orders were maxxed out for the rest of the week, at which point the government announced that it was willing to cover 80% of wages to those whose livelihoods had been affected by the coronavirus, and issued strict advice on social distancing. 

A one man band

It felt to Alex that it was the responsible thing to do to stop doing deliveries - which were hard to do safely, even with his teams sticking to strict instructions to go straight home from work and once there to remain indoors. With two daughters of his own at home, minimising social interactions is just as important to him as it is everyone else.

"As an employer it felt like the decent thing to do, I have a responsibility to ensure my staff's health and wellbeing."

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson first said to stay away from restaurants, he explained, "it was about making sure everyone still got paid. But then it became hard to justify trading at all." 

From day one, meals were free for NHS staff. Professionals across the industry have come out in widespread support of the country's health services as major food outlets have been forced to close and supermarkets race to keep their shelves stocked. 

Now, Alex's talented hands serve only the NHS. He works alone in the kitchen, "very much in isolation," as he lightheartedly describes it, producing 400 meals a week, which he delivers to the local hospital where they are redistributed as seen fit among key staff. 

"That way they can make sure it goes to the right people," he said, instead of trying to hand them out or deliver them to individual NHS workers, which proved logistically difficult. 

Working mainly with his existing suppliers, the chef says he'll keep doing what he's doing for as long as possible. 

Perhaps out of humility, or an admission that restless activity is the only way he knows how to function, he said: "It's mainly something to keep myself busy. I couldn't just sit on my hands."  

Asked whether he thinks he'll keep his head above water, the chef said that he could most likely do so by navigating the various measures put in place by the government, conceding that while things could have been addressed much faster, few were in a position to predict our current situation.

"I hate to say the word unprecedented, but no matter what you think of this government - I'm not a Tory, I've never been a Tory, I think Boris is a twat, I dislike the fella - but no matter what you think of him, he hasn't got an easy job right now." 

Ultimately, the survival of the restaurant industry will depend on how long the lockdown lasts; but the chef says many customers have been very supportive, buying vouchers instead of cancelling bookings, with one even contributing a sizeable cash donation. 

"Not to diminish it in any way", he said, "But I'd blow that on a bottle of wine and I know how much of a difference that makes. It's nice to have that extra bit of support, even if it can't sustain us in the long term."

Faced with the knowledge that the whole of society is set to see most of what it holds dear in question, he conceded that while he will be glad when Alchemilla can reopen its doors and welcome customers back, he said: "It's less important now, it's bigger than us. We just have to sit tight and look forward to coming out of the other side of this." 

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 30th March 2020

'I'm very much in isolation:' Michelin-starred Alex Bond is cooking 400 meals a week for NHS workers