Preparing for a future no one can predict, restaurateur Gemma Simmonite, of Gastrono-me in Bury St Edmunds, can’t wait to welcome back customers, but in the meantime she shares a restaurant classic we can enjoy in our own homes
Adjectives to describe me this week – hot, homebound and hungry. If feeling fat and unmotivated had started with an ‘H’ I probably would’ve included those too! The temperatures are soaring and yet if anything I feel like I’m struggling a little more at the moment. Free but not free, socially distanced, but seeing others not doing the same. A glimpse of the future is temptingly in my sight, but there is still so much we don’t know.
Obviously, my thoughts are predominantly with Gastrono-me and how it will look when we are returned to normal. Will it be normal? Will people feel confident enough to dine out, and if they do, how will we give them the experience that they’re used to? We’ve spent much time rearranging tables to give each dining area two metres apart – luckily for us we are blessed with space, so this hasn’t been as tricky as we’d expected.
At the same time we’re thinking about disposable menus, app ordering at the table, condiments in ghastly sachets, even masks that match uniforms, all to minimise human contact. But the thing is, none of us really knows what the future holds. We couldn’t have imagined this pandemic in our wildest dreams at the beginning of the year, and it’s almost as hard to imagine where we’ll be in six months from now. Will our habits change forever, or will we return to normal? Oh for a crystal ball.
Restaurants, along with all the sectors of the hospitality industry, are desperate for a plan. We’re a tenacious breed, adaptable, imaginative and we are all just chomping at the bit for some clarity for the future. At first, in the terror of it all, when we had to do the unthinkable and close the restaurant and our karaoke bar, all we could focus and obsess on was keeping our staff safe. Could we survive this time? Happy to report we did, thanks to the furlough scheme and the support of our business partners.
But it’s been tricky considering that we weren’t eligible for a single government grant due to the size of our property. Ludicrous really given that restaurants generally need size and a great location to be successful in the first place. But now the challenge is not just how we open our beloved mothballed restaurant and keep our customers and staff safe, but how we bring the old chutzpah that we’re known for in these new days ahead. Gastrono-me always came to life when dishes were flying off the pass, guests clamouring for tables, and mimosas clinking in time to a fairly daft soundtrack. That is the essence of Gastrono-me. It thrums with fun and noise, and is what we live for.
It’s always been this way – a bit frivolous, a bit chaotic, and luckily more than a bit loved. It takes its own direction no matter the location, and we all sail in her for the fun ride. Over this strange period we’ve received such beautiful messages from customers, heartfelt letters and texts telling us just how much they miss our offering, and spending time at Abbeygate Street. These messages have meant everything, and tearily kept us going.
It is a huge privilege to be able to create dishes that people crave and hanker after, it’s what we live for. A dish when it becomes a classic is the best, the one that people would complain loudly if it wasn’t around anymore – the Gastrono-me Hash, Pain Perdu and Buddha Bowl come to mind. Equally, when we introduce a new kid on the block onto the menu and it immediately becomes a favourite, like the Hangover Stack, that literally makes our hearts soar to new heights.
And so this is the strange beautiful marriage between restaurant and customer, you come to be fed and entertained, and we exist because we yearn to provide that. We exist for your first dates, your birthdays and for precious family get togethers. Each service, we get to be a tiny part of your lives, from your child’s first restaurant meal (. . . hey Miss Stella!), to a blissful Sunday brunch when you sit at the large table with all your kids reunited back from uni. We’re lucky enough to get to see that every day, and I can tell you now, it’s addictive.
So this is what we want to see in our crystal ball, a time ahead when we can live again together, a time where we can share time. I believe it will take a little while, but I truly believe we will get there.
As humans we have an indomitable spirit, a tireless amount of love and we will conquer this. We may have to deviate our way around the future but I guarantee that Gastrono-me will bend with you in any way that we can to get back to those heady, happy days.
So until then friends, I give you the recipe for one of our favourites – the Buddha Bowl, it’s perfect for this hot weather, and if you’re struggling to zip up your jeans as I am, it’s fairly low calorie, too. I’ve adapted it to ensure minimal effort, but it will look like you’ve slaved away in the kitchen, but more importantly it will taste delicious. Should the weather still be with us, take it into the garden with a Prosecco, play something daft on the stereo and imagine we are all reunited again!
Everything about this salad is down to mise en place, which basically means the preparation of ingredients before assembling. So have your quinoa cooked and cooled, your potatoes and peppers roasted and your egg boiled, this will make for the arranging of it to be stress free and fun.
Plating of this bowl looks complicated but is utterly easy, please don’t let it strike terror into your heart as it’s done to more than one of our chefs over time – one I especially remember could never get the hang of it, and dreaded the very name being read out from the ticket machine! Follow the clock face as I describe and it will look picture perfect.
Serves 2 and requires two bowls
A small amount of mixed leaf – a mixture of colourful leaves and spinach is perfect
1 avocado peeled and cut in half, then sliced as the picture
6 new boiled potatoes, cut into halves
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
2 free range eggs hard boiled
2 cooked beetroot diced into small cubes
1 pouch of microwaveable quinoa – you could swap this out for a flavoured rice or couscous if you prefer
Salad dressing of your choice – we use a balsamic vinaigrette
1 small tin of sweetcorn drained
1 small tin of mixed beans drained and rinsed – chickpeas and kidney beans are our favourites
A handful of nuts and seeds for topping – we use a mixture of pecans, pumpkin, sesame and poppy
Preheat your oven to 220C/425F.
Pour a little vegetable oil into a roasting tin and heat until starting to smoke, carefully add to the tin your boiled cut potatoes, make sure to give them a good grind of rock salt. Roast them for 20 mins, then add the cut peppers for another ten minutes. They should be starting to blister, but still with heaps of colour.
Whilst these are roasting, follow the instructions on the pack of your chosen grain and allow to cool. When cool enough, season to taste with salt and pepper, a little flavoured oil like garlic or chilli will make it come to life.
Now the fun! Imagine your chosen round bowl is a clock, I promise I haven’t lost my mind. . . In the centre of one bowl arrange some of the leaves heaping them slightly to give a little height. Season them with a little bit of your chosen dressing.
Next, picturing your clock, put a little mound of your chosen grain at 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock. Next we’re going to fill those gaps inbetween with your mixed beans.
Grab half the amount of potatoes and put a little mound of them at 7 o’clock, and again a little mound of half the beetroot opposite at 1 o’clock. Give everything a little drizzle again with dressing, to make sure it’s flavoured throughout.
Next, carefully lay half of the sliced avocado at about 10’ o’clock, and pop your halved boiled egg to the side of it. Dot your roasted pepper wherever you think needs a pop of colour, and liberally sprinkle the nuts and seeds where you fancy. There you have it, a bowl fit for a buddha that will be the envy of instagram!
Tag us at #gastrono_me as we’d truly love to see your creations.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Call 01284 277980
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