The pandemic has been a challenging, and worrying time for all. Not only has it changed the way we consume food, but for some, catching coronavirus could not only be detrimental to their health, but potentially their careers, too.
Chefs, drinks experts and more have been forced into hiding to keep their sense of smell and taste intact while some have had to retrain their tastebuds as a result of the symptom robbing them of flavour.
Celebrity chefs Dave Myers and Si King, also known famously known as The Hairy Bikers, were among those who had to do just that.
Launching two cookbooks during the pandemic, shooting a new TV series, Go North, and more, the duo have been kept busy.
Dave said: “It has been the most successful series we’ve done in 12 years. The BBC loves us and we enjoyed filming the series.
“We shot it in 2020 in August and October between lockdowns. In hindsight we are so lucky we managed to film through it and no one got sick which was incredible.”
Eventually though, the duo both caught the virus and had a battle on their hands to stay healthy.
Thankfully they left the virus behind and are now back to full health, however Dave and Si were both very concerned about the impact it could have had on their tastebuds.
“It is our stock and trade (food and drink) so not to make too much of a point of it, but we were s****ing ourselves,” said Si.
“We both lost our taste and smell and I have had to retrain myself.
“I became obsessed with smelling stuff because then I would go ‘Aha, that’s star anise. Aha that’s caraway’. It has come back a little quicker than I was initially expecting so I don’t know if that is a clinical thing or not, but it is working for me.
“I couldn’t taste anything. Everything was like salty porridge!”
Dave’s sense of smell and taste disappeared for around three weeks – but it wasn’t just him who paid the price as a result.
Dave added: “The worst thing was bacon. Because I couldn’t taste it and it was just the texture, it was a repellent. It was like having a mouth full of sinew, rather than that crispy smoky loveliness.
“The only thing I fancied to eat – because of its texture – was a Pot Noodle. Not even pasta. It is weird and just shows how much you depend on it.
“I was burning things as well as my smell had gone.”
Si agreed he too had had trouble not burning food in the kitchen
He said: “I had left something in the oven under the grill and I completely forgot about it. The alarm was going off and all sorts and there was just plumes of smoke coming out of it because I couldn’t smell it burning.
“I had to open all of the windows and doors to get rid of it.”
Dave added: “I always do the cooking at home and my wife got better before I did. I’d be seasoning stuff and I’d see her pull a face. I’d ask her what was wrong and she’d say ‘It’s alright love’, but it was because I was adding too much salt as I couldn’t taste it.”
But it wasn’t just family who were taste testing dishes for the duo during their recovery.
Si even got his Amazon delivery driver to try a few of his meals to see how they were seasoned.
“I even got the delivery guy involved in tasting. I’d ask him to taste it.
“He’s a local lad who knows the craic when he comes to the house. He said ‘This is great! How long is this going to last? You’ll need to order some more stuff off Amazon so I can keep coming to try your food’.
“He was my taster for a good week to check if my food was seasoned or not.”
Launching cookbooks from different ends of the country
Experimenting with making his own homemade pasta and sourdough bread, Dave says that writing two cookbooks during lockdown was a unique experience.
“We wrote two cookbooks – one being a vegetarian cookbook during the first lockdown,” he said.
“It was a really bizarre way of working as we were at opposite ends of the country. We couldn’t get together with the book designer and photographer, and the people cooking for the book.
“Andrew Hays Watkins, who photographs our books, got his wife to cook the dishes. He photographed and styled them and then they’d email it to us and the publishers and we’d go back and forth.
“Funnily enough it is one of the best books we’ve done. I think because there was so much time to get the photos.
“Andrew’s wife is a sculptress. We said to her that she had done a great job of the food and she said ‘Never again. I don’t do this sort of thing!'”
The Hairy Bikers coming north for Taste of Grampian
Returning for the first time in years, Dave, who spent 15 years in the north-east says the Taste of Grampian festival this June (Saturday 5) at Aberdeen’s P&J Live is like “coming home”.
The duo will host three cooking demonstrations throughout the day taking place at 10.45am, 1.15pm and 3.45pm.
“It is a bit like coming back home. We’ve both spent a lot of time in the north-east,” said Dave.
“You’re always looking for new things at festivals. Fish smoking has gone to another level now. The seafood in the north-east is unbelievable. When I lived there it was harder to get white fish as the fish van was once a week and everything was exported.”
And Si is also looking forward to the variety that will be showcased at the area’s biggest one-day food and drink festival.
He added: “We could say that’s where The Hairy Biker started, up in Aberdeenshire!
“It is a bit of a homecoming. I think what is always nice about Taste of Grampian is that is it very eclectic. It isn’t just about food as there’s jewellery, blokes selling farm machinery, distilleries, and cheese companies.
“The great thing is it is pretty intense as it’s just one day and everyone gets together to support local producers and show off what the area has to offer.
“Because it is so seasonal and regional, we will be picking up things we fancy – if we can get out as it is now pretty difficult to wander around and pick up products as everyone wants a selfie!”
Tickets to The Hairy Bikers demos are priced at £15.
Early bird ticket prices start from £10 for general admission and children under the age of 12 go free.