Few would argue that in times of adversity, it is the connections we maintain with loved ones and strangers alike that pull us through.
But for chef and TV presenter Rick Stein, the task is made all the more difficult by a nine-hour time difference – unable to return to the UK, Stein is currently self-isolating in Sydney, Australia, thousands of miles away from his tight-knit group of restaurants, delis and shops.
Now, he aims to bring his team of workers and customers together with a 25-mile charity walk, using whatever means possible.
“I’ve been touching base with everyone at home on a daily basis, but it’s been tricky,” says Stein, who dips in and out of signal on a Zoom call with me (9am for me, 8pm for him).
“The walk was an idea from one of our chefs, and I thought it was a brilliant way to connect with everyone and have a bit of fun. The hospitality industry is a social atmosphere, so it’s important we try and keep this up throughout these unprecedented times.”
Stein, his business partner (and ex-wife) Jill and their three sons, along with their team of 30 restaurant and deli workers, have pledged to walk a socially distanced 25 miles over the course of a week. The walk is part of the annual Rotary Clubs ‘Walk The Test’ event, which raises money for local charities. This year, The Rotary Club has adapted the walk to abide by social distancing measures, calling it instead ‘Walk The Test Another Way’.
Stein aims to raise £5,000 for St Petroc’s homeless charity, which has launched an emergency appeal to find accommodation for the homeless around Cornwall.
Rick, Jill and his restaurant team have already raised £3,920 from the three Justgiving pages that have been set up to support them.
Team members and customers who wish to join the effort are being encouraged to do so by any means possible. Lockdown measures in Australia now permit people to go on walks with others, and so Stein and his wife, Sarah, have been walking around the harbour near his home and posting photos to his social media.
His business partner, Jill, is walking The Camel Trail in north Cornwall, and employees of various Rick Stein restaurants around Padstow, Sandbanks, London and Winchester are taking to their gardens and treadmills to contribute to the walk, posting photos of their progress to the Justgiving pages.
As the government takes tentative steps to ease lockdown measures, Stein is, expectedly, wary of the long-term impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry.
“As of tomorrow in Australia, restaurants will be allowed to have up to 10 people in at a time. It’s a step forward, but for many restaurants this simply won’t be possible. The cost of opening has to be balanced out by the flow of customers coming in, and I think that will take a while to happen.”
In the UK, Stein has opened two of his restaurants for take-aways only; the Cornish Arms in St Merryn, Cornwall, and Rick Stein Sandbanks, serving traditional fish and chips as well as roast turbot, fillet steak and lobster.
“Not only are we battling to save our company, we are fighting to keep the team spirit that is so precious to us. We chose to do the walk because we wanted to find a way during lockdown that, even if not physically, we are still together.”
To donate to the Justgiving pages of Rick, Jill and the Rick Stein team, visit the following pages. To get involved with the walk, the team are encouraging people to set up their own pages and pledge to contribute to the walk. Visit their Instagram page for more information.