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Quarantine Comfort: Four London chefs share their recipes

Kitchens and beloved establishments are the heartbeat of many homes and families. During the pandemic, it may not be possible to break bread with the people you care about. These local chefs are sharing resources with the community and simple recipes that you can try while in lockdown.

Each restaurant owner has seen business devastated yet they all see a silver lining

From left to right, Fouzan Beg of Thaifoon, Jodie Marshall of Marshall's Pasta Mill, Tony Starratt from Youth Opportunities Unlimited and Brad Heslop from the Early Riser Cafe. (CBC)

We're all looking forward to breaking bread again with the people we care about. So why not practice a few new dishes? These London chefs are sharing simple recipes to help inspire you during the lockdown. Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Fouzan Beg, owner, Thaifoon Restaurant 

Fouzan Beg has owned Thaifoon Restaurant on Dundas Street for six years. Purchased from his wife's family, it was a learning curve for the Hyderabad native, as he was used to catering large Indian weddings. Fouzan says he's still learning and tweaking recipes and describes the dishes as "strictly Thai made with Indian love." 

How has your establishment been impacted by COVID-19? 

Before the virus hit, we weren't big on takeout and focused more on dining in. When that was no longer an option, we had to quickly assess how we could switch and utilize the kitchen to push takeout. There are delays as we adjust but I'm thankful for our guests' understanding and patience. Our protocol and staff has changed a lot since March; we had 15 staff members and are now down to four. We're trying to limit the number of people in the restaurant and have just enough staff to meet our current demand.

What's your silver lining during this challenging time?

We have people driving in from St. Thomas, Strathroy, Woodstock and Sarnia on a regular basis to pick up their order. They're doing this so they can support us, which I'm so grateful for. This has also made us think about transitioning to more takeout options and that there could be potential to open a Thaifoon Kitchen Express.

I always try to find the good - it is what it is - you either control it, or it controls you.Fouzan Beg, owner, Thaifoon Restaurant

We recently started participating in the Mom & Caregiver 'Home Not Hungry' program that partners with local restaurants to feed families in need. Last Thursday, we fed six families and this week we're bumping that to 15. It's something we would like to continue on with, after COVID-19 is over.

What's your recipe and why have you chosen to share it?

My wife introduced me to a Street-Style Pad Thai dish when we first met and it had such a "wow" impact on me! It's not too complicated to make - and all ingredients can be found at your local grocery store. 

(Fouzan Beg)
(Fouzan Beg)

Jodie Marshall, owner, Marshall's Pasta 

Jodie Marshall and her husband Blake have been running Marshall's Pasta since 1995. Blake used to play football for the London Western Mustangs and the Edmonton Eskimos. Every Friday night, he and his teammates would make huge pasta dinners, which they called a 'carbopack'. Over the past two-and-a-half decades, Jodie and Blake have been selling fresh pasta and sauce, hot meals and expanding their catering availability.  

How has your establishment been impacted by COVID-19? 

We were devastated. We lost 75% of our business which includes catering, weddings and hot school lunches. We were refunding deposits and had to lay off about half of our staff. The first few weeks were extremely difficult. I'm so grateful the front end of our business is able to stay open and that we can still sell our retail items. 

What's your silver lining during this challenging time?

This has actually given me time to plan for the future. We've known for quite some time that construction is coming to our area and that we need to get our store online. I was too busy with catering to do that before, but have been able to do it now.  

My family is never going to go hungry because we make food. I can't imagine being in the position where you don't have enough money to feed your family.- Jodie Marshall, owner, Marshall's Pasta

We're also taking part in the Mom & Caregiver 'Home Not Hungry' program. We delivered to 20 families last week and I've offered to take the overflow families that the program is too overwhelmed to handle. Our customers are now donating money toward this and the people we are delivering to are so grateful. I delivered to one family where the woman opened the door and I could see that the house was bare. She said that if she could, she would come out and give me a hug. I got back into my car and wanted to sob. 

What's your recipe and why have you chosen to share it?

My taco pasta salad is a real crowd pleaser. It's easy to do with simple, healthy ingredients. I like to make food that a lot of people will enjoy. When we catered, it was always the first thing to go. My kids love it and it has a great shelf life - we'll eat it for three days!  

(Jodie Marshall)
(Jodie Marshall)

Tony Starratt, head chef, You Made it Cafe 

Tony Starratt has been cooking for just over 15 years and has worked his way across much of Canada (starting in Alberta and BC), Australia and Asia. He says cooking is his greatest passion - if not obsession - in life. He's currently the head chef at YOU Cafe, a social enterprise owned and operated by Youth Opportunities Limited. 

The role of head chef comes with a healthy side of mentorship. Tony says programs like YOU helped him as an adolescent, so he relishes the opportunity to support London's at risk and vulnerable youth. 

How has your establishment been impacted by COVID-19? 

Right from the beginning, we made the call to close our cafe completely and focus on the community meals we provide for Meals on Wheels and Dale Brain Injury Services. We have a small space, so we turned the front of the cafe into a prep station so we could maintain physical distancing. 

Right before the pandemic started, we had 35 youth (between the ages of 15-29) ready to work in the kitchen. Understandably, many have decided to stay at home. My role has evolved; I'm doing less cooking and am more focused on making sure everyone is following protocol. We screen everyone who comes into the space, set the oven timer to go off every hour to sanitize tables, surfaces and doorknobs. We've really stepped it up with constant hand washing and wearing gloves, because we are making meals for our community's most vulnerable population. 

What's your silver lining during this challenging time?

We appreciate the youth who are still able to come in and work. For many of them, this may be the safest place they are all day. We understand that not everyone coming in is going to work in a restaurant but we provide crucial life skills like cooking from scratch and sticking to a budget. 

We've heard from clients who say they don't know how they would receive food if we weren't able to provide it.- Tony Starratt, head chef, You Made it Cafe

We make up to 250 meals a day and every week we get thank you emails about how appreciative our clients are. YOU also makes meals for vulnerable youth through the Youth Action Centre. Our resource workers pack up the food and deliver to those on the streets or in housing. 

What's your recipe and why have you chosen to share it?

Everyone loves a bowl of chili! We're doing a turkey chili - but you can change it up if you prefer beef, beans or tofu. The one I make for my wife has sweet potatoes. The recipe is structured for flavours and spices, but you can swap out ingredients to use what you have on hand. This is a big bowl of comfort, which is needed during these difficult times. 

(Tony Starratt)
(Tony Starratt)

Brad Heslop, owner, Early Riser Cafe 

Brad grew up going to the Early Riser Cafe, so after a decade of serving, cooking and managing kitchens across Southwestern Ontario, he decided to buy it. He's owned it for just under two years and stayed true to the laid back diner-vibe style of years' past.

During a time where many establishments are closing and/or reducing their services, Brad finds himself in the unique position to do just the opposite. 

How has your establishment been impacted by COVID-19? 

Unfortunately I had to let go of 12 employees, although I've just brought back our head server and all will be welcome back when this is over. It's busy and exhausting as I'm spending about 85 hours a week here, cooking, packaging meals for contactless pick up or running it out to their vehicle. We've actually extended our hours so we're open later on Fridays and have expanded our menu to include more dinner items. 

We've opened the doors to essential workers like transit and delivery drivers and first responders as they don't have as much access to public washrooms as they used to. They are also welcome to free coffee and water. 

What's your silver lining during this challenging time?

Ten per cent of every takeout order and 100% of tips are going to the London Food Bank. We've raised just over $1300, which I'm using to buy bulk items from suppliers to give to the food bank. Last week, a gentleman I'd never spoken to before connected with me on Facebook and offered to pay for all first responders' meals for a week. Our regular customers are calling just to check up and see how it's going. The support has been amazing. 

I'm taking it day by day. I think any restaurant that can get through this will come back so much stronger."- Brad Heslop, owner, Early Riser Cafe

What's your recipe and why have you chosen to share it?

A 'Kitchen Sink Frittata' is super easy to make and allows you to use up everything in the fridge. As long as you have eggs, you can do anything!

(Brad Heslop )
(Brad Heslop)

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