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Jason Atherton talks lockdown, inspiration and restaurant reopening

With just a week to go until indoor dining is permitted in the UK, following a long period of closure and uncertainty due to the pandemic, we spoke to English chef Jason Atherton who’s restaurant Pollen Street Social gained a Michelin Star the first year it opened in 2011.

Jason Atherton Photo credit @johncarreyphoto

Jason is known for ‘The Social Company’ his globally renowned restaurant group, with dining across London, including City Social, Social Eating House, Little Social and The Betterment and Berners Tavern which has been named the ‘defining restaurant of the decade.’

Alongside these he also has restaurants in Shanghai, Dubai, St Moritz and the Michelin Starred New York restaurant The Clocktower.

Before the pandemic happened in March 2020 when restaurants were open a usual day for the critically acclaimed chef would be filled with meetings, supervising his teams and preparing for servings at the restaurants.

Jason said: “On a usual day I have a lot to keep busy with for example I would be checking and answering to my emails, supervising my teams in every restaurants to make sure everything is going well, joining different meetings and getting ready for a buzzy lunch and dinner service at Pollen Street Social, Little Social or in another one of my restaurants!”

Little Social Outdoors Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto

Once restaurants closed for many people, especially those in the culinary industry, normal life seemed to stop, Jason spoke about what he’s been doing to keep busy whilst the restaurants were closed, he said: “I have used most of my free time to think about how I can improve each of my businesses. “I have also been spending time with family, days off are for family time, and I like spending quality time at home or outdoors with my wife Irha and my three daughters.”

“I’ve also been trying to keep busy with exercise - I’m really into boxing at the moment, I absolutely love it!

During closure Jason has been revisiting old memories to tap into past experiences for inspiration.

He said: “Pre-pandemic I would travel a lot, for work or family holidays, and that’s where I found more of my inspiration. “I would always carry a notebook with me because I like to scribble down ideas and inspiration to make sure I don’t forget them. So during lockdown I took time flicking through all of my old notebooks, trying to find new inspirations for our reopening.”

Little Social desert Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto

In the period of the lockdown Jason has developed new ways to bring food lovers his dishes, including his Jason At Home Delivery boxes.

He said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the whole world to its knees but it’s also gave us the opportunity to push ourselves, to be more creative, and work in a way that we never thought before – I’ve launched my ‘Jason at home’ delivery boxes in collaboration with Lake District Farmers, one of my oldest suppliers, as well as my 'Jason at Home' online home-ware store created with Goodfellows - I couldn’t have done that pre-pandemic.

“It’s important to constantly change and keep up with the world, nothing should be taken for granted. It’s also essential to push ourselves, be creative, embrace the changes and identify how to overcome them.”

Little Social and Cafe Biltmore dishes Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto

Jason also made sure to keep in touch with staff to keep morale as high as possible. He added: “Keeping my staff happy, motivated and safe is one of my prime priorities, especially during these challenging times.

“I think communication is essential, so I tried to keep in touch with my employees on a regular cadence, making sure I was communicating effectively and that they were aware that we have taken all health and safety measures to ensure they return to work safely.”

All of Jason’s restaurants are due to open from the 18th May, he spoke about preparing to reopen and the changes guests can expect to experience, he said:

“I’m working closely with my team to create seasonal menus using the finest local produce and ingredients so, from May 18th, we will be back with an array of brand-new food and drinks menus. The quality and provenance of my ingredients has always been incredibly important to create dishes so whether I’m serving Michelin-starred food at Pollen Street Social or Bistro-style cuisine at Little Social, it’s always about seasonal, local produce and incredible food.”

Little Social Photo credit: @johncarreyphoto

He added: “As always, our restaurants and bars are continuing to maintain the highest possible hygiene standards. So just as we did after the first and second lockdown, all government social distancing and Covid measures will be adhered too, to ensure the safety of our guests and employees without affecting the overall dining experience.

“My teams and I worked hard over the past few months to reopen our restaurants. We’ve just launched two restaurants - both open for alfresco all-day dining & drinking - ‘Little Social’, a bistro-style and bar wine restaurant located just across Pollen Street Social in Mayfair and ‘Café Biltmore Restaurant & Terrace’, my brand-new addition to the ‘Biltmore Hotel’ in Grosvenor Square, in London. The team is now ready to welcome everyone from May 18th at Pollen Street Social, Social Eating House, The Blind Pig bar, Berners Tavern, City Social and Harrods Social with brand-new seasonal drinks and food menus.

“I’m so excited to be back and are looking forward to welcoming everyone very soon. I’m just simply looking forward to re-opening our doors, welcoming our lovely guests and showcasing what we have been working on.

“The opening of indoor hospitality also means we can bring back all our staff into work and get back to doing what we love the most, which is cooking in the buzz of service.”

You can find out more about Jason and his restaurants here

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