Me and my COVID

By Valentina Harris

Valentina Harris is a founder of the LDEL chapter and was the first President.  Her culinary career as a chef, writer, restaurant owner, teacher, culinary tour guide and stylist (to name just a few of her roles) spans decades.  People are at the heart of everything she does, and she is especially fierce about fighting for women in her industry.

Around the 23rd March, when this extraordinary and totally new situation became suddenly so very real for us all, panic, anxiety, disbelief and a sense of overwhelming displacement were my strongest emotions. To suddenly have job after job after job cancelled, in the build up to the actual physical lockdown, as we all woke up to the fact that something very wicked was coming our way, was so distressing.

To feel suddenly cut adrift, trying to come to terms with not being required to be somewhere at a specific time, and once there to always give the best of myself, was the weirdest, most surreal feeling. I could not stop eating, could not concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. Reading, usually my greatest pleasure, was out of the question. I felt lost, lonely and often very scared. I mourned for my students, and for the challenges of working. Only daily rambles in the stunningly beautiful Sussex countryside, exploring further and longer as the weather improved while the pandemic got worse in so many bewildering ways, saved my sanity. For just a few hours, I could almost forget that the world had been turned on its head by a tiny microbe. 

But as the narrative of our crisis has evolved, I have slowly found a new way of being; a more relaxed, tranquil, peaceful way. I find I’m rediscovering the concept of simply thinking, unhurriedly making new plans that are so far removed from my life pre Covid. I’ve been so much more creative, and certainly more joyfully productive in the last month or so than I have been in years. All through this, I have hung on to my two monthly columns, for Platinum and Crunchy Tales respectively. Writing them has felt like a real gift, because of the sense of real purpose and discipline that they give me as I try not to flounder.

Astonishingly, my new, settled, serene routine of writing, gardening, walking, house-sorting and carefully cooking healthy, delicious simple food for myself, all with the added bonus of unhurried time with my family and friends, has been shattered this week. Because suddenly, out of nowhere, I was offered some work!! It’s only a 9 day food styling job for a book that someone else has written, and its really great to be asked even if it is all about vegan food… and the fee comes in handy too (how is anyone actually supposed to survive on the government financial schemes?)!  But OMG, it’s proving so hard getting back into the swing of it and although the job is going splendidly and I’m enjoying the long days of interaction with the other members of the team, I am surprised at just how exhausting it is, and will need some time to recover! It was so unexpected, but I think it’s a good test for whatever path I might choose next. What this space, I guess.

So, my dear fellow Dames, do I have any pearls of wisdom or advice for you? It is tough, really tough to have done this on one’s own, and I’m left feeling that the only bit of comfort for all of us who are facing a future that is at the very best uncertain, is that we are not on our own. This really is a situation that is affecting everyone, and it certainly helps me to remind myself of that. When the dark moments come, I hold that simple thought. Also, none of us can possibly predict what the future holds for anyone, so I don’t spend too much time speculating, or worse: worrying… I honestly find watching the news does not help at all.

I urge you to be kind to yourselves as much as you can – eat and drink well (but not as any kind of a crutch!); go for fresh air walks and absorb your surroundings; sleep long and soundly; take time for thinking, planning and maybe just preparing for a change in direction, whatever that may be. 

And please don’t feel alone. Pick up the phone or write an email to me, or any of Les Dames. We could arrange to meet one another for a 2-metre distanced coffee, just to share experiences or concerns, and think out loud of our future dreams. We are and always have been a sisterhood, and as such we are here to support and help each other wherever we can. Stay safe ladies and stay in touch.

My love to you all,

Valentina – your first President, Les Dames D’Escoffier London

Valentina is a leading authority on Italian food

Follow her on Twitter @ChefValentina & Insta @Chef_Valentin

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