Yasmin Jaunbocus, Restaurant Public Relations

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A Year in the Life

Yasmin Jaunbocus, Restaurant Public Relations

For Yasmin Jaunbocus, a public relations director at a hospitality-focused London company, when the first lockdown hit London, her clients were heavily affected along with the rest of the industry.

“Learning that my role at work was more than just something that paid my bills, but integral to what I believed in and saw as carrying value in the world, made it all the more important to fight for at every level”, she says. “The restaurants and chefs themselves but also the culture, race, gender disparities, suppliers — all  the cogs that make up the industry.”

Her sentiment echoes a renewed sense within many working in restaurants to address inequities and to build a more inclusive industry. Jaunbocus herself worked with the writer and activist Riaz Phillips to ensure the success of the Community Comfort cookbook last summer that celebrated dishes from chefs across the UK’s underrepresented communities.

What she’s looking out for in the coming months? “Actioned change in the industry now we’ve had a year to go away and see what was wrong with it and what can be improved. Whether that’s sexual harassment in kitchens or centering of other cultures and foods in our media, I’m looking forward to seeing who will commit to the changes.”

From teetering on the edge of burnout to performing her marriage vows over Zoom, her story of the last 12 months follows.

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March 2020. Scrambled, that’s how the world feels, whisked into a frenzy, beaten down and broken. Here, I am attempting some semblance at normality to bring order to the chaos we’re experiencing by making breakfast, whilst working from home instead of my lively office. The whole tray of eggs slip out of my hands and smash onto the floor in the new flat me and my partner have just signed a 2-year lease to live together in. The threat of losing my job, my livelihood, everything we love about life and any hope of a promising future feels far right now and this symbolic accident seems apt. But we scramble to be support networks for the restaurants we represent, who are more friends and confidantes than clients and colleagues — and we wait.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

April 2020. Cooking, rather than eating out, becomes my salvation. Before, I would tick down the hours to the hot new opening we were launching, or the hole in the wall Nepalese place I’d heard of and wanted to try, or even a bag of Morley’s spicy wings to inhale post drinks on my way back to my old flat in Brixton. My fridge contained nothing more than condiments and I rarely cooked. Now, with only my corner shop to stock my cupboards, I was forced to reconnect with cooking, (like all of Britain baking banana bread). Luckily, my corner shop, an Iraqi oasis in Willesden Junction, was fragrant with fresh herbs, a wall of pickles and aubergines the size of my forearm. We became friends with the owners; they would discount our watermelons when we popped in which we consumed in vast quantities come summer, and we exchanged food on Eid day too later in the year.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

May 2020. Weekends in London became long rambling walks from west to as far as we could march. Marylebone was like a museum of monuments; Soho, sad. Oxford Street was so deserted I managed to get this remarkable shot of Rory, stood centrally on one of the world’s most famous streets without traffic. Plodding through Mayfair, I bumped in to Oisin Rogers, landlord of the Guinea Grill, where I would part-time bartend to get my fix of true hospitality – serving, rather than being served. We talk positively but we are both scared. We miss the camaraderie of service, the banter, the dog tiredness you earn and feel satisfied with, the buzz. Ois, with his signature riot of curls, is trying to look cheerful but like London we feel a bit empty and long to be full.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

June 2020. George Floyd’s death in America sparked worldwide grief, whilst the UK Government report on the effect of covid on Black lives in the UK as well as the conditions many people of colour faced left me personally angry and resentful. I felt frustrated and lost and turned to the foods of my culture to heal. Like many communities who have experienced hardship, food becomes the vehicle to grieve, to celebrate and express who we are or remember where we’re from. I became involved in helping to promote an initiative started by the incredible activist Riaz Phillips, called Community Comfort: a book of recipes from the diaspora to help raise funds for people of colour directly affected by Covid. These are a collection of recipes that brought them some solace. I contributed a recipe from Mauritius, where my family are from.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

July 2020. Pictured here at Urban Pantry in Chiswick for the owner, and fabulous friend Kate Frobisher’s birthday. Throughout the pandemic, she’d provided the local community with care packages supporting her suppliers whilst her café was shut. It felt good to be able to raise a toast and celebrate her survival as well as being so grateful to all be here with a big pan of incredible homemade tagliatelle shared with friends, drinks which never emptied, and the beating London sun that never seemed to set.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

August 2020. August was a chance to get out and enjoy lots of the restaurants we’d been missing with the help of the government scheme. For some of the restaurants I worked with, there were challenges with staff pressures, rude customers and cancellations whilst others took record takings and had the chance to introduce new diners to their offerings. I certainly was one of those that took advantage of the scheme at many places, but August for me was a month of constant dining out regardless of EOTHO. First on the list was my favourite London dish, a plate of Smoking Goat wings (one plate each) and a cold one. There are some things that can’t be replicated at home.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

September 2020. My boyfriend’s family have gone to Woolacombe, Cornwall, every year for the past 30 years. After having thought this year might be a break from tradition, we were all grateful to escape for a long weekend together and enjoy Woolacombe’s natural beauty. The night before this, we enjoyed gigantic prawns and local seafood cooked simply enjoying each other’s company at a local restaurant. Then, a pre-7am swim to blow away the cobwebs and take in the refreshing scent of the sea leaves us ready to tackle another working week.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

October 2020. Having worked throughout the pandemic, getting to October, I was close to burnout. Travel became a little more free, and we escaped for a week by the beach in Portugal. We stayed local, drinking at wineries, and feasting on fresh fish with the customary boiled potatoes, as well as so many ketchup crisps eaten whilst reading on the beach. We stayed at an AirBnB run by a Brazilian couple who told us of the tensions running high in the area regarding race only heightened by the pandemic and how Portugal’s long colonial history continued to present struggles for many communities there.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

November 2020. At the end of October, my dad took ill. It wasn’t Covid, but it was serious and it was scary. My parents are practising Muslims so us deciding to perform our Muslim marriage vows was very important to them. It wasn’t legally binding, or heavily planned (my dress was hastily ordered from the internet, and the whole thing happened over Zoom) but it was great to feel like we could celebrate something together and see the joy on my parent’s faces. That evening was a feast of all my favourite Mauritian foods: from rotis, which mum used to let me eat straight off the tawa, to rice adorned in ghee and fried onions to accompany chicken curry, vegetable side dishes and pickles. For my parents who hadn’t had chance to meet Rory more than a handful of times, it was an opportunity for them to get to know my partner who had been a support to me the entire year so far.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

December 2020. A notoriously busy time for restaurants, we again were thrown into turmoil with the shutting down of hospitality with just days of notice. Chefs and friends were despairing. Suppliers needed to be paid, stock had already been purchased. It wasn’t as simple as closing the doors. The day prior to it all shutting down, we managed to dine at Akoko. Whilst the atmosphere was a little tense, it was truly amazing to experience such innovation and difference. Walking through central London afterwards, it was sad to see London so subdued at one of the most electric times of the year for the industry.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

January 2021. Takeaways again become a lifeline for restaurants to stay afloat – hurling out anything to keep them in the kitchen. Around the Cluck, James Cochran’s fried chicken venture he’d turned his hand to whilst he was unable to serve his fine dining offering, 12:51, was one of our go-to’s, and he kindly sent over a special delivery to celebrate Rory’s birthday. Other places I might have never discovered but we ordered from on the reg included Behehst Iranian restaurant, with pillowy naans and saffron scented salted rice you couldn’t stop eating, and Uncle Ali's, a Syrian place whose rotisserie chickens you could smell slowly roasting from half way down the street, served with homemade chilli sauce.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

February 2021. Isolated in the English countryside in Wiltshire, my birthday was a world away from previous years where it centred on what restaurant I would be meeting my friends at. Instead, countless facetimes, flowers from friends, and a home-made Bakewell from Rory with lots of ice cream left me feeling sad and loved in equal measure. I would swap all the presents for a chance to be sat around a table with my sisters, my friends, my family.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

March 2021. Koya Mail arrives to help shake up a routine we’ve fallen into. Topped with lots of extras, the chewy noodles hit the spot, but the spirit of Soho can’t be popped in the mail and re-heated for consumption at home. You need to watch it go by from the window whilst you slurp. You need the pollution, the noise and the rush. You need Soho.

Image Courtesy Yasmin Jaunbocus

Read More Stories From Resy's Special Project: A Year in the Life of London's Restaurant Workers

A Year in the Life

Yasmin Jaunbocus, Restaurant Public Relations

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