The tradition of the Taste Tibet Year In Review started inadvertently in 2020, which was a hugely challenging year for Taste Tibet, as it was for many other hospitality businesses. We told the full story in an end-of-year round-up that reads fairly painfully today, recalling the difficulty of opening our first fixed premises against the backdrop of a global pandemic.
If last year was busy behind the scenes, this year has been a year of insane exposure. 2021 started quietly enough. The country went back into lockdown and we found ourselves delivering again, including a trip back to the car park in Wallingford, where we have made so many new friends in Covid times. We see these South Oxfordshire momo fans often at the restaurant now. They come on a mission for family-sized boxes of freezer food. Thank you, fine people of OX10.
The kids were at home with us for months, of course, and this was tricky because apart from the day-to-day running of the takeaway we were also up against a February 1st deadline for the delivery of Taste Tibet – the cookbook. The stress wasn’t just about finalising the writing of it, but also completing recipe testing, a process that relied on other people somehow finding the time to cook and report back whilst juggling their own lockdown scenarios.
We submitted our manuscript a couple of weeks late, a milestone that felt nothing short of a miracle, and which was followed, at the end of March/beginning of April, by two of the most fun working weeks of our lives. Over Easter we closed Taste Tibet but did not take holiday, as normal people do during this time. Instead we welcomed into the restaurant this incredibly talented duo, who shot the beautiful food photography for our book. Thank you, Anna and Ola for your incredible pictures – we can’t wait for everyone to see.
In May, six months after we opened our restaurant, we invited customers inside to dine with us for the first time. This involved picking out plates and cutlery, tables and chairs – completely new areas for us after seven years in street food. Oxford City Council funded the beautiful planters made by Raw Workshop that give us the safe outdoor dining space that most people chose to use over the summer. Having people in/out was a new experience for us that we really enjoy and will definitely miss if Omicron has its way.
In July we received the unbelievable news that Taste Tibet had been selected as a finalist in the Best Street Food or Takeaway category of the BBC Food and Farming Awards. In a year of uncertainty in the industry and beyond, the Awards sought to celebrate those who not only produce great food, but also give something back to their communities. Our collaboration with Oxford Mutual Aid is ongoing: we have now been providing free meals to people in Oxford every week for over 18 months.
Thank you again to our amazing community for nominating us – this incredible honour propelled us straight out of East Oxford and into relative superstardom. Within a month we had a crew from BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen come and film with us at the takeaway [click through to 01.09:50 to watch our VT], hotly followed by a judging meeting with Kitchen Queen Angela Hartnett. Things were starting to get quite surreal.
In August we dug deep into our store cupboards for our festival gear, but just before we headed off to Green Man, our first event in two years, our refrigerated trailer was stolen from out the front of our prep kitchen in Cowley. This was a huge blow, not just financially, but practically and emotionally as well. The mad pulling together of a replacement + insurance etc. was a brutal reminder of the hardships of festival trading, and there were moments of incredible fatigue at Green Man that really brought this home. None, however, were more surreal than our attempt to transport twenty boxes of food from the Green Man customer car park back to our stall inside The Walled Garden by cover of darkness. We had just a small trolley, a single bedsheet and coir rope for the job. Wheeling our contraption across the festival site, we were stopped by a steward who was concerned that this might be a dead body.
We ended the year with a succession of TV and Radio appearances – first BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen, then Radio 4’s The Food Programme, and we were hugely fortunate that the BBC Food and Farming Awards was able to be held as an in-person event at the end of November before Omicron became a named variant. We didn’t come out top in our category, but this was a winning opportunity to connect with some fabulous figures in food and across the BBC as a whole (see Yeshi, below, with all-round good guy Matt Allwright), a joyous event celebrating all that is so remarkable about our amazing industry.
Looking forwards to 2022, we are filled with excitement. Our debut cookbook launches in March, and we cannot wait to see it and talk about it. Do you know someone who might like to have us at their event/on their podcast/in their magazine? We will be making momos and signing books at Blackwell’s in Oxford’s city centre in the spring, and would love to do more of these kinds of demos. Please get in touch if you have a friend or acquaintance who might be interested in sharing our story and we will connect them with our publisher. Thank you!
Finally, while there’s lots to look forward to, Boxing Day morning was an early start for me (Julie) as I woke with worries about fridge trailers, staffing, and how we’re going to keep all the different balls juggling when things get busy next year.
It may be that we just can’t – that the takeaway has to close while we are away at festivals/events/need a holiday! In this case, we hope that you will bear with us. We are still a very small team, and after eight long years we’re still learning. If we’ve taken one thing away during this time it’s that anything worth something is built slowly and carefully. So we plod on.
Thank you for supporting and championing us – we appreciate it so much. You give us the opportunity to live life in a hugely meaningful way, doing something that we are really passionate about. This is a wonderful example for our children. Like all the other kids they missed a lot of school in 2021, but what we didn’t manage in home-schooling they definitely made up for in the back rooms of Taste Tibet.
Here’s to them and here’s to you – the wider Taste Tibet family. Wishing everyone a happy, fulfilling, healthy 2022.
We will be back in action at the takeaway on January 5th. Look forward to seeing you then!
Julie and Yeshi