Life under quarantine: Chef Bobby Flay on food as a retreat

Bobby Flay on food as his comfort zone
Bobby Flay on food as his comfort zone 03:07

Today I'm talking to you not as the high-flying, battle-'til-I-burn-down-the-building Iron Chef you see on Food Network, but as the father of a young professional just starting her career, and as a son of a father who is vibrant and sharper than any knife in my kitchen. (But he's in the upper side of his 80s.)

I worry about them for very different reasons, but the nervousness comes from one common denominator: coronavirus. I'm also the person who just closed over a dozen restaurants since this all went down. The aftermath of that has been well-documented by what seems like every chef and restaurant owner in this country.

Stating the obvious facts of the fallout seems like a broken record at this point: the loss of thousands of jobs, incurring untold debt, and realizing nearly 40 years in an apron literally went up in smoke in less than a week. These are trying times to say the least. Every single person will be affected by these unprecedented events in some way or another.

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Restaurateur and Food Network star Bobby Flay on the fallout from coronavirus on the food service industry, and how food becomes a comfort zone in unsettling times. CBS News

As individuals, we deal with these moments differently. As chefs, we cook. When we celebrate, we cook. When we get depressed, we cook. It's how we show our love, it's how we self-medicate when our therapist isn't available.

Firing up the stove is our comfort zone, and if we've ever needed comfort, it's now.

During 9/11 it seemed like every chef in New York banded together and we became brothers and sisters forever, mostly feeding the rescue workers at Ground Zero. In this case we can't be together to band together. We're told to keep our distance and quarantine ourselves.

I have cooked no less than three meals a day at home for the last week. I work the stove constantly in-between watching the news, making very hard phone calls, and every once in a while binging on a show that I don't even like just to distract myself from what I know the future will hold.

I find myself reaching for ingredients that will create these Sunday Night Dinners. I'm using my skills as a chef not to be clever but to be resourceful, so meatballs and tomato sauce served with spaghetti one night became meatball sandwiches the next. I had some frozen shrimp with their shells on which I peeled and used to make shrimp stock that I then used to flavor some rice. I made old-school chicken soup with a whole chicken, and the overcooked meat was used for chicken salad sandwiches – and then there was the roasted chicken with lemon and spices inspired by everyone's favorite person, Ina Garten, that I served with a Caesar salad and roasted sweet potatoes. No micro greens or trendy ingredients. I bought what I could find in the market. 

It felt like Sunday night, every night, and for now that's OK.

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Spaghetti & Meatballs with Ricotta from chef Bobby Flay. CBS News

I'm saving my energy, taking one day at a time, 'cause I know someday soon it will be time to put my chef coat back on and run through the thickest brick wall ever erected in my lifetime.

I owe it to my family and my friends, and I owe it to my team. They expect me to lead and I will lead the only way I know how. It will certainly include a sharp knife and a pair of tongs.

      
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Story produced by John Goodwin. Editor:  Ben McCormick.