LONDON – Strawberries and cream are just as much part of the Wimbledon experience as tennis in pristine whites on the lush green lawns of the All England Club.
But this year the courts are empty and there is no clink of cutlery on plates in the rarefied surroundings of the London venue.
AFP Sport spoke to two people at the core of the catering operation who have had to adapt after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the tournament, with the men’s and women’s singles finals having been originally scheduled for this weekend.
– Strawberry fields forever –
The 30 tonnes of strawberries usually consumed at Wimbledon — picked on the morning of each day’s play — have not gone to waste.
Hugh Lowe Farms in nearby Kent has been the sole supplier for the championships for the past 27 years.
A portion of a minimum of 10 strawberries cost £2.50 ($3.10) last year.
But the team, including star picker Katya Busheva, has not been kicking its heels because there has been no tennis.
“The days of the English strawberry season that you blink and miss it have gone many years ago,” Marion Regan, owner of Hugh Lowe Farms, told AFP.
“The strawberry season runs from April until November and we have a glasshouse for each end of the season.
“Wimbledon and strawberries are so closely associated with the summer and I cannot stress more how important the 30 tonnes in two weeks (they sell 5,000 tonnes a year) is to us.”
Regan, whose family farm has been producing strawberries since Victorian times, said the “quintessential English fruit” has the ability to transform people’s moods.
“One of the people who works in the events team told me they (Wimbledon) are preparing strawberries for key workers.
“We have also supplied local schools who stayed open for children of key workers and one or two food bank arrangements supporting vulnerable families.
“Eating strawberries brings a smile to people’s faces — we are trying to make as many people smile as possible.”
Regan, whose daughter is the fifth generation of the family to become involved in the business, says she is enjoying a different type of sporting action.
“Katya is here for her eighth season from Bulgaria and averages 50 kilos in an hour,” she said.
“I see parallels between the pickers and athletes. Efficient and good strawberry pickers do treat it like a sport.”
– Cooking up a storm –
Instead of overseeing hundreds of staff, Wimbledon’s executive chef Adam Fargin is providing adapted “signature Wimbledon dishes” for 200 members of the local community five days a week.
“We are doing dishes such as Coronation chicken, which is a classic at Wimbledon,” he said. “We are doing some other dishes like teriyaki poached salmon.
“We take elements of the signature dish — it would normally be poached salmon — but we do it in a different way to suit the local community.
“Wimbledon being a summer event, a lot of our signature dishes are cold so we have had to try and reinvent them for the project so they can reheat those.”
Fargin should have been working at his second Wimbledon and beginning his daily routine by visiting the purchasing department before spending time in different restaurants during the day.
The cancellation is something he said was out of their control but it makes him all the more determined to make next year’s culinary experience even better.
“In September as usual we will focus on next year and draw up the menus with the new sandwich range coming later in January,” he said.
“It is important we do exactly the same in terms of planning when it comes to those two weeks, that we know what is going into those restaurants.”
Fargin said it was strange coming to work with so little to do.
“It is a strange place to be but the scenery and the venue are stunning,” he said. “So to walk into work in that environment, it brightens your day up.”BSS/AFP