Cooking has changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe you're doing more of it than ever in an effort to stay home. Maybe limited supplies of staple items led to creative twists on beloved recipes. Maybe you decided to get really ambitious early on, like the rest of the country, and bake your own bread.
But perhaps no cooking venture has been as innovative as the one undertaken by Jago Randles, a 23-year-old chef from England who traveled to Canada to work in Whistler, British Columbia. The country has strict coronavirus regulations: Any traveler entering the country has to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel.
While quarantining, Randles got hungry — and "Isolation Kitchen," a series of viral videos first reported on by the Washington Post, was born.
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"I was in the hotel room and I thought, 'What if I could try cooking bacon on the iron?' because I wanted a bacon sandwich," he told TODAY Food. He had an easy enough time making the bacon, and when he shared the video with friends, they encouraged him to post the video on TikTok.
Now, the videos he posts garner millions of views and thousands of comments. Gordon Ramsay even duetted one of his videos, where Randles cooks a chicken cutlet on the clothes iron, an egg on the coffeemaker's heating plate and asparagus in the brew basket. Ramsay comments about the need for "salt, salt, salt," but overall, says, "That looks like some decent food. Certainly some of the best food I've seen in any hotel."
The meals have also gotten increasingly elaborate: One video shows Randles making an elaborate crème brûlée in the room's Hamilton Beach coffeepot; another shows him using the iron to sear a piece of fresh salmon.
One of his most complicated meals relies on the room's coffeepot to cook a sous vide bacon-wrapped chicken with mushroom cream sauce and vegetables. The coffeepot itself doubles as a pot, while the brew basket is used to steam potatoes and broccoli. Randles said he thought of that video as the "best one" he recorded.
"Anything where I was cooking actually using the coffeepot (as a pan) on top of the iron did take quite a long time, especially if I was reducing anything like the wine in the mushroom cream sauce," he explained, referring to a cooking technique where liquid is simmered or boiled to a certain consistency. "It definitely takes a lot longer to reduce something on top of an iron in a coffee pot than it would in a normal pan."
While Randles stuck to using the coffeepot and iron as his main cooking tools, his background as a chef meant that he had more tools than the average traveler might.
"I have a huge bag of knives and spatulas and cutting rings, everything you can see in the videos," he said. "People might be like, 'OK, why would you have that in a hotel room with you? That is why."
Randles shared about a dozen videos during his time in isolation, but despite leaving the hotel a few days ago, he plans to keep up with the videos.
"I've actually just bought myself an iron and an ironing board," he said.
While some comments in his videos criticized him for using the hotel appliances, saying that they might not be properly cleaned before the next guests arrive, Randles said that he never heard from the hotel about his activities.
"They've not said anything to me, and I made sure to leave no trace in the room," he said. "I've had my deposit back; I'm not sure if they're aware of the videos yet!"
When asked what exactly had spurred the idea, Randles blamed the boredom of isolation.
"I was in a hotel room for two weeks with not an awful lot to do," he said. "A lot of the time I would be either just wanting to eat or be thinking about what food I could cook next and what I could cook well on an iron, because I didn't have an awful lot else to do other than watch TV. It kept me quite entertained, to be honest."