Alex Claridge of The Wilderness Talks us Through the Highs and Lows of Life in Lockdown
Interview by Will Halbert
Photography by Thom Bartley
We like The Wilderness. We like it a lot. Its menu is not only inspired and unpretentious but also gleefully walks the line between highbrow and popular culture. Serving up dishes like the Deconstructed Big Mac and the Not Another F*cking Balti, The Wilderness represents the culinary equivalent of seeing a Batman comic exhibited at the Louvre, or watching Jedward at the Vienna State Opera. It’s Refreshingly off-kilter. Unsurprisingly, Head Chef and Owner, Alex Claridge, has a few similarly-refreshing, (and equally off-kilter) thoughts on current lockdown living. They go a little something like this:
Alex, it’s been a hell of a year. Have other creative outlets outside of the kitchen been therapeutic?
To a point, sure. Cooking and food are interesting to me because they are about creativity, versus inherently because I was born to do this. I think this extended lockdown and interruption to business as usual has been great in the sense that it’s forced and encouraged me to find other outlets – there are now two books underway, a few pieces of furniture, sculpture, and jewellery. I guess what I’m trying to say is I think I’m pretty clearly having a breakdown.
Has keeping up a sense of humour helped with that at all?
The last paid ‘food’ work I got to do was a road-test of three microwaves for The Gadget Show so, really, you have to laugh. At this point, let’s be honest: my whole life is a joke.
Besides the food itself, music plays a pretty big part in the Wilderness’ appeal. If you could tell the story of 2020 in three songs, what might they be?
Great question. I’m not sure, but according to my 2020 Wrapped on Spotify, at least one of them would be by Taylor Swift – which is troubling. Please see my earlier response re: the breakdown in progress.
Have any major inspirations, epiphanies, or projects come out of a year in lockdown? Any new skills mastered?
I feel like I have a lot to say on this. I guess, in brief, I’ve totally re-evaluated what success looks like. With a million and one external stimuli, I lived life in a very analogous fashion; my own markers and expectations were tempered through comparison. The space this weird lockdown half-life has created has sort of rewired that – and my goals are both hugely different and, I think, more meaningful.
I think skills take years, so I didn’t emerge a grandmaster of anything. I think I’m a better human being though, and that clarity of vision is already translating to my best work professionally – even if nobody gets to see it for a little while. I feel like I’m late to the party but, creatively, it is amazing what happens when you put your head down and the blinkers up and really focus on your particular truth and experience. Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Any lockdown rituals or hobbies keeping you sane amidst the current chaos? Any books or boxsets you’d recommend?
I get up super early and that’s key – at 5, am there’s nobody to ruin your day for a good few hours. I get up, make a strong coffee and read. If I have dishes or menus to work on, that’s a crack of dawn job. I leave the work that I find tedious for 9-5 so if I do get interrupted, I’m sort of grateful for it. That’s also key. Protect the sacred shit that makes you feel alive.
I read a lot of biographies and non-fiction – I particularly enjoyed A Life Sacred and a Life Profane by Andrew Dixon. Off the back of it, I’m reading The Beauty and the Terror by Catherine Fletcher. I just love that period of history and culture – it’s absolutely wild.
What sort of thing does a world-class chef cook himself at home? Any lockdown food hacks you can fill us in on?
Great question! I messaged a few of them to ask but they haven’t yet replied. I was anorexic in my late teens, so my home eating habits are a little odd and, honestly, lockdown isn’t the easiest for me. My career is food as art, but I have relatively low interest in home cookery – it’s very much fuel. I love restaurants; that’s where food has context for me.
On good mental health weeks, I swear by slow-cooking and batch prep or steak. Lovely, barely-cooked, well-aged steak. On the other weeks, it’s difficult. I have a tendency to address my issues through excess, you know? You have to be really mindful of that.
I don’t know if it’s a hack, but at my local supermarket, it’s currently cheaper to buy two 5-packs of crème eggs than the larger 10-pack. Weird right?
Not that we’d ever advocate boozing through lockdown, but what have been your go-to pandemic pick-me-ups?
Wrong man to ask. I’m high on life baby. I quit smoking during the pandemic and have cut back on boozing. I’ve found this whole period more sobering than you’ll ever know. It’s been incredibly hard at times – I was smoking 40 plus a day before all this. I’m grateful though, unbelievably so. This much time to confront and learn to live with the discomfort of a life unmedicated has given me more time for my loved ones, more energy to put into my work and – as it can’t all be positive – probably extended my life by several years.
Check out the latest from Alex and the gang at The Wilderness