In response to the coronavirus pandemic, a wave of dine-in bans and stay-at-home orders over the past month have turned the dining industry on its side. Even the country’s most lauded restaurants, those with Michelin stars and months-long waiting lists, haven’t been immune to the drastic upheaval restaurateurs and chefs have been dealing with.
Some opted to close their restaurants prior to the government-mandated restrictions, while others have scrambled to recalibrate their entire operations and business models, with hundreds of high-end eateries now focusing on the kind of services—namely takeout and delivery—that are still allowed.
Most high-end restaurants, in particular, are incapable, operationally-speaking, to shift to takeout and delivery, which explains why the majority of the country’s glittering temples to chef-driven fine dining—Eleven Madison Park and Daniel in New York City, and Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, to name a few—closed at the first sign of unease.
Still, in light of the monumental challenges facing the industry, a collection of impassioned chefs and emboldened owners have forged ahead. Among the country’s three-Michelin-starred restaurants, chef David Kinch’s Manresa was one of the first to pivot and offer an entirely new menu for takeout. San Francisco Bay Area foodies have been flocking to suburban Los Gatos to grab a “Manresa Family Meal,” such as meatloaf with roasted carrots, crimini mushrooms, and creamy polenta.
“In the beginning we were using product that would have been used on our chef’s tasting menu had we opened for business as usual,” explains Manresa’s
Jenny Yun. “Now, we are crafting menus as we would our own family meals [for staff]. The menus are based on thoughts, ideas, or inspirations from our chefs, or even from comments from our
“This is uncharted territory for us, much like it is for any other restaurant that doesn’t ordinarily offer takeout,” Yun says. “We went from serving a tasting menu to 45 to 55 guests per evening with a full team of 30, to 250 to 350 family meals with a team of seven.”
These days Manresa’s kitchen is populated by only three staffers, who have around 20 feet between them at all times. Manresa and other top-tier restaurants that have remained open are taking the six-feet-apart rule seriously, their owners and managers say, sanitizing spaces and wearing masks and gloves, and are changing the latter often.
Chefs and kitchen staff are checking their temperatures daily. Food deliveries are sometimes received in separate rooms. In addition, curbside contactless service, in which staff in protective gear place food directly in a car in order to keep social distance, is commonly offered.
Below are examples of other top restaurants offering takeout and delivery services:
Since opening SingleThread, a combination farm-restaurant-inn in Healdsburg, Calif., in 2016, chef-owner Kyle Connaughton and his wife Katina have won international acclaim for their epicurean experiences. They’re currently offering a daily to-go menu and a charitable program in partnership with Sonoma Family Meal, which sees them produce 200 meals a day for local families in need through the donations of various partners. This means the public can enjoy gourmet dishes ranging from the complex (hearth-roasted salmon with caper leaf, shallot, and herb sauce) to comforting (Miyazaki wagyu burgers with Cowgirl Creamery cheese), while contributing to relief efforts.
“All of our dishes are new, and we have a nightly-changing menu that we’re just having fun with. It’s a departure from what we do normally, which is a three-hour, 11-course tasting menu driven by our farm,” Kyle Connaughton says. “Our takeaway menus are similarly very much inspired by our farm and neighboring farms, but these are designed to feed up to four guests and include a main course, sides, dessert, et cetera. We’ve been exploring different styles of cooking from our own and doing homages to other restaurants and chefs like Chez Panisse, Zuni Cafe, and Heston Blumenthal, but always done with our own Sonoma take on it.
“We’re doing this to keep people working and to bring in enough revenue to keep paying 100% of benefits for everyone,” Connaughton adds. “It’s helping. It slows the bleeding, but it doesn’t stop it by any means, and I’m sure most restaurants are in the same situation. Those are financial metrics, though. For us, what we’re doing for the community and our own mental health—feeling that we’re doing something to help our fellow team members and the community—is very important. It’s hard if not impossible for us to sit on the sidelines when we know there is need.”
As the chef of the Harbor House Inn in California’s Mendocino County, Matthew Kammerer was riding a wave of national acclaim when the pandemic surfaced. Named a 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef and 2020 James Beard Award semi-finalist, Kammerer put his restaurant’s hyperlocal and coastal-focused cuisine on hold to offer lunch and dinner menus starting at $15 and $18 per person, respectively. Foodies can enjoy a full meal, available for takeout or delivery, for a fraction of the normal cost.
“We have completely flipped the switch from being a Michelin-starred restaurant to a casual, homestyle-cooking restaurant. The tiny plates of intricate, subtle food have been replaced with heaping to-go containers of lamb ragu and braised white beans, side salad, and cheesecake,” Kammerer says. “Being a remote restaurant in a tiny community, our tasting menu format and pricing is something that locals might enjoy only on occasion. This is the first time we are feeding most of them, and the appreciation and feedback has been fantastic.”
Several notable chefs have emerged with new concepts in response to the crisis. One such example is Matthew Accarrino, whose SPQR has been among San Francisco’s most acclaimed restaurants over the past decade.
Upon realizing he couldn’t offer a version of SPQR that could be boxed-up and offered to-go, Accarrino shifted to comfort foods (simple pastas, focaccia pizza, arancini, and family meals), still made with local ingredients from his purveyors, and a new concept called Accarrino’s To Go was born.
“The to-go format has allowed us to offer a simplified and takeaway-friendly menu that uses the same quality of ingredients and cooking,” Accarrino explains. “We’ve had a tremendous response from our guests, many expressing thanks for the effort to remain active and to be ready to bring something back when the ability to come back is there. Until then, we are able to connect with our community, provide a service, and take care of our staff. That has been a big motivation for us.”
Another chef who has executed a 180-degree turn is Dave Beran, whose acclaimed Santa Monica, Calif., tasting-menu restaurant Dialogue is now offering three-course meals to-go (e.g. slow-cooked pork belly served with Italian wedding soup and a slice of burnt Basque cheesecake) for $35.
“Everything that’s being offered is completely new, as our style of food at Dialogue isn’t conducive to takeout dining,” Beran explains. “Stylistically it’s drastically different, but the focus on standards, flavors, and quality haven’t changed. It’s challenging and exciting to do something completely different. I wish it were under different circumstances.”
Nicholas Stefanelli, the Washington, D.C.-based chef/owner of both Masseria and Officina, has launched a pair of delivery programs at the restaurants: Officina Provisions offers weekly delivery of chef-driven meal kits for guests to craft at home as well as prepared dinners, while Masseria a Casa gives customers the opportunity to order a Michelin-starred meal, personally delivered by restaurant staff. Stefanelli’s team is creating a new menu weekly, with a different meal for two offered nightly alongside an optional, sommelier-selected wine pairing.
“We have had a great response from the community,” Stefanelli said. “People are still having special moments that they want to celebrate while at home or just want to take a night off from cooking.”
As one of the Northeast’s most promising young chefs, the James Beard Award-nominated Benjamin Sukle oversees a pair of popular restaurants in Providence, R.I., the fine dining-focused Birch and the more casual Oberlin, both of which now offer contactless, pre-paid takeout.
“The most common theme of both restaurants was our unrelenting and proud use of Rhode Island-grown products, so when I pivoted to the menus we offer currently, we dove hard into the pantry we’ve spent years building, from the local tomatoes we’ve jarred and pasta we make daily to vinegars and ferments we’ve cultivated over the years,” Sukle says.
Boston’s most decorated chef, Barbara Lynch, opted to close all of her restaurants except for one, The Butcher Shop. “We knew that our resources were limited and we could only re-open for takeout out of one central location. I felt like it was the most logical
for us to operate out of…it’s street level with cafe windows that we can open to safely hand over people’s items to-go,” explains the James Beard Award winner. “We want to support our furloughed staff—a portion of takeout proceeds, and 100% of gift card proceeds, goes directly to them. We want to be there for our guests who might not feel comfortable going to the grocery store, or able to secure grocery delivery. We need a revenue stream to help us make it through this unprecedented time without guaranteed assistance from the government or insurance.”
Customers can purchase classic dishes and pantry staples (raw meats, handmade pastas) from the Barbara LynchCollective, as well as daily specials, including new creations and variations on past dishes. “We’re not looking to offer luxury food right now, but things that are filling, homey, and identifiable, as well as items that are hard to come by in grocery stores that we might have unique access to through our supply chain,” says Lynch.
In L.A., the Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant n/naka has switched over to a takeout model in which chef Niki Nakayama’s team offers a version of their award-winning cuisine in the form of intricate bento boxes. (Ingredients include Monterey Bay Abalone and Japanese-style smoked duck.)
“I was really surprised that we received so many orders, and that reinforced our decision to pivot to takeout during this time because there is a need,” Nakayama says. “Our hope with these bento is that we can offer some solace and a respite from the stress of the current situation.”
Chef Hiroki Odo’s speakeasy kaiseki restaurant, Odo, was one of the most acclaimed newcomers in New York last year, and for those unable to nab one of the 14 seats, the chef opened HALL, a more casual cafe and bar. In a dramatic pivot, the Michelin-starred chef is now offering a casual, affordable option for delivery and take-out to the tune of $18 sushi boxes and $7.50 wagyu burgers with sansho peppercorn.
“We wanted to do something we had never done before, as well as develop new dishes that would travel well” Odo says. “But it is still tough compared with regular operations because we can’t see customers eating the food, enjoying and smiling, and interacting with the kitchen team.”
New York City’s steak lovers have been able to satisfy their carnivorous desires, thanks to Cote, an acclaimed Korean steakhouse. Chef David Shim’s special to-go menu is priced 20% less than his regular menu, with 20% larger beef portions (3% of revenue is gifted to
to help feed hungry New Yorkers). “Steak care packages” include four one-pound
Prime ribeyes from the in-house dry-aging room, accompanied by the restaurant’s salt blend, dipping sauce, and side dishes, with an option to add a magnum selected by the restaurant’s beverage director at a 25% discount.
A veteran of some of San Francisco’s top restaurants, the respected sommelier Paul Einbund opened The Morris to great fanfare a few years back, and now he’s taking an upbeat approach by offering a daily-changing menu of comfort faves plus Chartreuse slushies and other cocktails to-go. “Chef Gavin Schmidt used to make fried chicken every so often for staff meals, some of the greatest fried chicken we’ve ever had. So, we’ve started offering fried chicken and Champagne on Thursdays,” Einbund says. “We have always had a secret, off-menu burger on Wednesdays that we’ve added to the Wednesday menu; both the fried chicken and burgers have been selling out every week.”
“The whole concept of carry-out is very new to us. We’re learning as we go,” notes chef Ryan McCaskey of the Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant Acadia. “We are offering some of the a la carte menus items from when we opened nine years ago… There have been lines of cars around the block on weekends! The response has been almost overwhelming. We’l do it as long as we can. The future is so uncertain; we’re grateful to even be open.”
Editor’s note: The details in this article are subject to change; contact these restaurants directly to learn of their updated offerings.
Source: Thanks https://www.barrons.com/articles/top-chefs-make-major-menu-shifts-in-order-to-serve-meals-amid-covid-19-01587294725