Anyone who loves the food scene in Louisville is worried about our restaurants and the restaurant community. How will they make it … will they make it? What will the employees and chefs and owners do if they can’t? How are they holding up as the coronavirus pandemic stretches on and the move to partially reopen dining rooms at 33% capacity on May 22 polarizes industry folks and diners alike?
I’ve spent the last 10 years talking with chefs every week, getting to know many, and am watching alongside the rest of you to see how this entire saga will all unfold.
This weekly food column is a job, sure, but it’s also a passion, and my privilege to bring you stories and insights about Louisville’s amazing food scene now more than ever. And I appreciate the honesty and candor from restaurateurs like Susan Hershberg of Wiltshire and Liz and Jesse Huot of Grind Burger Kitchen and Oskar’s Slider Bar have brought to our conversations.
Kentucky’s reopening picks up speed: Here’s where you can go and what you can expect
Most recently chef Kevin Ashworth and I talked about how he’s getting by right now while he balances work with the Lee Initiative, 610 Magnolia, and his upcoming Cincinnati restaurant with celebrity chef Edward Lee, Khora, an ancient grain-based pasta restaurant set to open in downtown’s Kinley Hotel.
And despite the challenges confronting the industry at every turn, he remains optimistic. But make no mistake, it’s hard.
“It’s just this constant unknown, the constant like, ‘what’s next,’” he said. “And then on top of that all the unemployment, laying people off … I’ve worked really hard creating great teams. And to have to look at any of my people in the eye and be like, ‘you know, the restaurant’s closed. I don’t know when it’s going to open again,’ it’s crazy.”
There’s also the worry about the coronavirus itself.
“I was really concerned at first because of my family,” Ashworth said. “You know, I’ve got a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old. I mean my knuckles burn every time I put hand sanitizer on, you know, it’s just a religious thing.”
You may like: ‘It’s too soon.’ Why these Kentucky restaurants are waiting to reopen their dining rooms
Ashworth dove into work with the restaurant relief kitchen running from inside 610 Magnolia immediately following the governor’s dining room shutdown in mid-March.
“When Andy Beshear was on the press conference I was on the phone with Edward (Lee),” he said, “and he’s like ‘they’re doing it, We need to set this up.’ The next day we’re running.”
Since then, the Lee Initiative has served 140,000 meals and thousands of pounds of supplies to out-of-work restaurant employees in 19 cities across the country through the Restaurant Workers Relief Program after the coronavirus pandemic caused restaurants across the country to shut their doors.
Ashworth and I had a chance to talk about all of it when he was hosting a (safe and socially distanced!) cooking videos in my kitchen to demonstrate to food writers in Cincinnati how to make the dishes diners might find when Ashworth and Lee open Khora.
Khora will feature Ashworth’s Midwest spin on pasta favorites (and his own creations), taken to a new level with the organic ancient grains from Ohio’s Venture Heritage Farm.
How did he come to be in our home? With 610 Magnolia’s kitchen space dedicated to relief work and the restaurant’s carry-out trade and Ashworth’s home kitchen occupied, he needed a space for prep work and the demos. As his Old Louisville neighbor, I was happy to turn over my vacant Airbnb’s kitchen for prep and let him take over my home kitchen to do the cooking.
The experience was unusual for us too — while we’ve hosted a number of chefs for my In the Kitchen With Dana series, we’d never given much thought to sanitizing all surfaces before and after a chef visits or busted out a laser measurer to be sure we could keep a safe distance from the chef as we observed.
While the relief work is incredibly rewarding for Ashworth, how does he handle seeing friends and colleagues who’ve lost their jobs, how does he handle the workload and the worry?
You may like: These 8 restaurants were set to open this spring before COVID-19 struck. So, now what?
“It’s really hard to look at your own needs,” he said, “because the shoe could be on the other foot, you know I could be on unemployment, I could have a whole family that I have to worry about and take care of. The people who come here, you know, they’re struggling, they’re trying to find something to do, some positive outlook. It’s tough.”
For chefs across the city, he said, “there’s just a mental fortitude. It’s that push push push, there’s just no give up, you know.”
But how do you keep pushing? Nobody can go forever, after all, not even chefs.
“I won’t lie, I have an amazing wife,” he said. “She has dinner for me cooked every night. And makes sure I at least have a solid meal. Then she’s really good at telling me like ‘hey, you need to take some time off today, let’s go take the kids on a walk.’”
He also has someone to turn to at work.
“I just look up to my boss Edward Lee and you know, he says, ‘Kevin I got you, Kevin we’re gonna figure this out,’ and I just say ‘yes chef.’ But you know that’s the stability, the rock that I need right now.”
But he still shares the same worries the rest of us have about our favorite places. When some accidental misinformation hit Facebook a few weeks ago about Vietnam Kitchen closing that sent me to bed in tears thinking I’d unknowingly had my last meal there (the off-menu A-21 that funnily enough Lee told me about 10 years ago), it hit Ashworth hard too.
“Oh my God, I freaked out,” he said. “I was like, ‘Amy get in the car, we’re going right now. That can’t be a thing, like no way that I’ve had my last K-8.’”
While Vietnam Kitchen isn’t closing, not everything in Louisville will survive the coronavirus pandemic.
You may like: Kentucky restaurant owners have mixed feelings on reopening dining rooms this month
“It’s gonna be sad to see some of the places that we lose for sure,” Ashworth said. “But, … one can only hope that we’re all there when all this is said and done.”
But the optimism is there. There’s good leadership in Louisville restaurants, he said.
“We’re gonna be all right at the end of the day. I just think we’ll all find a way.”
Tell Dana! Send your restaurant “Dish” to Dana McMahan at [email protected] and follow @danamac on Twitter.
Read or Share this story: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/entertainment/dining/restaurant/2020/05/19/louisville-chef-kevin-ashworth-talks-unknown-coronavirus-pandemic/5197099002/
Source: Thanks https://eu.courier-journal.com/story/entertainment/dining/restaurant/2020/05/19/louisville-chef-kevin-ashworth-talks-unknown-coronavirus-pandemic/5197099002/