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Features

Hospitality Industry Feels 86’d

April 21, 2020

By Paul Samberg

Photo courtesy of Buffalo & Bergen/Photo by Rey Lopez

As COVID-19 continues to control the country, businesses are on life support, scrambling to pay the bills and employees. The allocation of $2.2 trillion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act neglected most of the hospitality industry, many of which are struggling to keep their doors open while Americans stay home.

In particular, the portion of the CARES Act known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) designed to support small business seems to be failing most independent bar owners and restaurateurs. All too quickly the $349 billion provided for this program dissipated, and the few businesses that received support from the program do not find themselves in a much better position than they previously were in.

Which is exactly what concerns the Food & Wine Best New Chef and James Beard Award-winning chef Andrew Carmellini as he sees the financial aid programs roll out and restaurant operations severely restricted or closed altogether. This seasoned operator, whose restaurant group includes such NYC favorites as Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette, Bar Primi, and The Library at The Public, shares, “The PPP doesn’t put us as operators in a better position than we were, and I’m not sure it will put employees in a better position.”

A recent survey conducted by the James Beard Foundation reflects that Carmellini’s colleagues are equally concerned. More than 60% of respondents cannot sustain a closure for one month and 75% do not believe they will be able to reopen after two months of government mandated closure.

For those 75% of respondents who are not confident they will be able to reopen in June— which marks the eight-week usage term set out by the PPP guidelines—this program would not help keep their businesses afloat.

Staying afloat once COVID-19 hit wasn’t even a question for Wake the Dead, a popular breakfast spot in Lawrence, Kansas, which closed its doors on March 20. Fearful about her underlying health conditions, owner Rachel Ulbrick did not want to endanger herself by coming to work, and the PPP did not offer a feasible solution to temporarily closing. “I already have a fair amount of debt. Even though [the loan] was like zero percent, in three years it wouldn’t be. And that would add $20,000 on top of whatever debt I already have; I can’t do that,” Ulbrick said.

The remaining 25% of respondents who believe they could reopen in June face a secondary issue, though: actually receiving the initial loan. The CARES Act provides close to $349 billion in aid to small businesses through the PPP, but was designed to be distributed on a first-come-first-serve application basis.

On the first day applications could be submitted, April 3, $4.3 billion of the $349 billion available in loans was immediately allocated and banks began limiting applications. Wells Fargo was the first; they announced they would not consider loan requests submitted after April 5.

With the early April dates behind us, and PPP filings not a possibility for some, there are other avenues within the CARES Act to pursue, such as new unemployment benefits. In addition to the current standard weekly unemployment payments, supplemental payments of $600 per week are provided as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation measure in the CARES Act. For self-employed and gig workers, they also qualify for extended 39-week benefits, which is 13 weeks more than normal eligibility.

While the supplemental payments are a help to many workers filing for unemployment, the unemployment websites and offices have been overwhelmed and the process can be slow, clunky and confusing. Some checks began going out to unemployed New Yorkers in early April, but Missouri did not plan on doing so until April 12, and Indiana residents may have to wait until as late as April 20.

No matter whether you’re in a state that makes provisions for unemployment payments early or later this month, there are some workers who may not even qualify for unemployment benefits. Even for those a stone’s throw from the Capitol, who count amongst their guests the same legislators who passed the CARES Act, restaurants like Buffalo & Bergen were not immune to being left high and dry by unemployment. Gina Chersevani, who founded and owns both the Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market and the newest on Capitol Hill which opened just weeks before the country shut down, explains, “We just got rejected. Out of 26 people from my one location that applied [for unemployment], only two were accepted, both not tipped employees.”

Chersevani also feels that insurance companies are failing the industry just as unemployment isn’t there for so many of her employees.

She’s discovered that her carrier will not pay disruption of business for COVID-19 and says, “I’m in my ninth year paying them—the same insurance company—and they denied all my claims for disruption of business.”

Chersevani is not the only owner in the hospitality industry who has had this issue, and, as a result, some restaurants are getting together to file class action lawsuits against insurance companies. Wolfgang Puck, Dominique Crenn, and a handful of other famous chefs have created the nonprofit foundation We Are BIG (Business Interruption Group), which is threatening to bring legal action against insurers who do not start paying insurance business claims.

According to founding member and chef Thomas Keller’s statement on the organization’s website, “The restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in America…We need insurance companies to do the right thing and save millions of jobs.”

Photo by Francine Cohen

Many restaurant owners are in agreement with Keller and the other chefs taking legal action against insurance companies. Longtime New Orleans restaurateur and co-owner of Commander’s Palace Lally Brennan shares, “I very much agree with the efforts by Thomas Keller and others [to take legal action] and have the law changed around, because that’s not what America is about; that’s abusive.”

This fear felt by restaurant and bar owners and staff is not unfounded. An analyst at UBS predicts that one in five restaurants could permanently close due to the outbreak, which would mean nearly 200,000 establishments are in danger. Thus far, about three percent of restaurants have closed their doors, despite the recently passed stimulus package, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In the wake of ongoing hardship and potential lawsuits due to COVID-19 related regulations, and the failure of programs that are not one-size-fits-all, the industry does what it does best — turns within to help one another, especially when lawmakers cannot.

“We currently are ignored by lawmakers, which has been true for as long as we can remember. Case in point, our independently owned businesses have not been given a substantive seat at the table during Congressional relief conversations,” Chefs Andrew Carmellini, Luke Ostrom & Josh Pickard said in an email urging others to sign their Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants (ROAR) petition.

Chef Guy Fieri and the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation worked together to create a relief fund for restaurant workers who are struggling due to COVID-19. Their fund is raising money for those in need with one-time $500 grants. And big and small liquor brands like Jameson and actor Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation Gin have committed financial support to the USBG National Charity Foundation Bartender Emergency Relief Program’s Covid-19 Relief Campaign, which is offering needs-based philanthropic grants. Over a quarter million people have applied thus far.

Chef José Andrés is in week five of his #ChefsforAmerica campaign through his World Central Kitchen foundation. He has closed his restaurants, turning them into community feeding centers for people facing food insecurity due to COVID-19 related lost income. To date he has served 2 million meals.

Brennan and her cousin and co-owner, Ti Martin, are concerned about their team, many of whom have been with the iconic restaurant for more than a decade. They have been providing their recently laid off workers with food and other basic needs during the crisis, too. Brennan shares, “We gave away bags of vegetables and all the perishable items and things that we had cooked, and we’re giving away bags of toiletries and paper and paper towels and hand sanitizer. We’re doing all those types of things with the team to still stay in touch.”

Philanthropy for the hospitality industry is not just coming internally. Twitter personality Yashar Ali opened a GoFundMe to support restaurant workers. On his Instagram account he explains, “Restaurants have closed or are offering only takeout and delivery options, hotel business has slowed dramatically, and bars have been shuttered. As a result, people who rely on hourly wages (including those who rely on tips) are suffering, having seen their daily income all but disappear overnight, and for some already losing their jobs.”

Photo by Francine Cohen

Ali has already amassed over $1.1 from more than 8,900 donors, surpassing his goal of raising $1.1 million to be directed to Tipping Point Community and Robin Hood, two established foundations long dedicated to serving those in need.

Independent bars and restaurants need help. The future of COVID-19 is uncertain, and so is the future of many restaurants and bars in the nation. While many owners have had to close their doors forever, others are trying not to follow in their footsteps. The hospitality industry should not have to rely on famous chefs and Twitter personalities to help keep their doors open.

These days, it feels like an insurmountable task as Gina Chersevani concludes, “We are risking our lives serving f**king sandwiches.”

Photo courtesy of Wake the Dead

Features

Farmers Plant A New Business Model During Coronavirus Pandemic

April 7, 2020

Farmer Lee Jones only wears one thing: denim overalls, a pressed white shirt, and a red bowtie. Inspired by a farming family in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, it’s meant to serve as a symbol of resilience and determination among small family farms. Photo by: Michelle Demuth-Bibb/The Chef’s Garden

“Farms don’t go on furlough” — Amid restaurant closures, small-scale farmers must pivot to stay afloat

By Katy Severson

As COVID-19 shuttered bars and restaurants across the country last month, there were compounding effects on all who exist within the supply chain. Among the most affected? Small-scale farmers, many of whom rely on restaurant business to stay afloat. For farmer Lee Jones of The Chef’s Garden in Huron, Ohio—who grows exclusively for chefs—it felt like he’d “fallen off a cliff.”

“Overnight our entire customer base was gone,” Jones said. “For 37 years we’ve worked directly with chefs,” many of them fine dining chefs like Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud whose restaurants are closed for the foreseeable future. Disney, whose parks are closed indefinitely for now, is a customer too.
For decades, his 350-acre family farm has grown exclusively for chefs. In order to maintain the farm’s livelihood—and the livelihood of the 150 employees with families who help tend his fields—Lee knew he needed to adapt.

Within twenty-four hours, he switched his business from chefs to home cooks: offering produce boxes on his website that ship directly from the farm to private homes. “We thought it would be a natural way to keep our team going, to have a place for the product to go, and to provide for families out there that are looking for something healthy and fresh,” Jones said. Offerings include a number of curated boxes, including the “Immunity Booster” — a variety of immune-boosting vegetables whose nutrition content is measured in their on-farm laboratory. Shipping, offered nationwide, is included in the price. “We’re not necessarily making the money on the box, but we felt some obligation to do it.”

Plus, they simply had product to sell. “Farms don’t go on furlough. You can’t flip the switch and say we’ll come back in 2 months when things are better. Every single day it needs to be nurtured and loved and cared for and coddled and as a farmer you have a very intimate relationship with your farm. It makes a farmer sick to see products coming up ready and have no place to go with them.”

The Chef’s Garden isn’t the only one. While supermarkets struggle to keep up with demand, farmers have plenty of food in their fields—and many are anxious to sell it. But with market closures and delays in many places, their farms are increasingly difficult to access.

“There are a lot of small farms suffering right now,” says Jones. “I feel a bit selfish saying that because I know that the entire world is suffering. But many of these farmers don’t have a mechanism to get the word out. We’re all trying to use our Instagrams [to connect to customers] but there’s just not much of a voice for us.”

If anything, he feels lucky. A network of big-name chefs gives him even a little bit of leverage. Most family farms across America have very little voice, he says. Often little capital. And little time to invest in changing their model. Boxing, shipping, and online ordering is an undertaking for those who spend their days in the fields. Nonetheless, these farmers are being forced pivot. On top of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, where customers pay up front and receive weekly or monthly “shares” throughout the season, many farms are offering contactless pickup and home delivery as best they can during the pandemic.

Other farmers are partnering with restaurants to sell their goods—in a symbiotic relationship that helps to keep the restaurant’s doors open and supports suppliers in the process.

Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo—the restaurateurs behind Jon & Vinny’s, Kismet, and animal in Los Angeles—have started selling “Farm to You” boxes featuring fresh meat and produce from a slew of local farms on top of takeout and delivery. Other spots, like Lady & Larder in LA, have become pickup hubs for farms: a place where customers can safely pick up orders directly through the farms themselves.

Michelle Demuth-Bibb/The Chef’s Garden

The pivot has been challenging for many, but ultimately worthwhile. Customer interest in these models show promise. Jon & Vinny’s has consistently sold out their boxes— and some farmers are even seeing increases in business.

Farmer Lee Jones says he hopes the enthusiasm could be a silver lining in it all. Will there be a resurgence of localized food and farming economies? A renewed appreciation for quality? More trusting relationships with those that grow our food? We can only hope.

The Chef’s Garden doesn’t pick produce until an order is placed. It’s impeccably fresh. And it’s touched by few hands before it reaches the consumer; far fewer than say, the grocery store, where produce sits in trucks and shelves and warehouses for weeks before we buy it.

The pandemic, says Jones, has changed his business for good. “This has forever created a fork in the road and we will have two lanes: one for people at home direct from the farm and one for chefs. This has always been about producing something that people appreciate and people need. I couldn’t dream of walking away.”

For an open-source database of small-scale farms and producers offering pickup, delivery, and/or nationwide shipment during COVID-19, click here.

 

 

Photo by Katy Severson

Eat Here Now

EAT HERE NOW- CALIFORNIA WINE COUNTRY

January 27, 2015

By Kristen Oliveri

Photo courtesy of Meadowood

Photo courtesy of Meadowood

Though a recent trip to wine country was initially planned simply for Napa Valley, adventurous travelers know you can’t stop there and so, our jaunt took us through Napa to Sonoma to the beautiful hills of Alexander Valley and back again. No stone—or vine—went unturned in a quest for the ultimate food and drink experience.

The region is bustling with plenty of new restaurants and bars, all offering exciting options alongside some old favorites. Swiss Hotel Bar & Restaurant (www.swisshotelsonoma.com), is a great place to kick off, sharing dishes like the burrata appetizer with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and roasted peppers and entrees including the beef filet mushroom and red wine sauce, roasted Brussels sprouts and creamy blue cheese mashed potatoes. Given the Swiss Hotel restaurant allows diners to indulge in their own bottles (for a nominal corkage fee), you can take full advantage of this and open many bottles purchased along a wine tour which, quietly likely hits some highlights like Russian River Vineyards, Thomas George Estates, VML Winery and Sbragia Winery.

Arguably, one of the best meals to be found is one hosted at the VML Winery (www.vmlwine.com) where one picnics in the vineyard’s private space while enjoying a tasting of their wines and noshing on local produce, meats, cheeses and fruit. Picnics in wine country are a popular way to dine and at Vine Cliff winery the sommelier dines with you which adds to the authentic experience.

Napa AO at night closer

Even the briefest of wine tours wouldn’t be complete without a stop in to the Alpha Omega winery. It is famous for its wine maker, Jean Hoefliger, taking a complex, yet approachable process to winemaking, not to mention breathtaking scenery.

Keeping with the scenery as a side dish theme the Carneros Inn in Napa offers al fresco meals at their on-site FARM restaurant, though you’re also welcome to stay warm by their beautiful fire pit while nibbling on dishes like lobster risotto with Meyer lemon and a side of truffle fries. Breakfast, however, is truly a highlight there. The hotel’s Boon Fly Café is known for its warm and sugary breakfast (or anytime) doughnuts.

The restaurant offers gluten-free bread which makes a morning selection as easy as could be for those who need that consideration and was the perfect bookend for their BELT (bacon, eggs, lettuce and tomato).

Gluten free diners will also find total satisfaction at dinner, at an old favorite, Jackson’s in Santa Rosa where they serve the most delicious gluten-free prosciutto and pear pizza paired with acorn squash and mascarpone and Brussel sprouts with bacon.

A well-traveled and well-fed network of friends also led me to Goose and Gander. I was told to stop by not only for the food but also for Scott Beattie’s retro-fresh libations that are known for attracting many local industry folks when they’re not punching the clock. Taking their lead landed us with a table in the picturesque garden where wild salmon with roasted delicata squash, puy lentils, appelwood smoked bacon and celery root veloute on the menu had to be tried. The ingredients were of the freshest quality and the vibe was essential California cool.

Photo courtesy of Meadowood

Photo courtesy of Meadowood

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We asked the locals what some of their favorite spots on the island are for beverages, places to picnic, romantic date-night dinners and beyond. Here’s what industry insiders had to say:

Paul Tilson, Director of Hospitality: Alpha Omega Winery
Favorite Winery?
Alpha Omega
1155 Mee Ln, Rutherford, CA
Of course, but I’m biased. The following wines are my favorites: 1155 Sauvignon Blanc, 2012, Reserve Chardonnay, 2011 ERA and our Future – 2012 (not yet released) Sunshine Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon. www.aowinery.com

DANA Estate
1500 Whitehall Ln, St Helena, CA
My other favorite winery is Dana Estate. It has such beautiful architecture and delicious Phillipe Melka wines. www.danaestates.com

Favorite spot to picnic?
Yountville Park
www.townofyountville.com/index.aspx?page=176

St. Clement Vineyards
2867 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA
www.aowinery.com

Best Romantic Date Spot?
The Restaurant at Meadowood
900 Meadowood Ln, St Helena, CA
Chef Christopher Kostow is brilliant – amazing place on all accounts! www.therestaurantatmeadowood.com/food?WT.srch=1&WT.mc_id=PPC2p&DCSext.ppc_kw=the+meadowood+restaurant&ppc_ac=Brand&ppc_ag=Exact+Match&ppc_mt=Exact&platform=c

Best Seafood?
Morimoto
610 Main St, Napa, CA
www.morimotonapa.com

Best budget friendly restaurant?
Norman Rose Tavern
1401 1st St, Napa, CA

Also besides the Norman Rose, the hidden gem is The Grill at Meadowood in St. Helena (the Grill is the secret local joint, totally under the radar and amazing, Chef Victoria Acosta is a true talent, they also have very special wine and cocktail programs. www.normanrosenapa.com

Best Splurge?
The French Laundry
6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA
www.frenchlaundry.com

Augie Kersting, Sommelier and Manager at Meadowood

Favorite Winery?
DANA Estate
1500 Whitehall Ln, St Helena, CA
Howard Backen built the winery into the ruins of the barrel room of the old Livingstone Moffitt winery. Everything about it—from Mr. Lee’s private cellar to the high tea room to the wrought iron and glass door that open back onto the courtyard enclosed by the walls of the original barrel room is – is gorgeous. They have three different fermentation rooms for their three different single vineyard Caberenets. The wines aren’t half bad either! www.danaestates.com

Favorite spot to picnic?
Vineyard 29
2929 St Helena Hwy, St Helena, CA
The best “picnic” I’ve head is on the deck up at Vineyard 29. Meadowood provided the picnic and the winery provided the view. www.vineyard29.com

Bure Family Wines
2825 St. Helena Hwy N. St. Helena, CA

The view next door at Bure Family is equally spectacular. Neither are regularly open for picnic but upon special arrangement it may be possible. www.burefamilywines.com

Best Romantic Date Spot?
Auberge du Soleil
180 Rutherford Hill Rd, Rutherford, CA

The deck at Auberge du Soleil is pretty phenomenal to make a lasting impression and make some memories. The food and wine list stack up pretty well too. www.aubergedusoleil.com

Best Seafood?
Bouchon Bistro
6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA

The best seafood I’ve eaten in Napa was the Sea Bass with Lobster and southwestern corn salsa at Bouchon (seasonal special). www.bouchonbistro.com

Best budget friendly restaurant?
Cook St. Helena
1310 Main St, St Helena, CA

Cook in St. Helena delivers good value for the nuanced palate at lunchtime. Ciccio in Yountville has a decent amount of diversity as well as lively atmosphere. Food isn’t complicated but it’s well executed. www.cooksthelena.com

Best Splurge?
Etoile
1 California Dr, Yountville, CA

Perry Hoffman at Etoile is using some of the most unique and delicious ingredients in the valley in his little hidden away spot in Yountville. The Caramelized Pear Mille Fueille may still be the best dessert in the Napa Valley. www.chandon.com/etoile-restaurant.html

Eric Franco, Guest Relations, Silverado Vineyards
Favorite Winery?
Schramsberg Vineyards
1400 Schramsberg Rd, Calistoga, CA

I really enjoy sparkling wine, however this is a nice winery located in Calistoga (appointment only) with a lovely private tour. I feel that Schramsberg is the best sparkling wine in the valley and their cave tour is very informative and an overall fun experience. Also, check out Pride Mountain Vineyards on Spring Mountain. Bring your own food and enjoy a bottle of their wine on top of their looking down on a beautiful scenery. www.schramsberg.com

Best Romantic Date Spot?
Celadon
500 Main Street, Suite G – Napa, CA

It’s just really good food, quiet atmosphere with inside and outside eating areas, great service, and a great place to make an amazing impression on a first date. It’s even a great spot for an anniversary dinner. www.celadonnapa.com

Best Seafood?
Morimoto
610 Main St, Napa, CA

Expensive but their spicy crab legs are amazing and of course the sushi is great too. www.morimotonapa.com

Best Budget Friendly Restaurant?
Gott’s Roadside
933 Main Street, St. Helena, CA

Well, in Napa there are no cheap deals, however on Tuesday nights Gott’s has locals’ night and their cheeseburger and beers are $3 to $4 dollars cheaper. www.gotts.com

Boonfly Café
4048 Sonoma Highway, Napa, CA

Another restaurant I would recommend is Boonfly Café for breakfast. Their Eggs Benedict is to die for and once a week they will have chicken and waffles. www.thecarnerosinn.com/dining/boonfly-cafe

Photo by Katie Newburn

Photo by Katie Newburn

Best Splurge?
Zuzu
829 Main St, Napa, CA
This is a tough choice, for a local I would say Zuzu’s for Spanish tapas. http://www.zuzunapa.com/

Bouchon Bistro
6534 Washington Street, Yountville, CA

Thomas Keller Bouchon is amazing and, of course, French Laundry, but you need to make reservations ahead of time and expect to drop close to a grand per person if we are including wine pairings but it is a multiple course meal. bouchonbistro.com

Features

BOCUSE BATTLE IS ON

January 26, 2012

Culinary all-stars are at it this Sunday and you can be there.  VIP style.

By Francine Cohen

The battle for USA’s world domination in the 2013 Bocuse d’Or competition begins at home this Sunday as four highly qualified contestants pit their skills against one another in the Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation’s USA Finals Competition.  The winner will be attending the big dance in Lyon, France next January and representing the USA.

“This weekend is about selecting the very best American chef to represent the USA on the international stage. It should be a matter of great pride to our entire American culinary community,” said Chef Daniel Boulud.

The Bocuse d’Or USA Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to inspiring culinary excellence, led by Chefs Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller,Jerome Bocuse,opens the finals to the public on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

But, as always, INSIDE F&B has a special inside track for you. Courtesy of Nespresso, a 2012 Member Sponsor of the Bocuse d’Or USA, two tickets in the comfortable VIP section are available for the first person to correctly tell us the number of grand crus offered by Nespresso to their fine dining and hotel customers.(For a clue take a look at www.nespresso.com/pro).

As business tool for the culinary world Nespresso is thrilled to get behind this competition that demands the same exacting standards as their regular customers.  Jim Frisby of Nespresso Business Solutions notes, “Nespresso offers Continue Reading…

Events

MARCUS SAMUELSSON HONORED FOR DEDICATION TO C-CAP

February 11, 2010

Chefs Michael Lomonaco and Alfred Portale take a moment at C-CAP Benefit 2009

C-CAP’s 20th Anniversary Benefit features NYC Celebrity Chefs and High School Student Volunteers at Gala Tasting Event

On Wednesday, February 24, 2010, 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., at PIER SIXTY at Chelsea Piers, The Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), the non-profit organization that since 1990 has awarded high school students $28 million in scholarships, and donated $2.3 million worth of supplies and equipment to classrooms, will host its 20th Anniversary Celebration.

This year, C-CAP is honoring chef, author and TV personality Marcus Samuelsson for his extraordinary achievements and contributions to the culinary industry, his long time dedication to C-CAP and his commitment to nurturing the next generation of chefs. As this year’s honoree, Marcus Samuelsson will receive the C-CAP Honors Award for his ongoing work with C-CAP providing internships, job shadows and jobs for students, and serving as a judge at the annual C-CAP NY Cooking Competition for Scholarships.

Past recipients of the C-CAP Honors Award include Drew Nieporent, Alfred Portale, Continue Reading…