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Because of coronavirus lockdowns, the world’s hospitality industry is being destroyed, including restaurants.

On May 3, 2020, the New York Post published two stories of interest on how Manhattan’s top chefs are stepping outside of the box to cook for others.

‘Out-of-work chefs are leaving NYC to cook for billionaires’ tells us that they have sought alternative employment during the continuing lockdown (emphases mine):

Out-of-work chefs from Jean-Georges, Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se and Gramercy Tavern are being poached by talent agents and even real estate brokers to work for wealthy families since the coronavirus shutdowns have eviscerated the restaurant industry, sources said. The supply of quality chefs is so abundant that some wealthy people say they’re getting cold called about the latest candidate.

“I received a call out of the blue asking if we wanted to hire a top chef who had worked for Jean-George’s,” one billionaire real estate developer told Side Dish.

For unemployed chefs, it’s often the only way for them to make money doing what they love at a time when sit-down dining is prohibited by the state lockdown.

One of them is Ian Tenzer, 29, formerly a sous-chef at three-star Michelin restaurant Eleven Madison Park, named the world’s best restaurant in 2017, more about which below. He told the newspaper:

I was laid off six weeks ago. It just wasn’t possible to stay, no matter how much the chef wanted to keep us. I can’t stand not working. I miss being in the kitchen.

Working as a private chef has always been a part of the industry I had thought about working in and, at this point in my career, it’s a good choice economically and professionally.

Even so, he misses the camaraderie that being part of a brigade brings:

When you work in a restaurant, you are part of a team. There are peers you look up to and others you teach. The team becomes your family and you learn to love everyone. That’s the hardest part about leaving [the restaurant job].

On the other hand, salaries are often significantly better, as the article explains:

Indeed, chefs who choose to work in private homes stand to get a 20 percent to 30 percent pay raise, as well as other perks including better hours, sources said. Sous chefs at top restaurants can earn between $120,000 and $200,000 a year working full-time for a family, compared to closer to $100,000 working at a restaurant.

Personal chefs also commonly earn discretionary bonuses, especially if they are being asked to shelter in place with their families during the COVID-19 pandemic, says David Youdovin, chief executive of Hire Society, which helps individuals recruit private staff.

“The vast majority of restaurant chefs are grossly underpaid, and seldom receive benefits,” and now clients are being “very generous and accommodating,” Youdovin said.

Of course, some families are nicer than others:

One drawback is that you never know what kind of family you’ll get, chefs said. Some families are “lovely, adventurous and curious,” but others can be quite the opposite. They can be rude and “even physically and verbally abusive. I have heard horror stories,” said one chef who asked to remain unnamed.

At least two upmarket estate agents, also out of work during lockdown, have been placing chefs with families:

Brokers Dolly and Jenny Lenz, who deal in high-end real estate, say they have sourced two top chefs for two different families who have rented Hamptons estates to wait out the crisis. People quarantining in rental homes are often looking to hire chefs, nannies and housekeepers to shelter in place with them during this time, Dolly Lenz said.

As going to someone’s house for a traditional interview is verboten at the moment, food is dropped off and interviews are done online via video conference:

… chefs are preparing tastings in their own homes and then dropping them off at their prospective employer’s front door.

This social-distancing measure, along with virtual interviews by Zoom or FaceTime, are making it tough for both the chefs and families to determine if they are making a good match, Youdovin said.

Goodness knows when restaurants will regain normality. Even where they are open in Europe, social distancing remains in place in many countries. That means having a full complement of tables is impossible and could be for months to come.

With that in mind, Ian Tenzer’s former employer, Eleven Madison Park, has a new outreach policy: ‘Eleven Madison Park chef will keep feeding needy New Yorkers’.

It revolves around ‘family meals’, a term restaurants use for the lunches and/or dinners they provide to their staff.

Head chef Daniel Humm began feeding the city’s hungry before the coronavirus outbreak and is now feeding many more:

Humm, whose three-starred Michelin restaurant was named the world’s best in 2017, is amping up his role at a non-profit, Rethink Food NYC, to become its top chef and inaugural partner as it expands nationally.

Before COVID-19, Rethink turned restaurant waste into meals, feeding 15,000 people a week. The non-profit now serves 25,000 meals a day.

Post COVID-19, restaurant staff at Eleven Madison will make extra “family meals” for Rethink to feed needy New Yorkers.

If every restaurant does this, we could end hunger,” said Matt Jozwiak, Rethink Food NYC’s executive director and founder, who formerly worked at Humm’s Michelin-rated restaurant.

Currently, Humm has turned Eleven Madison Park into a food commissary to help make meals for Rethink to distribute during the crisis.

Yes, if every restaurant did that, they really could end hunger.

I get tired of watching restaurant reality shows and documentaries with all their waste. Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef: I’m looking at you. The other night, I watched a 2018 French documentary on TF1 about upmarket caterers. A top pastry chef told his staff to throw out a vat of hazelnut caramel syrup because it had one burnt hazelnut in it. Madness. Fine for him, but it could have been given to a homeless mission in Paris, which could have used it for a week in their desserts.

Some restaurateurs say that insurance companies restrict giving away food before serving for reasons of health safety. Perhaps insurers should let up on that policy in a reasonable way: documented mutual consent between a donor restaurant and a recipient organisation.

At any rate, it’s encouraging to see some good is coming out of the coronavirus crisis.

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