Food Family Meal

Words by Bruce Mc Michael

Photos courtesy of Canlis

Every year two Seattle US-based restaurateurs head to the beach. Brothers Brian and Mark Canlis take six of their section heads, pop some beers and let the ocean breeze blow in new, imaginative ideas for the following 12 months.  “We reinvent the Canlis’ concept every year. We don’t just think outside of the box, we smash it” says Brian. “Canlis doesn’t sell nostalgia, we act and behave like a brand-new restaurant every year,” he says of Seattle’s most formal dining rooms, a 70 years old institution of fine dining. One of the beach party is an art director, employed to create logos, menus and put the company’s vision into graphic form.

Creativity is the lifeblood of Seattle a city where locals pride themselves on independent thinking, innovating and being early adopters of new tech. Canlis is one of the most successful operations to capture the Corona virus zeitgeist, a direct result of that time spent on the beach. “Each year all our directors travel the world to learn from the best. We seek out culinary, design and service inspiration. For example, last year one of us visited Mauro Colgreco’s amazing Mirazur restaurant in Menton, France” says Brian.

When the Corona virus struck “we had to rethink what we as fine dining destination offered and how to flex our creative muscles to meet the challenge” says Brian. These muscles had had many years of training, a feature now led by a director with the envious title of Special Agent. And who wouldn’t that on their business card? Ditching the $135 (Euro 125) tasting menus, Canlis now offers menu options at around $60 with deliveries including Applewood-grilled hangar steak with chimichurri sauce; dry-aged duck cassoulet, and Dungerness crab cakes with a spicy remoulade.

Annie Cheng, founder of Seattle-based bespoke travel company The Table Less Traveled, says: “There was a huge immediate shift, and what we recognised was that sadly, some of our city’s most beloved restaurants were overwhelmingly reliant on tourism”. Focussed on an evening service, “we decided to open up for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” says Brian. “Within 72 hours three new menus were created, priced and ingredients for a morning bagel shed for breakfast, a burger drive-thru for midday crowd lunch and a delivery service to replace the traditional dinner service. Our Art Director designed logos and had staff uniforms delivered before opening. We felt Seattleites needed some good news about their city,” he says. “We employ 115 people and were determined to not to lose one, single staffer”.

Employing Brady Williams, a young 30-something chef who last year racked up another James Beard Award for Canlis. This time it as for Best Chef in the Northwest, having been named Rising Star Chef of the Year 2017 award, while the Canlis brothers have won too many Outstanding Service awards to count. Canlis delivery customers get wine pairings, cocktail kits and CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes of produce and meat from local farms. “One of the biggest successes is our Bingo cards” says Brian. Anybody can play, cards are sent to requests and games live streamed on Friday nights. In keeping with Canlis smart dress code, diners are encouraged to wear tuxedos and sparkly dresses. 

Annie’s pixalated family and friends online socialising listen to Canlis’ live-streamed piano music and admire the creativity and dedication to the city’s community that Canlis has shown. “They are an iconic restaurant, and it’s inspiring (and fun) to see how they’ve adapted during this time to support community” she says.

Canlis’ attitude of rolling innovation allowed the restaurant to retain its staff, build community and create new menus in almost no time is paying off. Looking to the future and leaving nostalgia for others suggest bookings will continue long after social isolation dining becomes social dining once again.

Food before – Chawanmushi

Words by Bruce McMichael

Photos courtesy of Fen farm

Baron Bigod, Stinking Bishop and Cornish Yarg almost disappeared overnight from British menus, meals and cheese lovers’ dining tables. The crushing effects of restaurants and hotel kitchens slamming down the shutters to protect against the Covid-19 virus almost killed off the country’s artisan cheese makers and their uniquely named products.

Jonny Crickmore, farmer and maker of the raw milk Baron Bigod cheese, said, “people panicked and stocked up on dry goods such as flour and toilet rolls, while restaurants closed. But they didn’t buy cheese”.

Farmers and cheese makers had to pivot their business overnight. “You can’t just switch off cows. The milk keeps coming” says Jenny Linford, food writer and author of the encyclopaedic reference book Great British Cheeses. Film footage of farmers pouring thousands of gallons of milk onto fields and down the drain filled TV news bulletins for a couple of days at the start of the lockdown and helped fire-up the industry to find new ways of much more getting hand wrapped Caerphilly, hard pressed Cheshire or some Stinking Bishop washed rind-washed cheese to a new set of customers, home cooks.

Dairy farms were into the Spring Flush period in which milk yields increase and hard cheese production is ramped up for Christmas. It’s traditionally a busy time for farmers and cheese makers. Food writer Linford says artisan producers were desperate. They were confronted with a brutal economic truth. Their traditional sources of livelihood and income had been snatched away overnight“.

“Traditional cheese makers live and work in a fragile economic bubble. They had to reimagine their businesses overnight” she says. Pre-lockdown, these evocatively named cheese were popular on boards in fine dining restaurants offering customers real flavours, textures and tongue teasingly deliciousness. The loss of sales was so immediate and dramatic and shocked the industry and its supporters into action.

“Unlike much of continental Europe, the UK doesn’t have an ancient wine making culture; cheese is our most important and obvious link to terroir, says Theo Crutcher, a professional food judge and cheese lover. “In England’s west country local variations in Cheddar, derived from the unique grazing environment of a particular area, are as important as the appellations and crus of Burgundy wine”. 

Save British Cheese became a rallying cry for farmers, makers and mongers as sales and marketing teams focus on selling to home cooks. The Specialist Cheesemakers Association (SCA) called for solidarity with its members and soon had superchef Jamie Oliver making Instagram videos about cooking with cheese and Prince Charles posting about his favourite Cheesy Egg breakfast.

Oliver urged his millions of social media followers to buy artisan cheese and his slogan of Save Our Farmhouse Cheeses resulted in tonnes of fresh, semi-hard and hard cheeses being sold in specially packed boxes. The first delivery included a Stichelton, a traditionally made Stilton; Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and Baron Bigod. “If we lose these guys (cheesemakers) that would be a huge bit of our food culture gone” Oliver says.

Baron Bigod is a creamy, white bloomy-rind cheese handmade on Fen Farm in Suffolk by husband and wife team Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore. Jonny has become one of the faces of the artisan British cheese revival, and lately survival, and as deputy chairman of the SCA is a witness the cheese world from farmers, to makers, mongers and consumers create sustainable and profitable routes to market; from field to cheeseboard. Lockdown arrived on Friday, March 23, 2020 and will be remembered as the day when the relationship between seller and buyer changed, with many hoping it the shift would last long after our lives open up again. 

Nottinghamshire’s Colston Bassett Dairy, makers of Stilton cheese reportedly lost 60% of their market over night. “But rather than scare consumers into buying more cheese, we offered positive stories amidst the onslaught of negative Covid-19” says Crickmore. Well, his call to action struck a nerve and Brits are now buying tonnes of artisan, farmhouse made cheeses and saving the makers from keeping the shutters drawn forever. 

Photos & Words by Paulo Barata

These photos are part of a book project for the restaurant Err in Bangkok by chefs Bo & Dylan*. Due to the virus the publication of the book was delayed. It was a stimulating challenge, we didn’t want just another cookbook, we wanted above all to show where the 2 chefs look for inspiration for the concept of this restaurant that just wants to serve simple and comfortable food, on the streets of BK.

The images were mostly collected in several BK markets, night and day. I was also asked to approach the life of the neighborhood where Err is inserted, I look also for several situations with street food vendors, specific products that are used in the restaurant menu, alternative restaurants where the 2 chefs like to eat, places like the old BK where you go by boat. In this portfolio we reveal a little bit of this project.

*Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava e Dylan ‘Lan’ Jones owners and chefs of Bo.Lan restaurant in Bangkok

Night food seller in old town area BK
Night food seller in old town area BK
Client in China Town neighbourhood
Water cockroaches ready to eat with scorpions on the back.
Street food sellers
 Street Food clients
Orange juice seller
Street food seller very appreciated by the college students, nearby Err restaurant
 Flower Market, very intense during the evening.
Flower Market
Flower Market
Khlong Toey Market, the biggest night fresh food market in BK
Khlong Toey Market, rats from the rice fields
Khlong Toey Market, egg sellers
Khlong Toey Market, fresh chickens
Khlong Toey Market, meat area
Khlong Toey Market, freight carriers
Khlong Toey Market, chicken sellers
 Or Tor Kor Market
 Or Tor Kor Market
Different fish pastes
Food seller nearby Err Restaurant
Restaurant nearby Err Restaurant  serving only one dish of fresh noodles
Restaurant nearby Err Restaurant  serving only one dish of fresh noodles
Street food seller close to Flower Market

Words by Andrea Petrini

Photos by Borderless Co. for Cook_inc. 21

We had left him a perpetually busy young man, always late in his shadow, always behind four courtesy rings and seven messages to be forgiven. The latest on: “my life is a disaster, shit in full swing”. Including the blood-red emoticon of ❤️. If I weren’t already married, I would have been flattered by his affectionate declarations of affection. Because Nicolai Nørregaard is an immense cook, but a good, excellent and abundant person even more. For the prized Italian clientele, Kadeau’s two Michelin stars chef in Copenhagen will go down in the history of the most recent costume for being twice first (like the cyclists of the past who thanked his mother live “I’m happy to have arrived One”): the first to win a Guinness Book of Records fighting against the Papal Edit and posing nude on the cover of  Cook_inc. 21, as mummy did him, in the adamic outfit of Venus splashing in the primeval freezing waters of Bornholm island.

His other more recent, but far less joyful trophy, just barely past the month, was to have registered first, with a sprint that took the whole world by surprise, to the list of the fallen victims of COVID-19. The signs were not lacking already, the warning alarm neither, yet when Nicolai Nørregaard announced in late March that Kadeau in Copenhagen would not open at the end of the lockdown due to official bankruptcy, out of the blue the planetary foodosphere understood that the situation was and would be serious for all of us. His current considerations: “In the last two years we had massively invested, opened new premises, bistrots and bars, not only in Copenhagen. On the island of Bornholm, we had just completed the renovation of the kitchen and hall of our Kadeau. Already from the dawn of the crisis, in January and much more in February, there was a cautious disaffection of customers. But when, exactly from the day after, on March 11, the government announced the confinement and immediate closure of all public premises, if you have more than eighty people registered on the paycheck you logically find yourself with serious solvency problems. In addition to a common drastic reduction in wages of thirty percent, there was little to be done. A couple of weeks later we found ourselves filing for bankruptcy. This happened before the economic aid plan was proposed by the Danish government”.

Pruning some unfruitful branches (“the kebab restaurant opened in the Tivoli park in Copenhagen that has never worked as previously expected”) and following the end of the historic partnership with the usual partners, having settled all debts (“the first thing we did was pay all our suppliers”) this Danish young man is always standing ready to start new adventures. “We separated from the bistrot of the Bornholm hotel and essentially concentrate, with the support of our new financiers, on the original matrices of our kitchen.” That is, the flagships, the two Kadeau – the multi-starred urban restaurant in the center of the Danish capital and the island restaurant, in the birthplace of the blonde chef. So, get ready, it will start again. But when? we still don’t know. Wednesday May 13th at 17h30 Nicolai gropes, like all the Danish brotherhood (and Italian, French, English, the whole world being a country etc. …) in the dark. “Here, the reopening slowly goes on. Officially the restaurants from Monday 18th will reopen their doors. But we are still waiting to know the health directives and all the measures to be taken to respect social distancing. Will we all be in masks? What will be the regulatory distance between two tables? A few days after the reopening, the government has yet to tell us. There is no use throwing the first stone, the pandemic has caught us all unprepared. Each country reacted on sight by doing its best, making inevitable – but excusable – mistakes”.

Omniscient, like our rulers, Nicolai is not. But given the pre-adolescent children, with the memories of homework after school to be supervised between two services in the restaurant, arithmetic was not forgotten. He knows that two plus two always makes four. “With borders closed that will reopen who knows when, it is clear that this year we can forget about foreign customers who will not come to Copenhagen throughout 2020. We will have to rely only on the local ones. With the current crisis, little money will turn, we will make less covers. We did everything we could, but we had to separate from a part of our team. We will reopen, let’s say in a reduced format, this summer first the Bornholm Kadeau then, with the end of the season, the Copenhagen one “. Prudence, attentiveness, they hope that the New World that will come will not look too much like the one before, even for the worse, certainly there will be less hunger… of luxury, fine dining will have to redeem a new form of legitimacy. “In the city, when we’ll start with the local clientele, we will test the situation. Fewer tables, more space, less long and less expensive menus if possible, perhaps giving more space to the bar and garden. But the real stake, in addition to the economic one, will be how not to let your guard down: how to be more accessible, in all senses, without for this reason abdicating the progressive line of our cuisine”. Starting afresh if not exactly from scratch. Giving time to time, to reboot! Who am I, where am I, where we will go together? We will celebrate together as soon as we can. In Bornholm, or in Copenhagen by Noma Burgerteca, the first post-Covid event (world opening, Wednesday 21st). “If worse comes to worst, if the borders do not reopen before autumn, we will meet again on November 9th at the European Food Summit in Ljubljana.” Good news for fans. With five months of work ahead of him, Nørregaard – for fuck sake!!! – will have enough time to complete his report: “Hey, I’m just a Danish boy from the countryside: what the fuck do I know about male toxicity?” Needless to say, he scores already high in the play list of the most anticipated stand-ups of 2020.

Texto de Miguel Pires

Foto de Paulo Barata para Cook_inc. 22

Há cerca de dois anos quando nos reunimos várias vezes para conversarmos para o artigo que estava a escrever para a Cook_inc. 22, António Galapito vivia quase sem tempo para respirar. O seu restaurante “farm to table” Prado, aberto há menos de um ano, em Lisboa, estava no auge, com casa cheia e assim se manteve até começarem os primeiros cancelamentos por causa da pandemia do coronavírus, em Março último. Uma equipa unida (sala e cozinha) que fazia saídas de campo com alguma regularidade e que vivia num ritmo acelerado viu de repente a vida a entrar em slow motion até travagem total por razões que os ultrapassavam completamente. Ainda assim, nesse mês, mesmo com o turismo em quebra e muitos clientes locais começarem a ficar em casa, o restaurante continuava a funcionar bem. Porém, ainda uns dias antes de ser decretado estado de emergência pelo governo português, a 13 de Março, perceberam que tinham de parar e comunicaram o encerramento temporário de forma a proteger a equipa e os próprios clientes. António Galapito ansiava por algum abrandamento, mas nada obviamente nestes termos. As duas primeiras semanas serviram para tentarem perceber o que se iria passar e a fazer um plano de atuação. Entre várias medidas a tomar, decidiram que valia a pena começar a fazer take away e delivery. Não só como uma forma de mitigar o prejuízo, mas também de marcar uma posição e manter uma relação com os seus clientes. Já com umas boas semanas após a decisão, estivemos à conversa.

Com estão a viver estes tempos de pandemia? 

As duas primeiras semanas foram um pouco uma aprendizagem. E fomo-nos apercebendo que a melhor maneira de nos adaptarmos é viver cada dia e avaliar cada uma das semanas individualmente para perceber se temos de fazer mudanças e o que temos de mudar. Todas as semanas são completamente diferentes e o próprio negócio em si tem de se adaptar. 

Prado Restaurante

Colocar o pessoal em lay off e começaram a fazer take away/delivery. Como está a correr?

A coisa mais sensata a fazer foi aproveitar todas as medidas do governo. Depois tentar fazer delivery, e apostar na mercearia (além do restaurante, existe o Prado Mercearia, um espaço ao lado uma proposta de refeições mais simples e uma parte de mercearia/mercadinho). Também tivemos que perceber o que é que as pessoas iriam pedir mais. É um bocado complicado. Não há uma resposta certa ainda. Está a correr… A última avaliação dos números que fizemos, basicamente, a decisão de continuar (com delivery) ou não era indiferente porque não faturávamos o suficiente. Ou seja, ter as pessoas em lay off ou estar aberto e pagar um pouco mais dos ordenados ficava ela por ela.  

Mas optaram por estar abertos, porquê? 

Porque temos de nos manter ativos. Se tivéssemos a perder mais dinheiro é que não podia acontecer. Neste caso é preferível mantermo-nos. 

Passam de uma altura que estavam a trabalhar que nem os loucos para uma paragem local

É um oposto bastante grande. Mas é uma questão de mantermos a equipa ativa, dos clientes saberem que estamos lá, que continuamos lá. Também temos estado a cozinhar semanalmente para uma associação (refeições de beneficência), a fazer umas 50 refeições. Eles enviam-nos os produtos e nós fazemos. Nada fancy, coisas simples. Temos estado, também, já a reavaliar as novas opções para quando tivermos de abrir.

Que medidas pensam tomar para a abertura, já têm algo definido? 

Temos de esperar para ver o que o governo diz. Temos a vantagem de ter um espaço relativamente amplo, de termos um ar condicionado que nos permite sentar os clientes todos num lado apenas da sala de forma a não fazer circular o vírus. Temos estado, igualmente, a ver o espaçamento de mesas e ver o que podemos fazer mais. Queremos que os colaboradores se sintam seguros com as decisões que tivermos de tomar na altura. E que os clientes também se sintam seguros. Porém, como o diz o meu colega José Avillez também, isto requer muita responsabilidade também do lado do cliente. Mas vai ser complicado porque vai ser o oposto de tudo o que defendemos no Prado. A experiência dos restaurantes vai sofrer imenso com todas as regras que vão ser impostas. 

Mas não achas que estas regras são importantes para regressar a confiança? 

Eu acho que algumas delas são importantes, agora não podemos exagerar. Porque se não vai morrer mais gente da cura do que da doença (Nota: falava-se em medir a temperatura aos clientes e colaboradores à entrada, de produtos que tinham de ficar guardadas em quarentena, num lugar próprio, durante quatro dias, e de ter de os cozinhar todos mínimo a 65º – tudo medidas que não se vieram a concretizar). 

E o que é que vão ter de mudar em termos de proposta? Com o turismo parado vão ter de se adaptar ao cliente local. Vão ter de mexer preços, alterar o tipo de produtos que servem?  

Imagina que vais reduzir a capacidade do restaurante para 1/3 e ainda vais baixar preços. Se reduzires os preços drasticamente mais vale nem abrir. Os custos são tão altos que não vale a pena. E se nem um terço do restaurante estiver cheio, então, esquece. 

Ainda não nos debruçámos muito sobre a questão dos preços, se temos de reduzir ou não. Provavelmente teremos de reduzir alguns produtos mais premium. Mas na verdade, acho que éramos justos. Cobrávamos o que tínhamos que cobrar. Um, pelo trabalho; dois, pela raridade de alguns produtos e pela dificuldade de acesso a eles. 

Já depois desta conversa e de ficar definido a data de 18 de Maio para a abertura dos restaurantes o governo português publicou uma série de orientações para o sector da restauração. 

Com base nessas orientações (distanciamento físico de 2 metros, privilegiando a utilização de áreas exteriores, como as esplanadas, o serviço take away e o agendamento prévio), o Prado vai abrir a 21 de Maio, com uma equipa ainda reduzida nesta fase, somente três dias por semana (quinta, sexta e sábado), apenas aos jantares e com a capacidade limitada a pouco mais de 50% da lotação. Se conseguirem servir 25 a 30 refeições por dia é provável que deixem de fornecer serviço de take away/delivery. 

Backstage of an essential business in New York City

Words and Photos by Gloria Feurra

Illustrations and Art Work by Leonardo Martinelli

Translated from Italian

I came back just before the borders closed, bypassing the usual MXP-JFK journey by way of a series of daring layovers, still carrying traces of ash from the Sardinian carnival. At the end of February, I decided to take few days off to go home, to Seneghe, a village with one-thousand-and-a-handful sparkling souls found at the foothills of the Montiferru mountains. With me, part of the famed Gusti Team. An expedition part nostalgic and part anthropologic, mixed with reunions with our longstanding producers and intervals of scouting – because the family can always grow bigger.

Sometimes, but not often enough, rewinding the tape back to a few weeks ago is soothing. Now that even in New York State sheltering in place is the law, I linger like a retired rock star on the memories of a glorious Mardi Gras, which later became dark circles under my eyes and stockpiles of vacuum sealed Pecorino.

I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A radiant and gentrified neighborhood where the most commonplace complaints include rent increases, the sputtering of the L train on weekends, or the cherished stores on Bedford Avenue relentlessly being replaced by big chains. While these things are sad and definitely sociologically relevant, admittedly there’s not much to complaint about. Williamsburg is a weekend place. A pilgrimage destination for street food events and flea markets, please RSVP one week in advance to land a spot for that brunch or that happy hour drink on that waterfront rooftop. It’s a place where every now and then a new pop-up store appears, with lines of cool kids snaking around the block. You can still spot some lines today, the longest outside Whole Foods.

Otherwise, everything else is done by delivery. The new lionhearts wear loungewear while waiting for their shipments, then get fired up at defenseless couriers. Occasionally, I join the chorus. But I’m the one on hold with the customer service rep, trying to investigate a missing package for someone else. In fact, I ship packages way more often than I receive them. Since 1999 at 1715 West Farms Rd, in the Bronx, from Monday to Friday cardboard boxes sealed with white tape and plastered in FRAGILE stickers are sent out. They go to all the Continental United States. Regularly, at this address, trucks unload their cargo of real San Marzano tomatoes, slowly dried porous pasta, almonds and pistachios selected by Corrado Assenza, “the orange wine of vinegars” made by Sirk, or those Tradizionali aged inside wood barrels in the lofts of Reggio Emilia or Modena for at least 12 years. Exquisite Sottoli, heavenly Colombe e Panettoni, phenomenal extra virgin olive oils. The contents of the boxes shipped is clear: Gustiamo, Italy’s best food, it is written on that white tape.

In short, Gustiamo imports from Italy and distributes in the U.S. I could surely exceed the 800 words limit just explaining how much more there is, other than selling. Obsessive research, education, a 20 year-long fight against the ruinous Italian sounding, and a ton of other terrific things. Like the warehouse dinners in the midst of pallets during which guests like Rula Jebrael chitchat with others like Joe Beddia, or like that time when the Italian consul almost beat Ghetto Gastro’s Pierre Serrao at our ping pong tournament. Often, on occasions such as these, the soundtrack is an out of tune chorus of Italian karaoke voices. But the goal of this post, I think, is to explain how a business that might not look like an essential one, has come quite close to the definition of vital. I’ll also try to report on how in the last weeks our lives have changed, waiving a strident patchwork of stress, routine and alienation, resolutions, gluts of support and back pain.

Our e-commerce was assaulted. We ration out our supplies, but stocks drain while we compulsively monitor the days that keep us separated from the containers crossing the Atlantic. Big numbers were never in the DNA of the company. That is in part because the products we like are scarce (and that’s why we like them), and in part because the demand for a $10 pasta bag is what it is. Small quantities and high prices, proudly. Yet, we are pressed by a new and paradoxical phenomenon: retail customers crowding our website to hoard shelf-stable products inside their virtual carts; while the restaurants, our spine, cutting their orders to the bone. Within a few hours we had to revolutionize our long-standing strategies. Bulk sizes usually reserved to wholesale customers are now available on our e-commerce platform; every day, the entire team leaves their desks unattended and works the fulfilment floor, learning in record time how to pick and pack 60 lbs. orders. We are working wearing masks and gloves, keeping the recommended safety distance between us, as if things were not simple enough.

One month has passed. We started experiencing some aches, but the emails and voice messages left by customers cheer us up. They genuinely express gratitude for the high quality food delivered straight to their homes, or patiently ask recommendations and information about the ingredients. In these weird pandemic times, the distinction between luxury, exception, transgression and necessity is becoming blurry, especially regarding food. The stereotyped American all about fast, pre-made meals has found all the time in the world to hang around the kitchen, experimenting with ancient grain flours from Sicily or just braving intricate recipes. One of the last joys remaining during these times of lockdown: cooking, eating. Isn’t this relevant, essential even?

Meanwhile our restaurants, weakened yet willful, are reshaping and reinforcing their delivery formulas. Shyly, new wholesale orders surface. On the other front, in Italy, we are trying now more than ever to support our network of farmers and artisans, whom we admire and prize. We are not heroes, but we keep going, sure to be on the right side.

When people ask me about the mood in New York City, I refer to the Coronavirus Briefing from NYTimes. Currently my direct experience of the city is limited to riverside walks during the weekend and weekday rides down the FDR, when I gaze at what I used to consider the most vibrant city I know from the rear window of Danielle’s car – my zealous colleague who, 5 days a week, drives from Harlem to Brooklyn, then back North again to the Bronx. The subway, usually my most reliable thermometer of the city’s Zeitgeist, is off limits. It’s been weeks since I boarded a train. Placid and disfigured, the city that never sleeps.

How is it going to be when all this finishes? I don’t know, but the optimistic quote given by Beatrice, the woman that back in 1999 founded Gustiamo, to the HuffPost reads: “this moment is showing me that when this is over, more people will have realized that food is important in the world — and they should take better care of themselves.”

A conversation with Virgilio Martinez

Words by Nicholas Gill

Illustration by Federico Taddeucci

Photos by Jean-Pierre Gabriel for Cook_inc. 23

The world has changed. While it’s still too early to say the exact economic impact of Covid-19 will have in Latin America, it is unlikely anything will return to the way it once was anytime soon.

Peru acted aggressive early. A shelter in place policy was enacted so suddenly that many were caught off guard. We had to personally help a notable Texas BBQ writer and his family find a flight out of the country. Lima’s Plaza de Toros, the oldest bullring in the Americas, has been turned into a shelter to protect the homeless from the virus. Hopefully, some of the damage from the virus will be mitigated because of these efforts.

The culinary community will undoubtedly take a hit. Aside of the immediate impact of being closed for several months, restaurants in places like Lima and Cusco, not to mention the small producers that make them possible, that rely considerably on tourism revenue will need to find ways to survive. Collectively, Peru’s food community will need to find a way to work together, like they have over the past three decades, but there are no easy answers right now. I reached out to my friend and collaborator Virgilio Martínez what he thought.

“Every single day there is a new scenario,” he says. “Whatever we plan in one day after two days we think something different.” Each time I’ve spoken to him he has been in good spirits and surprisingly positive, despite the situation. In the immediate, he is supporting his more than 100 employees at Central and his other three restaurants in Peru and not letting anyone go. Much of the produce grown in the Andes at the restaurant Mil will go towards the farmers and their families. When reopening does occur, the immediate focus will be on the more casual spaces Mayo and Kjolle.

Martínez says that this kind of fear and uncertain territory is challenging, but it can also be an opportunity. Peruvian cuisine has the chance to show another version of itself, beyond fine dining and ceviche. To explore the picanterías, traditional restaurants, in Arequipa and throughout the Andes. To do more research the food of the north coast and its unique climate and singular set of influences. To show more of the ingredients, but not in a context of being exotic.

It’s not the end of fine dining, he tells me, but it’s another way to understand at it. It’s an opportunity to connect people. He hopes people will be more thoughtful about where their food is coming from, about seasonality, about what is good. It still has a role to play, but fine dining can’t be as hollow as it has been in recent years. “It has to have a meaning now. A story to tell,” he says. “Not just a luxury you can buy. Innovation will come from the outside, not just in the kitchen, but from understanding our reality.”

He realizes he was probably focused on things that didn’t have much meaning for him or his restaurants. There was too much time on airplanes and not enough time in Peru. Sooner or later, there are bigger questions that will need to be answered. We are disconnected from where our food comes from and this pandemic has revealed just how inefficient that is. Not just for the consumer, but also for producers and for restaurants. We need to reshape our priorities, gradually, as the world recovers. For today, his objectives are clear. “Now, we have just one thing, the main thing,” he says. “To sustain Central, Kjolle, Mayo and Mil.”

SAVE THE DATE

Tuesday 5 May at 19.30 (Italian time) Vírgilio Martinez and Pia Léon will tell their experience in live streaming at the Sangue Na Guerla Symposium Delivery moderated by Anna Morelli.

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