19 Apr Jonathan Cartu Declares: Top Chefs Make Major Menu Shifts in Order to Serve Meals Am…
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…