The Chefs I Used to Admire Aren’t the Leaders We Need Right Now

As an amateur cook on my way to becoming a chef, I studied the world-renowned chefs credited with changing restaurant cuisine forever. I’ve read their cookbooks, been to their restaurants, and have even met a few. I’ve been drawn in by the creativity and innovation from chefs like Thomas Keller, Ferran Adrià, René Redzepi, and David Chang, who can transform a raw ingredient into a mindblowing and even iconic dish. But over the past month, I have hit my breaking point with being quiet about the actions, or rather lack of action, high-profile chefs and restaurateurs have taken during this global pandemic. Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, it’s become apparent that awards and accolades don’t translate into common sense and an understanding of optics. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem these chefs can think beyond their own interests. 

In a CNBC interview, Chang described this time first and foremost as “easily the hardest couple weeks of my life.” In a Yahoo Finance interview, Tom Colicchio said he thought that it was a bad idea for restaurants to be open for takeout, considering those restaurants would only be making $5,000 a night. He followed it up with, “But the restaurants are doing this because they’re struggling, I understand the intention, I had the same desire to make sure my staff is kept whole. But it’s just not a good thing to do right now.” These statements reek of privilege. Many chefs at this level have licensing deals with hotels, merchandise, luxury car brand deals, millionaire and/or billionaire investors, and cookbook deals. These owners have so many more assets and opportunities than their staff, but we’re led to believe that it’s a hard world for them right now, not their employees. While $5,000 might not be enough for Colicchio to shoulder the risk of opening for takeout, it’s the only option for so many restaurants, including my own, when closing could mean awful things for the staff.

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