On Thomas Jefferson’s Slave Chef and the Slow Reopening of the World’s Restaurants

The Intelligence Brief is our weekly compendium of food and drink news sourced from outlets all over the world, including right here at home.

It has now been a week since the province moved into Phase II of it’s Covid-19 response. The shift has come with a gradual re-opening of restaurants around the city. While some establishments remain closed or continue with take-out and delivery only, we’re starting to get a better picture of what the coming months may look like for the industry.

Last Monday, the City of Vancouver lifted its emergency order to shut down all restaurant table service.  The order was originally announced March 20th and rescinded almost 2 months to the day after it was put in place.

Even though the order has been lifted, we know that dine-in service is going to look very different than we’re used to. Here are some of the protocols for restaurants, cafes and pubs as outlined by Worksafe BC.

Here’s a peek at some of the strategies recently opened restaurants have been using to provide service that’s in line with these new requirements.

Meanwhile, the list of restaurants re-opening continues to grow and includes local favourites such as Nightingale, St. Lawrence, and Popina Canteen (where they serve a special hand-held that is now listed in the Comfort Food Guide to Vancouver).

While many folks are eager for a return to their favourite restaurants for a meal, questions about safety continue to be front of mind, especially in the US where the virus has hit especially hard (98k+ deaths and rising).

Similarly, McDonald’s employees continue to sound the alarm on the corporation’s disregard for staff safety as workers struggle to access appropriate safety gear.

While some move forward with a plan to re-open, others are looking at the cracks in a broken industry and wondering if it’s worth saving in its current form.

“The current crisis has turned the industry’s cracks into chasms, exposing the ways in which it fails its workers almost by design. It has also raised the question of what restaurants will look like—and how they could survive—once this is all over. But a better question might be whether they should survive as they currently exist. What could restaurants look like if we threw out the old system and built something better?”

Another opinion to add to the mix — this one calls on diners to help fix an industry they helped break.

Interesting read from the Washington Post (via the Santa Fe New Mexican) | Reopening Too Soon: Lessons from 1918’s Deadly Flu.

Finally, the New Yorker’s Helen Rosner talks with writer, cook and artist Tunde Wey as he makes the case for letting the industry die.

“If there’s anything I think should be done, it’s that restaurant owners should abandon entirely their pursuit of a bailout specific to the industry, and focus on policy and government programs that support people generally.”

In happier news, and despite the challenging times, many Vancouver restaurants that were under construction before the virus hit are moving forward with plans to open, including David’s Chang’s Momofuku.

While the future of restaurants remains in-flux, community members continue to find innovative ways to support the industry as well as front-line workers.

In an effort to support residents experiencing food insecurity, the City of Vancouver has released a map showing resources for free or low-cost meals around town.

This week in drinks and podcasts: A cocktail cure seems unlikely but at least the stories are entertaining!

As the government prepares to relax its Covid-19 restrictions on restaurants, some Japanese are violently opposed:

Bars, restaurants and other entertainment businesses in Japan have been the target of “coronavirus vigilantes” during state of emergency regulations in the last few weeks, with citizens threatening those that stay open with verbal abuse, and even arson.

Last week, a 63-year-old local government employee was charged with forcible obstruction of a business after he threatened to set fire to restaurants that stayed open in Japan’s capital.

The man, who works for the government of Toshima in central Tokyo, taped handwritten messages on the doors of a number of establishments that read, “Do not open! I will start a fire!”, according to The Mainichi newspaper.

Over in Italy, the reopening of restaurants hasn’t been easier said than done

“Were I to open tomorrow, I wouldn’t have one client,” said Pietro Lepore, owner of Harry’s Bar on Rome’s tony Via Veneto.

“There are 12 luxury hotels on the street. Sixty percent of my business comes from their clientele and they’re all closed,” Lepore, whose 24 employees are all furloughed, told AFP.

It is the same in Venice, where the spokeswoman for the city’s shopkeepers’ association, Cristina Giussani, mused whether cafes and restaurants should open “for seagulls and pigeons” given the utter lack of tourists.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the Prime Minister and her partner were politely turned away from a restaurant that was following her capacity rules to the letter. Back at work, she then laughed her way through an earthquake. No big deal.

In the Paris Review, we learn about James Hemings (brother to Sally Hemings), the slave who learned the culinary arts when Thomas Jefferson took him to France:

In keeping with his republican ideals, Jefferson eschewed lavish banquets in favor of small, informal dinners where conversation flowed as freely as the Château Haut-Brion. According to his own account, the famous dinner table bargain of June 1790 was just such an event. Preparing the menu for the “room where it happened” that night was James Hemings, arguably the most accomplished chef in the United States. He was Jefferson’s trusted protégé, his brother-in-law—and his slave.

In Atlas Obscura: How the Black Death Gave Rise to British Pub Culture.

Finally, while we are a week into an easing of restrictions, it is still going to take many of our favourite restaurants time to adjust to this new normal. Here’s some ongoing ways to support the industry as they find their footing in the coming weeks and months:

Local barkeeps/somms Shawn Soole, Amber Bruce, Alex Black, Kaitlyn Stewart and Shiva Reddy have started the Bartender’s Benevolent Fund, which to raise money for grants to their fellows.

– Try dine-in service at the handful of restaurants that are opting for it at the start of Phase II.

– Purchase gift cards to use at a later date.

– Support your local small grocers and independent food stores.

– Order food for pick-up or for delivery (keeping social distance during pick-up).

– Make sure to tip your delivery person well (in many ways, they are on the front lines).

– Support your local food bank. This pandemic is increasing the number of people facing food insecurity. They ask that you prioritize financial donations over food so as these can be made online.

– Engage with local restaurants, bars and cafes on social media. Share photos and leave words of encouragement and support.

– If you do need to go grocery shopping, consider supporting a local small business (they’re also often less busy than the larger grocery stores and have more supplies in stock).

– If you have private events booked at any local bars/restaurants, consider postponing rather than canceling.

– Check in with your friends who are bartenders, servers, dishwashers, cooks, etc. and ask them how you can best support them through this.

Most importantly, stay safe and take care of each other. We will get through this!

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