Food Drama

  • Here Are the All-Star ‘Top Chef’ Contestants Returning to the Kitchen for Season 17
    by Jenny G. Zhang on December 12, 2019 at 9:30 pm

    Top Chef Season 7 features an all-star cast and the familiar faces of Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons. | Photo: Smallz & Raskind/Bravo Fifteen familiar faces, frontrunners, and fan favorites join Padma, Tom, and Gail for the new season The moon waxes and wanes, administrations come and go, brands rise and fall with the give and take of capital and public opinion — and somehow, throughout it all, Top Chef has remained, a true constant in a sea of ever-roiling change. The reality competition cooking show, which enters its 14th year of existence in 2020, is returning on March 19 with an all-star cast of familiar faces, Bravo revealed today in a new trailer filled with strong eye contact and power stances. View this post on Instagram They’ve packed their knives, and now they’re packing their bags for another shot at the title. #TopChef: All Stars premieres Thursday, March 19 on @BravoTV! Link in bio for more. A post shared by Bravo’s Top Chef (@bravotopchef) on Dec 12, 2019 at 10:58am PST Facing off against each other in Season 17 will be 15 chefs, including finalists, frontrunners, and fan favorites, from seasons past: Eric Adjepong (Season 16: Kentucky) Karen Akunowicz (Season 13: California) Jennifer Carroll (Season 6: Las Vegas, Season 8: All Stars, and Last Chance Kitchen Season 7) Stephanie Cmar (Season 11: New Orleans) Lisa Fernandes (Season 4: Chicago) Kevin Gillespie (Season 6: Las Vegas) Gregory Gourdet (Season 12: Boston) Melissa King (Season 12: Boston) Jamie Lynch (Season 14: Charleston) Brian Malarkey (Season 3: Miami) Nini Nguyen (Season 16: Kentucky) Joe Sasto (Season 15: Colorado) Angelo Sosa (Season 7: Washington D.C., and Season 8: All Stars) Bryan Voltaggio (Season 6: Las Vegas) Lee Anne Wong (Season 1: San Francisco, and Last Chance Kitchen Season 7) The contestants will be joined, as usual, by host Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio, and judge Gail Simmons (who was absent from Season 16 due to being on parental leave during the majority of filming). The season takes place in Los Angeles, also the site of the competition in the second season. This will be the second time Top Chef has done a returning all-stars lineup, following Season 8 (won by Richard Blais) in 2010. For the last few seasons, People notes, a small number of former contestants have come back to compete against newcomers for the grand prize. The effect is one of an ever-expanding Top Chef universe, constantly refreshed by young blood while meeting fan demand for existing favorites. The seasons may change, but Top Chef, at least on this mortal plane, is forever. The Top Chef Season 17 All Stars L.A. Cast List Is Bringing the Heat [Bravo] Bravo’s Top Chef Brings Back All Stars for New Season — See Who Will Be Returning to the Kitchen [People] Top Chef coverage on Eater [E]

  • Yoshihiko Kousaka Is One of New York’s Most Experienced Sushi Chefs
    by Eater Video on December 12, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    The chef with a 10-year Michelin star streak takes Omakase into the kitchen at Kosaka Yoshihiko Kousaka never started out to become a sushi chef. “I actually wanted to become a chef of Western cooking,” remembers Kousaka. But in middle school, a school career counselor told a young Kousaka that cooks were paid the least; so he changed his mind to become a sushi chef, starting at just 15-years-old. “My mother was extremely strict,” says Kousaka. “To say that I left home to train as a sushi chef because of it would not be exaggerating.” Today Kousaka celebrates 39 years in the business; having spent the last couple years at his New York restaurant Kosaka. Kousaka is one of New York’s most experienced sushi chefs; and has received a Michelin star for ten consecutive years [that’s between Kosaka and Jewel Bako, where he was also executive chef]. “There were several times I wanted to quit,” says Kousaka, who at one point ran away from sushi training for a week. “But when I became a sushi chef there was one promise I made with my mother: [that] I do it for the rest of my life.” Follow Eater on YouTube to watch more videos | Like Eater on Facebook so you never miss a video

  • Everyone Who Loves to Cook Was Making Beans This Year
    by Meghan McCarron on December 12, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    How the humble legume — especially heirloom varieties — became the go-to ingredient for home cooks this year Earlier this year, on a lazy Sunday afternoon during the chilly, cloudy season that passes for winter in Los Angeles, I sat on a friend’s apartment floor and ate a bowl of broad beans. Brothy and luscious in a shallow ceramic bowl, served with oven-fresh focaccia and a zingy glass of natural white wine, the beans were as wholesome and luxurious as linen sheets; their slow-rendered creaminess recalled pork belly or flourless chocolate cake, but instead of indulged, I felt nourished in a way I still don’t quite understand, far beyond a satisfying lunch. For a long time, there had been some unmet need — a silent, miserable hunger. And then there were beans. Beans felt like caring for myself and everyone else I cooked for. Maybe they were. Over the last year, I’ve tinkered with Instant Pot cooking times; simmered pots on the stove on Sundays; and hand-shelled fat white coco de Paimpol beans during a month in France. My bean ardor made me see them everywhere: a bowl of heirloom beans served with tahini at the restaurant Kismet; a bean salad on Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat so good-looking I wished for it to appear magically in my own kitchen; and endless pots and bowls across Instagram stories. Friends joined Rancho Gordo’s bean club, Slacks sprouted bean-lovers rooms, even my olive oil subscription came with beans. Beans have a long and admirable history of keeping our ancestors alive. Purists might insist the word “bean” applies only to the descendants of Phaseolus vulgaris and Phaseolus lunatus, domesticated in the Americas and one of the several intertwined crops that provided superior nutrition to a host of civilizations; however, most people don’t differentiate between peas, lentils, and other legumes that act like beans. Knobby, pale yellow chickpeas, tiny red adzuki beans, bright green double-skinned favas, pinpoint multicolored lentils, speckled and hardy pintos, fat off-white limas, and purple-black runner beans have provided protein and pleasure to wildly disparate humans. As Samin Nosrat put it to me, “Every culture has a bean.” From almost every conceivable angle — convenience, culinary, conservation — beans are the perfect food. They are cheap, and last for years when dried. Cooked with little more than salt, water, and time, they can offer sustenance for the whole week. They can be reliably cooked well, with just enough variance to satisfy tinkerers, and their uses are endless (Frijoles de olla! Rajma masala! Pizza!). Their abundant fiber nourishes the gut bacteria that research suggests help modulate everything from our immune system to our moods. Even at the plant level, they make soil healthier, by forming a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. When dried, multicolored heirloom beans are also very, very pretty. Cranberry beans from Rancho Gordo, also known as Borlotti, Tongues of Fire, and Cacahuete But why are beans trending right now? Tamar Adler, whose 2011 book An Everlasting Meal helped popularize the salty, brothy, fatty pot of beans, says that back then, people used to look at her funny when she described her cooking method of submerging beans in water, then adding salt, oil, and whatever aromatics she had on hand, as if it were “witch’s brew.” In 2015, Nosrat launched a Bean Month on her blog, she says in hopes of convincing home cooks to just try making beans, an ingredient she’s loved since her days cooking at Chez Panisse (where Adler spent time as well). This year, when the food writer Lukas Volger hosted a “31 days of beans” on his Instagram account, the enthusiasm was already there. “People were primed and ready for it,” he says. Many Extremely 2019 foodstuffs — natural wine, sourdough bread, fat knobby grains like bulgar — wear halos of authenticity and goodness. Beans carry that same rustic, good-for-you energy and are much easier to make than a loaf of sourdough. They’re the cultured, real version of fake meat — the original protein pellet, a whole food cooked on a stove that also can help heal the environment, if largely in an unexamined, unsystematic, Step 4 Profit???? kind of way. Flygskam, or flight shame, hasn’t hit the anxious liberal mainstream in America yet, but meat shame, especially industrial meat shame, seems to be taking hold; nearly everyone I spoke to about their love of beans said they wanted to cut back on meat. But no one is eating beans just because they’re virtuous. Cooked right, their earthy flavor is mild yet compelling, sometimes nutty, sometimes more vegetal, and the lush yet hearty texture of a perfectly cooked bean is a delicacy. And then there’s the pleasure of discovery. When I told a friend who is the kind of food nerd with season tickets to Next that there were such a thing as heirloom beans, she widened her eyes and said, “Like tomatoes?” If squeezing lumpen and speckled tomatoes is a limited summer pleasure, heirloom beans deliver a jolt of rarity year-round. Mass-market grocery-store beans tend to be old and therefore hard to cook, in addition to fairly plain. Heirlooms come from a world outside of grocery shelves, one where human ingenuity and nature’s random beauty combine to create little, useful, edible jewels: fat, flat Christmas lima beans mottled in burgundy; goldenrod-ochre Paiute teparies; pale green, stretched-out flageolets; black- and white-speckled varieties called calypso and vaquero. It’s impossible to talk about heirloom beans without talking about Rancho Gordo, the heirloom bean company founded by Steve Sando, catapulted to fame by Thomas Keller, and generally beloved by the food nerds of the world. Sando’s lovingly curated selection of beans, including rare varieties sourced from Mexico by Sando and his business partners, Yunuén Carrillo Quiroz and Gabriel Cortés García, might as well have been precision engineered to captivate the overeducated, overworked, underpaid slice of the population who are most likely, say, to read this far into a story about beans (thanks). Even better than a single bag of heirloom beans is membership in the hyper-exclusive Rancho Gordo bean club. Being a member means that four times a year, you receive a box stuffed with a variety of heirloom beans, as well as bean-nerd-friendly extras like cumin or, in the case of this month’s shipment, popcorn. Bean club is so popular it’s often closed to new members (like right now). Volker joined two years ago, when he happened to see it was open. He texted five other friends to give them the heads up, and they all thanked him effusively. My friend Max joined after no one gifted him the company’s massive 20-pound box of beans listed in his wedding registry; a lifelong Angeleno and vegetarian, he says he loves beans because of all the different recipes his mother, also vegetarian, cooked when he was growing up. Tejal Rao, the California restaurant critic for the New York Times whose work often features bean recipes, gave up her bean club membership when she moved to Los Angeles, only to rejoin upon her arrival. “I started to run very low on beans! I don’t exclusively buy from Rancho Gordo, but I wanted to have a consistent source.” Cassoulet beans from Rancho Gordo, also known as Tarbais beans Chickpeas grown locally in Southern California In a recent Strategist feature, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, Lisa Lucas, cited her bean club membership as something she couldn’t live without. There is some sort of ineffable yet undeniable sharing of vibes between a shelf overflowing with books and a pantry overflowing with beans; as someone with feet in both of those worlds, I can instantly think of several people I know, not including myself, whose homes contain both. The writer Carmen Maria Machado recently enthused to me about how much she loved cooking beans at home for herself and her wife — cranberry beans are a favorite. For all the emphasis on heirlooms and rustic cooking methods, the rise of bean nerdery can also be traced to a much normier development: the Instant Pot. Instant is a misnomer; the viral pressure cooker doesn’t cook beans any faster, necessarily, than on the stove, except maybe by saving the soaking time (though whether soaking is truly necessary is also a subject of much debate in Bean World). The Instant Pot offers a different convenience: not having to think about what’s cooking in it at all. Simmering beans on the stovetop requires small, constant amounts of attention, checking water levels, frequent tasting, and just the low-grade knowledge that your stove is on in your house. Stovetop cooking tends to result in a more satisfying and flavorful bean broth, and it maxes out the sense of alchemical accomplishment. But sometimes beans are best when they are as simple as possible, even if the results are not perfect. I put chickpeas or pinto beans in the Instant Pot when I’m on deadline, or, honestly, if I just want to spend my Saturday playing video games in a trance-like stupor, with no risk of burning my dinner. Instant Pot and Bean Club are two sides of the same convenience coin, at least when it comes to reducing the amount of mental space good-enough beans need to take up. Bean Club selects and sends the cool beans to you; the Instant Pot cooks up the cool beans while you work, or recover from working. In her Strategist piece, Lukas writes, “I might have stopped cooking had it not been for the Instant Pot and the Rancho Gordo Bean Club.” Most food trends, especially home-cooking trends, live and die by Instagram, and until now, beans had the deck stacked against them. Raw heirlooms can resemble gems, but even the fanciest rubies and opals cook up white, brown, or black. Maybe the final kick beans needed was the great Instagram aesthetic realignment, when the platform turned away from hyper-perfect, posed, artful photos captioned with quirky emoji to messy, seemingly unedited, candid photos, preferably ones where the caption discusses your recent battle with crippling anxiety. The rise of Instagram stories, where you don’t even need a caption about feelings to justify an ugly photo, has turned mundane camera-phone videos and snaps into badges of accomplishment, first for you, then for the recipe writer you tagged. Nothing says authenticity more than a bowl of saucy cooked beans, fancied up maybe by a handmade earth-toned ceramic bowl, nary a flower in sight. The trend that defined the last Instagram aesthetic was fancy toast, mostly though not exclusively avocado. It was bright, colorful, customizable, virtuous, and pleasing when shot from above, the avocado a just-unfamiliar-enough ingredient to the many non-Latinx white people popularizing the fruit to make said people feel interesting for cooking with it. Not your mother’s sun-dried tomatoes! But avocados were trending before the Aesthetic found them. In 2009, I spent a lot of time deep in the network of food blogs run by and for people with chronic diseases or otherwise constricted diets, which would later become known as the wellness internet. Avocado toast was popular, framed as an appetizing way to enjoy toast if you were avoiding dairy, whether due to veganism or a health reason or a probably misguided cleanse. It was popular, in the way that a lot of food hacks, like coconut flour muffins and agave, ugh, everything, were popular: as a means to an end. When avocado toast began appearing on menus and in food magazine recipes a few years later, I was confused. Didn’t we all know about this? Was everyone on a cleanse? Avocado toast became a cliche, a performance, a fetish, a false symbol of excess standing in for missing capital — if we can’t have houses, we’ll have avocados — and fuel for cartel violence in Mexico. For now, beans seem to be in a similar cultural place that avocados were in 2009: enjoyed by a small, committed community, maybe a little decontextualized and misunderstood, but not yet leveraged for online influence or irrevocably stripped from their cultural roots. It’s a little worrying, from an avocadoization front, that in 2019 lots of middle-class white people cooked up chickpeas in coconut milk and turmeric and referred to the recipe as The Stew. So what if we just… skipped that cycle this time? What if everyone could just love beans and not cash in on it, in money or likes? Beans are not just an affordable food, but a food associated with poverty, and they’ve long been stigmatized as such. The bean recipe popularized by Adler and Nosrat and others is based on a Tuscan recipe; Tuscans were derided as mangia-fagioli, or bean eaters, because they were too poor to afford meat. Bean is also at the root of an anti-Mexican slur here in the U.S. Generally, in mainstream American culture, beans have been devalued as somehow “ethnic” or reduced to fart jokes. Bean fetishization would be only the other side of that ugly, tarnished coin. But I also don’t think beans need to be simple, that no fine dining restaurant should dare to foam a chickpea. Rao says she does not understand why a perfectly cooked bean, at home or in a restaurant, moves her, but it does. “My grandmother offers pucks of roasted besan, a kind of chickpea flour, held together with ghee and sugar, on a little altar to her gods,” Rao says. “That gets at what I love about cooking beans — transforming something plain and unpromising into something so ridiculously deluxe you can offer it to your gods.” Maybe beans fascinate because of their dual nature; they’re both beautiful and plain, hard and tender, simple and luxurious, and untangling one from the other is impossible, maybe even wrong. Letting beans simmer on a stove for an hour or two is the opposite of productivity, and yet it yields riches. They’re a little magic spell we can still perform, coaxing lushness out of a hard nubbin of a seed with water, a little fat, and time. Meghan McCarron is Eater’s special correspondent.Nick Iluzada is a designer and snack enthusiast in Los Angeles.

  • WeWork Is Shutting Down the Restaurant Coworking Startup It Just Acquired
    by Shirin Ghaffary on December 12, 2019 at 6:52 pm

    The famously struggling coworking giant bought Spacious in August, and now it’s closing its doors.

  • Line Cooks, On Demand
    by Kathryn Bowen on December 12, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Are hiring apps like Pared and Instawork the answer to restaurant staffing shortages? Richard Thomas, the manager of a Halal Guys location in Uptown Oakland, says that a certain new technology is so important to his operation that he threatened to quit when his director of operations suggested slashing local budgets for the service to cut labor expenses. “Myself and several of the other general managers said, ‘No — if you do that, we will leave,’” Thomas says. “We’ll be the first ones out, because morale is going to plummet.” Thomas says that he uses the online app Pared seven nights a week to find dishwashers, which allows his staff to focus on their designated stations. “People are hired here to be a team member to serve, or to be a crew leader, or [to] be a cashier or a cook, and the last thing they want is to go back there and wash dishes,” he says. In a sea change primarily occurring behind closed doors, restaurants across the San Francisco Bay Area are being staffed by gig-economy workers performing a range of on-demand tasks at the push of a button: cooking, serving, dishwashing, and even oyster shucking. Restaurateurs like Thomas say companies such as Pared, a hiring platform that connects hospitality businesses with temporary workers, are critical in keeping labor costs low in a sector with razor-thin margins and help ameliorate the shortage of hospitality industry workers. It’s a seemingly simple process: Workers, so-called “Pared Pros,” download the app, create a personal profile, input relevant work history, and upload employer references. Pared can then approve the Pro, which allows that individual to sign up for shift-based gigs with a click of a button, months, weeks, or hours in advance. Restaurants, too, can post requests for workers instantly by inputting their location, a shift’s start time, and the position that needs filling. The user experience for both Pared and Instawork is similar to that of ride-hailing platforms. While Uber and Lyft connect a driver with a rider for a particular trip, Pared and Instawork connect a business with a worker for a specific shift. With Pared, businesses can schedule a shift weeks and even months in advance, for which Pared collects a $5 fixed liaising fee. If the shift is scheduled for the same day or the next day, Pared’s fee is $10. Rates for Pros start at $17.95 per hour, and rise as a shift gets closer, which can result in per-hour earnings of $30 or more (think surge pricing for an Uber or Lyft). Pared claims that, on average, its Pros earn $20 per hour, roughly $5 more than San Francisco’s minimum wage, which currently hovers at $15.59. To sign up for the app, workers must upload references as well as a resume that includes nine to 12 months of hospitality experience. Doing so allows Pros to flag their experience, and companies, in turn, are willing to pay more, says Pared CEO Will Pacio. In addition to netting temporary workers higher wages, some restaurateurs say that hiring apps are a much-needed tool. “It’s great as a last-minute option, or even if we’re short staffed,” says Cynthia Tran, general manager of Tratto, a modern Italian trattoria in downtown San Francisco. “The chefs use [Instawork] quite often for a dishwashing position. If someone leaves unannounced and the next couple days we don’t have coverage, and we haven’t hired anyone, we just put a gig out.” “If the apps were to go away, for me, it would make my business critically harder to do.” But others in the hospitality industry aren’t convinced, and say that apps like Pared and its competitor, Instawork, actually siphon off workers from an already shallow pool of full-time candidates. In their opinion, giggers, who lack the benefits of regular employees, stand to lose, too. Pared CEO Pacio believes Pared’s vetting function creates a win-win for giggers and businesses. “We see ourselves as a professional network, a LinkedIn for this industry,” he says. It’s a network that Pacio adds is expanding from an original core of fine dining clients to a far wider range of businesses with a common need for culinary assistance. “We’re working with McDonalds, we’re working with corporate cafeterias, we’re working with even retirement homes, because they have to serve food,” he says. And although Pared is focused on its East Coast expansion (launching in D.C. and Philadelphia in the past few weeks), additional California markets are still in the picture. “It’s always on our roadmap,” Pacio says of moving into other parts of the state. The Bay Area restaurateurs that use Pared claim that these hiring apps play a key role in navigating a regional staffing shortage, attributable in part to wages that are not keeping pace with living costs. Mat Schuster, co-owner and executive chef of Canela Bistro & Wine Bar, in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, uses Pared and Instawork to find dishwashers, line cooks, and bussers. “If [the apps] were to go away, for me, it would make my business critically harder to do,” he says. “Because it’s not like by them going away, housing gets cheaper.” According to Schuster, the city’s labor shortage is so severe that restaurants could close without the support of hiring apps. While the quality of giggers can vary, Schuster says, temporary workers provide a stop-gap if an employee calls in sick or doesn’t show up for work. Prior to Pared and Instawork, a staff absence would mean pushing his existing employees to cover, risking a decline in morale. “Even by them seeing that extra person in there, it takes away that stress of being understaffed,” Schuster explains. Not all restaurateurs see hospitality industry hiring apps as a silver bullet for staffing shortages, and some believe they may even aggravate labor scarcity. “There are some restaurants that do feel it is taking from their pool,” Schuster says. But in Schuster’s view, the kinds of individuals who are attracted to gigging don’t necessarily value the stability that accompanies full-time work at a single restaurant. “They want to be able to take three weeks off and go to South America, without giving notice,” he says. “Or maybe they want to see how 10 different restaurants operate 10 different shifts.” Marie Holvick, an employment law specialist and partner at Gordon & Rees Scully Mansukhani, agrees that apps like Pared provide a crucial source of on-demand labor; still, she admits there are downsides, which she hears from clients in the restaurant industry. “People can abuse the paid sick leave in order to go work a gig, and then get paid twice that night,” she says. Flexibility, too, sometimes translates to a lack of reliability. “I’m just afraid that they are not going to show up,” chef and caterer Kitiya Ditpare tells me. “That’s always my fear.” After working as a tax planner, Ditpare left behind a decade of corporate experience to found Taco Thai, a catering business inspired by her family’s Thai home cooking. As a new business owner without employees, Ditpare says that she sometimes uses Pared to fill temporary staffing needs. Ditpare’s concern stems from experience — she was jilted by a Pared Pro while working her first-ever food festival, Thai New Year San Francisco. Prior to the event, Ditpare posted a request through Pared for a prep cook who could help her prepare for the event and run her booth. When the Pro didn’t show, despite accepting Ditpare’s request, she called Pared to ask for backup; there wasn’t a standby, she says. Thankfully, Ditpare was able to enlist help from a festival attendee and colleague she knew through La Cocina, a San Francisco-based kitchen incubator. “If they were not there, then I would be in very big trouble,” Ditpare explains. “It affects my business because I can’t run it effectively without a helper.” Despite her criticisms, though, Ditpare says she will continue to use Pared. She can’t justify employing someone full time, as some weeks are busier than others. According to Ditpare, looking for temporary help through Pared is her best alternative to a permanent hire, even if it means depending on someone who is less reliable (she adds that Pared offered her next shift free to compensate for the worker’s absence in April). “It’s an okay short-term solution, and it’s good for people who are starting their business,” she says. David Barzelay, executive chef of the two-Michelin-starred Lazy Bear, seems to share that view. While hiring apps can be a valuable makeshift, he says, there are structural limitations that prevent restaurateurs from relying on them exclusively. If a gig worker bails on a shift, Barzelay explains, there’s no time to utilize traditional (some say old-school) options for finding someone to fill in, such as reaching out to friends or former employees. “So with a position like a dishwasher, or a polisher, in a restaurant like ours, we’re large enough that we can reasonably absorb being one person down, two people down, even three people down, without it completely killing us for a night,” Barzelay says. “But we’re in the minority on that — in most places, that really, really hurts.” Lazy Bear was an early adopter of Pared to find dishwashers and polishers (not cooks, Barzelay clarifies) when regular team members went on vacation or missed a shift. And though Barzelay says he doesn’t use the app as frequently these days, he’s been impressed with the quality of candidates. “We saw a lot of people, especially early on, that previously held really high-level positions in kitchens, like sous chefs, chefs de cuisine, executive chefs, who were looking for extra cash, or who were between other jobs, or were looking for flexibility in their schedules.” Barzelay says he’s seen a wide mix of personalities. “We’ve frequently had people who we, under no circumstances, would have hired personality-wise,” he says. But, their skills have been adequate for washing and polishing. “And in many cases they were over-qualified for those positions,” he adds. Barzelay says that restaurateurs are unlikely to replace full-time employees with temporary workers, even if hiring apps are on the rise. “The rates we pay for Pared or Instawork are well over the rates that we pay for full-time employees, even including all of the benefits,” he says. Plus, even if gig workers are skilled, Barzelay explains, it’s difficult to integrate new workers into a kitchen, especially if they are coming in for just a single shift, and while a new gig worker is in the kitchen, regular staff must provide critical oversight and training. According to Barzelay, the operating environment is, if anything, skewed in favor of long-term employees: “They know that if they leave today, they can have work tomorrow.” Victor Aguilera is a former sous chef at San Francisco’s One Market and a now frequent Pared Pro (so frequent that after Pared connected us, Aguilera asked to proceed quickly because he was on a gig at the University of California, Berkeley). Aguilera says that he works at least two Pared gigs per week, primarily to diversify his cooking experience, and has a full-time job at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, though he won’t disclose what he does for the private, men’s-only institution. “There is the gamble if you’re going to have something more steady,” Aguilera admits, when asked if there are challenges to gigging full-time. But he adds that the most he’s ever earned over 13 years of cooking came from daily “doubles,” working back-to-back Pared gigs, after he moved from Florida to San Francisco. “It was kind of mind-blowing,” Aguilera says. “I’ve just never been used to getting paid so well.” Aguilera notes that, at the time, he made between $300 to $400 each day, a figure that he says substantially declined when he later accepted a full-time position as a sous chef at One Market. “I put myself in a hole because I was working almost 140 hours and making less than two grand every two weeks,” he explains. Recently, Aguilera worked a gig at Petit Crenn, Dominique Crenn’s seafood-centric tasting menu concept in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. He was then offered a stage at its Michelin-starred sister restaurant, Bar Crenn, and after that, a part-time job there. “Pared has helped me to make these types of moves,” Aguilera says, adding that he’s still mulling over Bar Crenn’s offer. As similar apps proliferate (New York-based Jitjatjo was founded in 2016), and as Pared and Instawork expand their East Coast presence in cities like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston, the debate around hiring apps could reach a national stage. But in California, Pared’s answer to chronic restaurant understaffing may not be a solution at all come January 2020, when Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a new state law that defines who is considered an “employee,” goes into effect. In September, the California legislature passed the legislation, which codifies existing state court precedent requiring a business to show that a worker is properly classified as an independent contractor under a three-pronged “ABC” test: (A) that the worker is free from the hiring entity’s control in relation to the work performed; (B) that the work performed is outside the hiring entity’s usual course of business; and (C) that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established business or trade of the same nature as the work performed. If an independent contractor doesn’t fit any of these prongs, then the business would need to reclassify that worker as an employee. “We’re not trying to take advantage of these people.” AB5’s passage and worker reclassification could make it more expensive for California restaurateurs to use hiring apps like Pared and Instawork. As employees, workers are entitled to the protections of the California Labor Code, including minimum wage and overtime requirements, and benefits, such as health insurance and paid family leave. As the “employer,” temporary staffing platforms would be responsible for paying these labor costs. Barzelay, and others paying attention, believe the apps may pass this additional cost onto restaurants in the form of higher rates for workers who could, in turn, shift this cost onto diners in the form of higher meal prices. Reclassification may also affect or cut into contractors’ lucrative hourly rates, which can rise as high as $30 per hour. Whether restaurateurs will give up on the apps due to a price hike is still an open inquiry. “I think we would continue to use it out of desperation,” says Tran, of Tratto, when asked if her restaurant would tolerate a price increase. Pacio insists that AB5 doesn’t apply to Pared, and it seems unlikely that the company will voluntarily reclassify its workers. Thus, it may ultimately be a court that decides whether AB5 would apply. (Representatives for Instawork declined to comment on the point.) “I think there’s just a misunderstanding,” Pacio says. “Not all tech companies are the same, and we’re certainly not the same as Uber and Lyft.” According to Pacio, Pared workers benefit from flexibility and earn more as giggers than they would otherwise, unlike drivers on ride-hailing platforms, who, he says, make less and less over time. “We’re not trying to take advantage of these people,” says Pacio. But Pacio’s intentions aside, there’s an argument to be made that workers who use Pared aren’t contractors under the new law. “There’s no question that these workers who are going into restaurants, even on a part-time or temporary basis, are anything but employees,” says Carole Vigne, director of the Wage Protection Program and a staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work, a nonprofit that focuses on workers’ rights. Take dishwashers, for example; Vigne argues that under Prong A of AB5’s test, which considers the hiring entity’s degree of control over the worker, dishwashers are likely employees because the person washing dishes doesn’t typically decide when and where they wash dishes; rather, this is something that the hiring entity determines. And under Prong B, dishwashers facilitate food service, and thus arguably perform work within the hiring entity’s “usual course of business.” So too with Prong C, as temporary workers who act as dishwashers don’t typically have their own dishwashing companies on the side, such that they would be engaged “in an independently established business or trade of the same nature as the work performed.” For Vigne, then, the real question is who is the employer (the hiring app and/or the third-party business), and consequently, who is liable if workers are misclassified? “These apps very much are working as a staffing agency, and there’s a long line of cases here that say both the staffing agency and the actual employer can be on the hook for labor law violations,” Vigne explains. In other words, it’s not just Pared and Instawork that might be liable for worker misclassification — restaurants and businesses that use contractors on these platforms could face claims from temporary workers alleging that they’ve been misclassified. It remains under debate whether AB5 will usher in a new wave of misclassification claims by restaurant workers after January 1, when the law takes effect. Vigne seems to think so. “There is going to be some very aggressive enforcement of AB5 come early 2020,” she says. “The Supreme Court has said it; now the legislature and the California government has said it. I think there’s very little room left for interpretation about what California intends for its workers.” Holvick isn’t so sure. Although gig workers can already bring misclassification claims in California under existing precedent, it’s not something she’s seen in the restaurant sector. “I think that lawsuits stem from unhappy workers, and the workers aren’t unhappy yet,” she says. “When the workers are benefiting and happy, they’re not the ones testing the law.” With multiple stakeholders benefiting from apps like Pared, the litigation landscape remains quiet for now; over the long term, only time will tell. Kathryn Bowen is a writer and lawyer based in Oakland, California. Zoë van Dijk is a freelance illustrator based in Los Angeles, California.

  • How Much Do Cooks and Chefs Really Make These Days?
    by Matthew Sedacca on December 12, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    Wages are up — but not enough to comfortably live in America’s most expensive cities There was little pleasure for Valerie Biega in her pre-work coffee routine. The caffeine, rather, was what fueled her to push through each shift as a cook at a popular fried chicken restaurant in Brooklyn. After 10-plus hours — as many as 16 for the occasional double — of prepping and drowning chicken cuts in sputtering oil for a golden-brown crisp for tourists and hypebeasts alike while dodging coworkers on the tight line, she’d take two buses home to her apartment, finishing her day’s journey at around 1 a.m. At $13 an hour for 45 to 55 hours a week, Biega didn’t have too much to show financially for her labor. She estimates that upward of 40 percent of her monthly income went to rent, another 20 percent each for her private health insurance and transportation, and another chunk covered her phone bill. (Paying off her culinary school debt would have to wait.) Even though her food costs were minimal, Biega says there wasn’t much she could afford to do aside from binge Netflix and recover until the work cycle began anew. “It took a little while to realize that while I was doing what I wanted to do — cooking in the big city,” says Biega, now a sous chef in Toronto, “basically I was living to work.” To a generation sold futures in hospitality via Top Chef’s endless culinary hurdles and Bobby Flay’s smug grin, Biega’s reality is an all-too-familiar truth: Cooks and chefs today grind their bodies and minds to ensure the comfort of others, but such work rarely provides the means to sustain their own lives. For many back-of-house staffers, the pains of long hours, paltry benefits, and paychecks sucked dry by the cost of living in cities with lauded restaurants are the industry norm. More than a decade since the Great Recession, back-of-house jobs are still very much in demand. Thanks to a seemingly endless cycle of booming restaurant sales ($863 billion projected for 2019) spurring restaurant job growth (183,350 jobs were added between May 2017 and 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), employment for cooks nationwide has recently reached an all-time high: over 2.4 million cooks, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual wage for restaurant cooks increased nationally from $26,440 in 2017 to $27,580 in 2018, likely aided by competitive heat and new legislation guaranteeing $15 minimum wages. Head cooks and chefs enjoyed even greater average increases, up to $52,160 in 2018 from $49,650 in 2017, although their overall job numbers have declined by over 4.1 percent since 2016. Despite these largely upward trajectories, cooks and chefs alike are struggling to keep afloat. Part of the problem is that real wage growth is flatlining, as it has for low-wage workers for several decades, according to the Pew Research Center. But Joshua Clark, an economist for the online real estate database company Zillow Group, says that a second contributing factor is skyrocketing housing costs, with rent inflation over the past decade outpacing wage growth. That crunch is especially hard-felt by those at the lower end of the wage scale, like cooks and chefs. And “there are no signs of that gap closing any time soon,” Clark says. Based on U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey data analyzed by Zillow Group for Eater, cooks, chefs, and head cooks making the median income for their metro area cannot afford to rent apartments on their own in approximately half of the cities across the U.S. Rents where cooks and chefs are working “are pushing them back further to places that don’t have hip new restaurants, that aren’t amenity rich,” Clark says, describing these communities as typically having lower rents. He adds that while commuting “you can listen to a podcast, but it’s still a grind.” One of the more extreme cases of the industry rot driven by this high-rent, low-wage dynamic is the back-of-house staff flight from San Francisco. In October 2019, the median market-rate rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $3,550 a month, according to the rental platform Zumper, while the average annual income for a restaurant cook in the San Francisco metro area is $35,210, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Understandably, some chefs are fleeing their priced-out homes for cities like Sacramento, which is more affordable, at least for now. That gap leaves many professionals gambling between bankruptcy and their livelihoods. Recent surveys found that more than 50 percent of New York chefs do not have paid time off or sick days, and only 31 percent of the 1,253 restaurants that participated in a nationwide survey offer employees health insurance. In her nine years of cooking, Biega could count only one job in the U.S., at a country club, where an employer paid for her health insurance. “This is one of the industries where health care isn’t a priority,” says Biega, who has been diagnosed with ADHD and is waiting to be assessed for autism. “We don’t care if we’re sick and tired — that’s not even remotely a priority when you’re trying to pay rent.” For those who do manage to break into kitchen managerial positions, the salary gains are significant. The culinary website Chef’s Pencil reported that for nearly the past two decades, the difference between the growth of average wages for cooks in restaurants and for chefs/head cooks widened, not unlike the gap between CEOs and typical workers. Between 2001 and 2018, the percentage difference has bloated from 57.7 percent to 89.1 percent. As with CEOs, there’s a perception among restaurant owners that the supply pool for competent chefs de cuisine is slim, says Richie Nakano, founder of IDK Concepts in San Francisco, adding that “a lot of chefs, when they reach chef de cuisine level, can name their own price.” Yet many sous chefs and head chefs say that their advanced salaries come at a cost. The physical demands of working the line do not completely end, and there’s increased responsibility alongside longer hours with no overtime pay. “It’s our busy season and last week I put in 80 hours,” says Andy Hirth, a sous chef at the Lynnwood Convention Center in Washington, noting 50 to 60 hours is more typical. “Sometimes it’s a grind, and you know that as a cook when you’re done for the day, you’re done for the day. But as a chef, you’re constantly worried about every little thing.” A handful of industry players are attempting to MacGyver higher wages for their back-of-house staff: Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group introduced its “Hospitality Included” policy in 2015, which raised menu prices and eliminated tipping at several of its restaurants, enabling a 20 increase for back-of-house staff and benefits for all staff; Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri eliminated tipping and introduced profit-sharing for all employees when they opened Juliet in Somerville, Massachusetts. But for the most part, the system persists, in the same way it has for decades. It’s no surprise then that despite reports of a restaurant boom, many cooks and chefs are pursuing careers outside restaurants. Some cooks are delving into the private chef market, where the average annual salary is over $10,000 more than that of restaurant cooks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Some organizations calculate the national average salary for private chefs to be much higher, at around $68,000 a year.) Many chefs, meanwhile, are moving into cooking within the corporate and private sectors, at casinos and hotels, where the median salaries for chefs and head cooks are over $7,000 to $11,000 higher than in restaurants, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And then there are workers like Hanna Brotherhood, a former sous chef at the Upsider in Midtown Manhattan who, along with several of her former classmates from culinary school, is hanging up her whites for good. Most recently, she’s found her workplace respite as a product manager at a cheese company in Brooklyn that delivers to restaurants around New York; her current salary is twice that of her last cooking job’s $600-a-week pay. When she visits restaurants for her current job, she doesn’t miss it. “I love taking care of people and feeding people, but it never felt like I was doing that,” Brotherhood says. “It felt like you’d go in and make some stock and go home — for very little money.” Matthew Sedacca is a writer living in Brooklyn.Carolyn Figel is an illustrator and animator based in Brooklyn, New York.

  • Move Over, Dry January, ‘Veganuary’ Is the Next Big Thing in New Year Fad Diets
    by Jaya Saxena on December 12, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    Tofurkey Plus, Krispy Kreme’s owners are giving $5.5 million to Holocaust survivors, and more news to start your day A U.K. initiative to eat vegan for a month is making a push in America In a similar vein as “new Year, new you” initiatives like Dry January and Whole30, U.K. campaign Veganuary is coming to the U.S. and asking participants to keep a vegan diet for the first month of the year. “During the 2019 campaign, more than a quarter of a million people took our pledge to try a vegan diet,” says the non-profit, “…more than 500 brands, restaurants and supermarkets promoted the campaign, and launched more than 200 new vegan products and menus in the UK market alone.” It’s certainly easier than ever to eat vegan, with the proliferation of “fake meat.” But will it actually work, or like Dry January, will it give a lot of people justification to binge come February 1? Traci Mann, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, told SF Gate that “In general, denying yourself something makes you want to eat it more — and then eat it more.” But honestly, the biggest qualm is probably the name. When will we learn that “January” makes for unsatisfying wordplay?! We could instead go for No Meat November, Meatless March, or April Is The Cruelest Month (For The Meat Industry). And in other news… Just in time for Veganuary! A federal court has blocked an Arkansas law that made it illegal for non-meat products to use words like “meat,” “burger,” and “sausage.” The state argued that calling something “vegan chorizo” would mislead customers about what’s in it, but according to a release from the ACLU, “The state could not identify any evidence that consumers are confused about plant-based products.” [ACLU] The family that owns Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread, and Pret-A-Manger are continuing their attempts to make amends over their ancestors’ Nazi ties. The family is donating $5.5 million over two years to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which provides resources to Holocaust survivors. [NBC News] A Presidential policy in Nigeria has blocked imports of chicken from Benin, creating a shortage of the staple food. [WSJ] UK researchers are suggesting putting exercise labels on food, which would tell you how much you need to work out to burn off those calories. Seems like a great way to trigger people with eating disorders. [CNN] Nestle is selling its ice cream division for $4 billion to Froneri. Brands include Häagen-Dazs, Drumstick and Outshine. [FBN] An “eggless egg” startup just bought a production plant in order to make its product cheaper. [Bloomberg] New England fishers are losing their jobs because of climate change. [Modern Farmer] Tired: it’s like herding cats Wired: it’s like cleaning up citrus on a Florida freeway CITRUS SPILL: Clean-up crews swept up thousands of grapefruits after a tractor-trailer lost its load on a Central Florida freeway.— ABC News (@ABC) December 12, 2019 All AM Intel Coverage [E]

  • The 8 Hottest New Restaurants in Prague
    by Kat Odell on December 12, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    Výčep / official From a beer hall by Prague’s famous Pivovar Matuška microbrewery to a ramen joint from an Ippudo vet, here’s where to eat in the City of a Hundred Spires Today Eater returns to Prague — the enchanting capital of the Czech Republic — to call out eight newish restaurants on the front lines of a Czech food explosion. We turned to contributing editor Kat Odell, who has roots in Praha, to share her picks for the city’s buzziest openings of the past 12 months or so. “While 40 years of Communist rule helped preserve Prague’s ancient architecture, it all but crushed traditional Czech cuisine,” says Odell. “With little to no access to fresh ingredients, food became dependent on processed and canned products. But Tomáš Karpíšek and his restaurant group Ambiente have spent the last 20 years trying to change this — reintroducing the city to fresh ingredients, chef-driven menus, and smartly designed spaces.” And he has inspired others to follow. For one, ramen is trending, and while the city offers a number of options, the best place to slurp a bowl is Isai Ramen Bistro. For a refined tasting menu, consider newbie Bockem, which not only offers a seven-course dinner, but a breakfast that unfolds as its own three-course adventure. Super-popular KRO Kitchen might feel fast casual, but the sliver of an eatery is helmed by a chef who spent time at Copenhagen’s Manfreds, and the relaxed restaurant even boasts a sommelier. With that, the Eater Heatmap to Prague, a guide to what’s new and hot in the city of a hundred spires:

  • This Zojirushi Rice Cooker Is an Utterly Perfect Machine
    by Meghan McCarron on December 11, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    The Zojirushi rice cooker makes rice and more. | Jimmy Vong/Shutterstock The Japanese rice cooker has withstood a decade of weekly use In 2009, I lived in a crowded Brooklyn apartment, and for Christmas I asked for a rice cooker to free up stovetop space I shared with my roommates. My mom, the most determinedly online Christmas shopper I know, skipped the $40 domestic options and imported a Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker from Japan. It offered something called “fuzzy logic” cooking, it could make five different kinds of rice plus porridge, and it sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” every time you turned it on. To be honest, I thought it was a bit much. Ten years later, I still use this perfect machine at least once a week. The fuzzy logic system, which allows the cooker to make small adjustments based on moisture and other variables, makes extremely good white rice of all kinds, especially sushi rice. The brown rice setting makes rice a bit too wet for my preferences, but this Healthyish method of cooking brown rice on the white rice setting, which better suits American tastes, works great. Zojirushi [Official] Zojirushi’s Neuro Fuzzy rice cooker comes in two sizes. What I really adore about this rice cooker, however, is the porridge setting. If I have an excess of chicken stock, I’ll make a golden, rich congee; if I’m making meatballs, I’ll make big batches of a cheater polenta. And most mornings in the winter start with a creamy oatmeal cooked on the porridge setting. The only downside is it’s not particularly fast — about an hour. If I really had my shit together, I’d put oatmeal in the night before and set a timer, because the rice cooker can do that, too. It’s relatively simple to make rice (or polenta) on a stovetop, but I find having a little machine I trust to make part of the meal frees up my brain and makes dinner more possible. Over the past 10 years, home cooking culture in the US has become grain-obsessed, and the Neuro Fuzzy is now big in America. (I remember the disappointment in my mom’s voice when she saw it at Williams-Sonoma.) I love this rice cooker so much I thought about buying another Zojirushi rice cooker duty-free in the Tokyo airport, as if two would double my happiness. But there’s no need. After a decade of use, it might finally be time to get a new nonstick bowl; but everything else about it, from the buttons to the little nubby rice paddle, works just as well as the day it arrived. Buy Zojirushi Neuro Fuzzy 5.5-cup rice cooker, $160 Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.

  • My Favorite 2019 Food-Focused Charities
    by Amanda Kludt on December 11, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    A spread from All Day Baby, now open in LA | Wonho Frank Lee From the Editor: Everything you missed in food news last week This post originally appeared on December 7, 2019, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now. Though I’m not religious, I admire the principle of tithing — taking a portion (a tenth!) of your take-home income and giving it to the community. Conveniently, in the church that often means giving the money to … the church. But there are many faiths that encourage taking that tithe and giving it to worthy charities. I have a personal percentage I’ve tried to hit since my teenage waitressing days but I often forget about it until the very end of the year. Now is a good time to take stock in charitable donations, whether that’s time or money, for 2019. And since last week’s newsletter was focused on my favorite food-related gifts to buy for the holidays, recommending some food-related charitable foundations could be a good counter-balance. My go-to food charities include The Food Bank For New York City, Hot Bread Kitchen, La Cocina, Restaurant Workers Community Foundation, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers. I would love to learn about yours. If you want to send me your favorites to, I’ll make sure to list them in this space in the coming weeks. On Eater Rey Lopez ABC Pony Intel: Celeb D.C. chef Mike Isabella turned up at a Florida restaurant after retreating from all of his D.C. properties following a sexual harassment suit and bankruptcy; Chicago’s minimum wage will go up to $15 and its “sub-minimum” will go to $8.60 in 2021; the people behind Here’s Looking at You in LA opened a new all-day cafe; Erik Bruner-Yang’s ’80s- and ’90s-themed pasta place in D.C. opened this week; Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet is opening his own restaurant in Portland; LA institution the Apple Pan now has cool merch; Tony Mantuano is leaving Spiaggia after founding it 35 years ago; the chefs behind New York restaurant Frenchette will open a restaurant in Rockefeller Center; Michelin launched a huge partnership with TripAdvisor; a big new development with a number of restaurants will open across from NYC mega-project Hudson Yards in 2020; Montreal is giving landmark/historic status to a bunch of restaurant signs; LA’s San Gabriel Valley has a new must-order dish; Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole will open a location of their Asian-inflected steakhouse, Loro, in Houston; Andy Ricker is working on an exciting-sounding charcoal-centric restaurant next month; and bored social media managers of food accounts tweeted some regrettable things this week. Review: Ryan Sutton checks in on two new NYC caviar and Champagne destinations, Air’s and The Riddler. Was fascinating to me to learn how influential (and untrustworthy) TripAdvisor restaurant reviews are. In which Daniel Geneen goes behind-the-scenes to see how iconic condiment Tabasco is made. Food brands love a serif. I did not know drinks served in bags are super common around the world, but they are! This Week on the Podcast We talk about the phenomenon of holiday-themed bars and interview the founder of Miracle, who licenses out his pop-up concept to dozens of bars around America. Then we get into the biggest stories of the week. Off Eater The corporate slack culture at hip luggage company Away is terrifying and toxic. [The Verge] This interactive exploration of the New York subway map is incredibly cool. [NYT] I am obsessed with this super-curvy, otherworldly residence in Russia. [Curbed] The banana boulevardier is a thing and I would like to drink it. [Punch]

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