Of all the industries threatened by the coronavirus pandemic, few have felt the impact as deeply as the food industry. Restaurants around the world have experienced dramatic drop-offs in customer traffic, with many adopting delivery services as a means of survival in the new and frightening landscape created by these unprecedented events. Celebrity chef Curtis Stone knew he had to rethink his business model, especially when fine dining was the last thing on anyone’s mind. He decided that, in the face of the pandemic, he’d transform his award-winning restaurant in Los Angeles into a neighborhood market so that he could better serve his community.
At his Michelin-starred restaurant Maude, the upscale menu usually changes dramatically every few months, showcasing new ingredients and traditions of different wine regions around the world. His team travels to each region ahead of the menu debut for immersive research, where they experience first-hand the culture, food and wine in the world’s greatest wine capitals in order to garner inspiration for their pairings. From South Australia to Chile, diners are taken on an epic journey to that region through a refined tasting menu.
But all that has changed after California’s mayor ordered a shutdown of all restaurants. In Los Angeles, dine-in service has been restricted, so the chefs at Maude are coming up with new ideas of their own to adapt to the changes.
In an era of social distancing, Chef Stone is doing his part to stop the spread of coronavirus by taking a humbling humanitarian approach to helping others during the pandemic and shifting from fine dining to comfort food. Instead of rib-eye steaks and lobster rolls, gourmet food lovers can dine on something completely different – comfort food favorites. At this makeshift neighborhood market, you can pick up comfort food classics like shepherd’s pie, lasagna bolognese and Matzo ball soup, which are now offered for takeout and delivery. Patrons can satisfy their sweet tooth with freshly made goods like Gluten-free carrot cake, cheesecake and apple crumble, or order one of their renowned wines from the cellar.
After feeling the crunch of the coronavirus pandemic and seeing restaurants across the country take drastic measures, Chef Curtis Stone and his team are tapping into their network of farmers and purveyors in order to serve delicious eats that everyone loves, including “Family Meals” that feed 5-6 people with an entree, soup, salad, dessert and a wine pairing. Not only is the market designed to feed the community, but they also keep much of their staff employed during these challenging times.
The intimate dining room of Maude is now called Maude Marketplace, and it’s open from 11am-6pm, Tuesday through Saturday, in order to best serve the community. You’ll find grocery items, hearty soups, healthy salads and baked goods on the menu, as well as daily specials. At his other wood-fired restaurant and butcher shop Gwen, takeout and marketplace offerings are available via Postmates and Caviar.
This isn’t the first community-based endeavor for Stone, as he has been a public advocate and worked on fundraisers throughout the years with Chrysalis, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated and homeless citizens reenter the workforce. Many of his restaurant staff have been hired through this program.
Is this the beginning of a trend? The coronavirus pandemic could change fine dining as we know it, and in the midst of these challenging times, some restaurants are doing what they can to adapt. Naked Farmer in Tampa became a digital farmers’ market that delivers fresh produce like arugula and sweet potatoes, while Porridge & Puffs in Los Angeles has converted into a food shop selling rice porridge, bulk pantry staples and bundles of flowers.
The example set by Curtis Stone serves as a beacon to other restaurateurs, showcasing a need for restaurants to support their communities during these tough times. The food industry is inevitably going to change after this pandemic, as fine dining restaurants are now forced to brace for the unknown. For some businesses, curbside pickup and delivery may be sustainable. For others, there may be a monumental shift in the way they do business moving forward.
The coronavirus crisis is an evolving situation, and fine dining establishments will have to keep pivoting to adapt, letting go of outdated business practices and replacing them with new, more creative ways to feed people. Here’s to hoping more top chefs like Stone rise to the occasion, developing a similar approach to serving the community. ■