As outdoor dining expands, nature continues to run the show. Kudos to the brave, including winemakers and restaurateurs gambling their mortgage payments that the public will come back to enjoy outdoor menus. Ditto the pandemic workers and firefighters.
Culinary innovator David Kinch, with three Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa and the new Mentone in Aptos, announced that he was removing his name from James Beard Foundation award contention. Given the difficult times the food industry is experiencing right now, Kinch decided to step away from the Outstanding Chef category.
“This is purely a personal decision,” Kinch wrote on Instagram, “not a reflection on anyone else who will be rightly recognized by the Foundation this year.”
This just isn’t the time to celebrate restaurant achievements, believes the much-honored chef.
By email Kinch explained: “I am not saying restaurants should dramatically rethink their mission. The mission is simple, offering a pleasurable meal, of value, with conviviality. All I wanted to say was, since we are essentially at the bottom, isn’t it a good time to think about how we want to change for the better, individually and collectively, in how we treat ourselves and our teams? Isn’t this that opportunity, the reset?”
It is hard to argue with that, with so many restaurants taking a hard look at their operations. Business as usual for restaurants is no longer sustainable.
The longstanding European model of service charges built into the cost of dining is one Kinch believes needs wide adoption. Tipping doesn’t cover the costs of those in the kitchen, and while patrons are used to the tipping-for-service model, it doesn’t begin to stretch to meet the needs of pay equity.
Kinch thinks now is the right time to ask patrons to help cover what he calls “the true cost of dining out. Not what they feel it should cost, but what it actually costs to support the livelihood of the industry and reflect the value of restaurants in building community.”
Kinch is suggesting a paradigm shift during an already fragile economic moment, yet he has a point. Now might be the perfect time to turn catastrophe into vision. That seems to be the theme of these times, if politics and the street are any index.
Kinch insists that while these are hard times for “white tablecloth” restaurants, “there will always be a market for Fine Dining. The death of Fine Dining has been reported on for the past 40 years. It is a niche part of this industry but there will always be a market for it.”
We took home one of our best meals of the pandemic (humor never hurts) from Avanti last week. Beautifully seasoned and accessorized small plates, one of grilled calamari with heirloom tomatoes, lemon zest and fennel ($15) and another of lamb meatballs with grilled polenta and outstanding sweet red peppers ($16) started us off. They moved easily from the takeout container onto our own dinner plates, as did a shared entree of duck confit ($21). Avanti’s duck confit has always been a big hit with me, the richness of the poultry and the seasonal garnishes. This iteration was distinguished by a glaze of black pepper reduction, lots of capers and more of the multi-colored sweet peppers at their exact moment of ripeness.
All dishes were beautiful, absolutely delicious, and generous in portion. FYI: The patio dining seating at Avanti was filled to socially distanced capacity when I picked up our order. Happy diners. Great food.