A pointed stick

Everyone has it rough right now. I still feel pretty lucky mind you.

Covid-19 is sweeping the globe. We’re all on lockdown. Here? Me? We had a 5.7 quake a few weeks ago, about threw me out of bed. Crazy. That was followed by rigorous aftershocks. The same day the pound/dollar rate collapsed crashing my income.

My wife’s mother is already real sick with a variety of issues – three paramedic calls in a week so far. My mother, already high risk from a year of chemo just got took to the hospital with a seizure and possible stroke/brain bleed/brain cancer.

Neither of us can leave the house to visit or help with my wife’s mother; there’s certainly not a chance in hell we can jump on a plane to the UK and help there either. Helplessness abounds on so many levels.

My dad told me he loved me on the phone today. We’re super close but we’re archetypal men. We don’t say that ever. Not from lack of ever not feeling it, or knowing it’s fine to share that. Still. That one shook me today. Some post call tears on my side, pretty sure I heard him too as we hung up.

Today’s been a particularly tough one all said. Still. There’s a roof over everyone’s head I know. We all have food. We’re all still here and muddling by…and then watching CNN tonight, Anderson Cooper struggling to praise a health worker with the right words for her bravery said, “you’re the pointy edge of the spear”. Day, week and month made for me. I mean if you can’t smile at that 😅

Thoughts of the morning

Thought one

How is David Chang so disconnected:

Is there a sustained move toward delivery and away from in-restaurant dining in that new world? Yes. Not to sound callous, but that’s it. I thought that shift was going to happen over the next 10, 15 years, and no one would have noticed because it would’ve happened gradually. This change is now going to happen instantaneously.”

Actually, make that most of the restaurant industry. I speak to many restaurateurs and there’s a general disbelief or reluctance to accept delivery is a thing. You may not like it, you may not embrace it, you may decide not to participate…but it IS a thing.

Like so many industries, tech-disruption is hurtling at you like a freight train. Blink, and its already passed you and it’s in the distance; and you’re probably too far behind on the horizon to ream of hopping on. Sure Covid might have accelerated the engine, but this was always coming at light speed. Not 10-15 years as Chang muses.

If you’ve ever sat around with millennials and a DoorDash app, this was always painfully obvious. They don’t care about your restaurant, they just want to eat.

It’s fascinating that so many industries don’t see themselves as ripe for disruption, or massive change. We will always be, because we’re essential. Remember when Kodak thought digital cameras weren’t a thing, yeah how’d that work out.

I say this as a small business owner myself and almost on a daily basis I think about how to radically rebuild what we do. Change is the only thing you can count on.

Thought two

I’m losing real weight on my Covid diet. My fervently tumbling cement mixer of a brain suggests it could be cancer, because the occham’s razor reality is far less appealing obviously. For reference the Covid-approved diet consists of:

  • Actually paying attention to what I put on the plate
  • Fairly subdued lunches
  • Using leftovers creatively
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Replacing copious amounts of daily Bud Light intake with copious amounts of boxed red wine
  • No visit to the bar in over a month
  • Likewise restaurants, March 11th was the last

This morning (remember weigh yourselves first thing, dehydrated guys, it counts) I weighed in at an all time modern day low of 162lbs. During my restaurant critiquing heyday I barreled around at 195lbs or so.

Brain be like:

The Platform – yes, yes, yes, we get it guy

Watched The Platform on Netflix last night. I’m particular fond of movies that showcase our dystopian future – or some might joke – our ever increasing reality. It’s a pretty bleak movie, which I also rather enjoy time to time, like enjoying an overcast drizzly day.

The concept is simple, the platform itself is a concrete slab that descends downward through a vertically arrayed prison. Two prisoners occupy each layer. Beginning at the top laden with a bounty of impeccably cooked cuisine. We even see the haute cuisine chefs perfecting the dishes from time to time. Imagine Thomas Keller helming the line at Rikers.

The platform travels downwards layer by layer, stopping for a short while on each level to allow the prisoners to feast. As the platform descends the pickins’ become slimmer and slimmer. Those further down inevitably resort to violence, cannibalism and suicide as resources become scant.

The whole thing is an unashamed commentary on capitalism and societies ills. It has the subtlety of me trying to get into a coconut. The last time I attempted such a feat, I ended up on the floor half naked with a hammer and nail by the way. But that’s another story.

The Platform reminded me of the special episode of The West Wing (ordinarily fantastic) post 9/11 where Aaron Sorkin educates us all on why the world hates America. “But why Josh, why do they hate us so much”, a literal line if memory serves.

All in all, a so-so dystopian watch for the journey itself – ultimately mired by constant child like chiding. Yes, we get it, capitalism sucks and we all need to help the next guy. Oh, the ending is balls and it’s dubbed into English as standard which is annoying. Would have much preferred subtitles, but I guess we ‘mercans are too dumb for that now.

If you’re looking for something similar, but more enjoyable I far preferred Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer with an amazing Tilda Swinton.


The end of fine dining

Let me preface all of this crystal ball gazing by saying I hope I am wrong, I hope I am as wrong as when we laughed at a colleague who said we should buy bitcoin. Bitcoin huh, it’ll never work. Bitcoin was around 50c at that time. So what do I know. Zip.

I do think I know people, I do know food and I suspect I know that we’re not close to starting with Covid-19’s real impact on the hospitality industry.

My mind has been spinning in recent weeks as restaurants (especially higher end) in Utah have been closing up shop. “We’ll see you in 14 days”, they optimistically offer. Yes, yes, I know, I just went on about how irrationally optimistic I am myself – but I’m also a pragmatist.

There’s no way the lock down of restaurants in Utah ends after 14 days. There’s no way it ends after thirty. 60 days, 90 days, 120 days, maybe? What if it’s more. With zero revenue going through accounts, what’s going to happen to servers, bussers, bar tenders, chefs? Government intervention seems minimal, despite an unimaginable two trillion dollar headline. The net result in people’s wallets… $1200? How far will that go? How can legions of hospitality workers not find new employ in the currently safer venues of online/ordering/supply chain roles. An entire industry’s workforce is about to decamp en masse and might never come back.

What of restaurant’s bills. Rent, mortgage, insurance, equipment and more. Sure you can defray a little here and there, but even the likes of The Cheesecake Factory are crying poor – what chance of the small guy serving longer term in this climate.

And we’re only talking about the chance of restaurant’s being allowed to open here. What about consumer demand? Everyone is hurting, wallets and confidence are going to be threadbare. Six months from now if you’re eating out, are you splurging $60 on that steak, or do you have one eye on the possible Winter time return and repeat of all of this and go safe with the fast casual. Millennials were already choosing the latter before this began.

The fine dining sector of the restaurant industry was already feeling massive pressure from fast casuals. Younger diners demands were already remaking the industry in a new image. Whether you like that or not, that’s a fact.

How does the fine dining segment recover from this unique moment in history? I don’t know that most will. I hope my crystal ball is on the fritz.

Impending reality

Edit: I hold out hope for those trying to do something, to remain on the radars of consumers and to generate even a small trickle of revenue. Whether that’s through a radically remade family style menu or not – those trying something might have a chance.

Optimistically flawed

I have no logical reason to be as chipper as I seem to be. When my wife asked me this morning how I was doing, the answer was along the lines of…hmmm I feel pretty great, pretty excited, very happy. She jokingly suggested I might be a psychopath, in what are obviously tense times right now. Oh hai there corona.

The irrationally optimistic part of my character has increased the older I’ve got. As a teen and younger man, the world absolutely terrified me. Dread stalked my waking hours for no ostensible reason. I’m not sure when or exactly where and how things changed. I got hooked on a lot of Eastern philosophy stuff years ago during a tough period in life, maybe that was it. I like to tell myself that, it makes me feel all zen master wise and smart; but in truth it was at best, a lazy consumption of half read random books. The dog is undoubtedly more zen than I am.

In truth it’s probably a character flaw of sorts. I mean I know it can be hard to live with me, to appear to be so flippantly blasé to so many things. I share this trait with my mother, who right now is an extremely at risk patient for covid-19; post (multi) chemo, heart issues, breathing issues, oxygen machines around the house. But still on the phone today, we joked and laughed about the seeming end of days quickly approaching as a, “well, it will be what it will be”.

After all – today we laughed, I listened to some music and drank coffee, I bought some presents for my family. Later I’m going to drink a headache inducing mix of hard cider and red wine, smoke a few marlboro and watch Tiger King. I plan on the rest of the day being decent. Tomorrow is tomorrow and we will deal with that then right.

Mood be like:

Getting back to it

Once upon a time, long before I was a food writer, I was a keen blogger. Nothing of particular import mind you, just thoughts, essays and words as and when they felt the need to roll out into the digital ether. Better outside my brain than stuck rattling around in there like a pinball machine. My first restaurant review was actually on an old blog years and years ago.

Skip forward fourteen or so years and I mainly write for business reasons these days. I still enjoy food writing but it requires critical thinking, careful review and lots and lots of time. Oh god so much time. I just want to get back to putting letters in front of more letters and pressing publish.

In these days of needing distraction, here’s to getting back into the groove.

Song of the day: