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Top global chefs are creating new dishes to stay ahead in the new world of takeout

For restaurants from London to Seattle, staying afloat means exploring all opportunities to serve customers & to keep generating at least some income.

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New York/Melbourne/London/Singapore: There’s typically about a 15-minute window each month to secure a table for two at Attica, Australia’s top ranked restaurant, known for the use of such native ingredients as kangaroo and bunya nuts. That was before the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Like fine-dining destinations across the globe, the Melbourne-based venue is confronting the challenges of lockdowns and social distancing by taking dishes straight to customers’ homes. If it isn’t chef Ben Shewry himself leaving a delivery on the doorstep, it’ll be a smartly dressed member of front-of-house staff.

“It’s the same food that Attica works with—the same chefs—and the people who are delivering are predominantly our front-of-house team in their uniforms, with a nicely pressed shirt and their apron,” says Shewry, who personally delivered 16 orders one night last week. “It’s about maintaining our integrity as a restaurant and as a business, just in a different way.”

The restaurant’s staff of about 35 is continuing to receive full pay as it prepares and transports as many as 80 deliveries a day of meal packages that include kangaroo with saltbush and spice-crusted lamb shoulder. “Making a profit is not even remotely a thought, I’ll be honest,” Shewry says. “It’s about taking enough revenue to continue to pay the wages, to pay our suppliers, and to cover the costs of the business.”

Restaurants from London to Seattle are contending with empty city centers and virus-related restrictions that have limited the number of customers allowed in dining rooms, or have shuttered them completely. Staying afloat means exploring all opportunities to serve customers and to keep generating at least some income.

Demand for services offering premium food delivery is now surging as quarantines and distancing measures ratchet up across Europe, the U.S., and parts of Asia, meaning many consumers are unable to leave their house. Shewry’s Attica is booking out almost all slots for pickup and delivery days in advance. And though the chef briefly opened a bakery as a side project during the crisis, he shuttered it after only a week to focus solely on eat-at-home plans.

Singapore’s Finest, at Your Door

Singapore’s Les Amis, one of only two three-star Michelin restaurants in the city-state, is known for French degustation menus. Chef Sebastien Lepinoy’s extravagant dishes range from la pomme de terre roseval au caviar (caviar served on ‘petals’ of roseval potatoes), and wagyu beef tenderloin with experimental béarnaise sauce. It’s never offered take-away but is responding to the outbreak by offering roast chicken to go, the kind of dish that’s much easier to eat at home then, say, precisely cooked langoustine with olive oil emulsion. “Chef wanted to offer something that could be shared,” says Merissa Goh, communications director. “He knew that the roast chicken would be perfect.”

Nearby, the world-renowned barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends has reduced dine-in capacity by about half, meaning that chef Dave Pynt has made menu items available via food delivery apps. Customers can order beef marmalade and house pickles, bone marrow buns, or A5 Saga Wagyu steaks. One of Pynt’s offerings, sourdough loaves, has been a particular hit. Burnt Ends now makes 20 a day, and “every day they’re booked out,” he says.

“Losing such a high proportion of our seating and having a lot more guests not so keen to go out—to keep our whole team employed during this time, we’ve opened up our menu,” Pynt says via telephone. “People are happy, because they don’t feel as safe eating out anymore.”

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London in Lockdown

Diners in London have face far-tighter restrictions since the nation was placed under the most sweeping peacetime limits on freedom of movement last month. That’s making home delivery the preferred method to access the U.K. capital’s best chefs. From his Michelin-starred Hide restaurant on Piccadilly, Ollie Dabbous has a rotating team of chefs creating to-go dishes such as glazed guinea fowl with white miso, celeriac, and kaffir lime. “We are offering a window of luxury—a bit of escapism—rather than thinking about Michelin,” Dabbous says. “It’s the same brigade, the same ingredients, as the restaurant.” Waiters make the deliveries to people’s homes; they aren’t in uniform because the city’s dry cleaners have closed.

Dabbous says diners should expect a different experience from that they receive at the restaurant, which is fancy enough to have an elevator for limousines, so guests can step directly from car to dining room. His signature coddled egg with smoked butter and mushrooms is not suited for delivery; among other obstacles, it must arrive served in a delicate eggshell. “We are focusing on crowd pleasers, dishes that keep well and transport well,” he explains. “At home, you want food that is generous and satisfying and better than you could cook yourself. We’ve put on a kids’ menu, too, because if you don’t want to cook for adults, why would you want to cook for your kids?”

Hide’s menu is available via the Supper home-delivery service or direct from Hide. Other Michelin-starred restaurants serving via Supper include Hakkasan, whose options include the “supreme dim sum” selection with phoenix-eye lobster, royal king crab jade dumplings, and Dover sole with black truffle for £42 ($52). Many others, including Brat and Gymkhana, have backed away from home delivery because they don’t want to bring chefs into work on public transport, risking infection. Those restaurants are currently closed.

Dabbous says he’s receiving orders for a total of about 120 lunches and dinners per day. There’s an option for wines matched to each dish by the sommelier. The luxury of Dabbous’s food does not come cheap: The guinea fowl itself comes to £29.

A Three-Star Family Meal in the U.S.

Several of America’s most notable fine-dining restaurants have adopted family-style meals in response to virus-mandated closures. A few, such as Michelin three-starred Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif., are selling shareable dishes like lasagna Bolognese, based on dinners the staff normally eats together before service starts. At the James Beard award-winning Canlis restaurant, the website proclaims: “Fine dining is not what Seattle needs right now.”

“The city doesn’t need fancy food, not at my restaurant, not on their couch,” says co-owner Mark Canlis, by phone. He, too, is selling version of family meals, such as dry-aged meatballs in marinara sauce. “The role of food right now is comfort,” he says. The meatballs are made from rib-eyes that were once destined to be pricy steaks; the restaurant is also turning dry-aged ducks that would have been carved tableside into cassoulet. Canlis is making upward of 400 meals a night; orders sell out in 30 minutes. There’s also a waiting list for its daily CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes filled with products from local purveyors, including local eggs and smoked salmon and ham for Easter. The multiple projects have kept all of Canlis’s 115 staff members employed.

Another in-demand Michelin-starred delivery service is serving the nation’s capital at the Dabney, where the focus is on mid-Atlantic food. The $45, three-course meals include chef Jeremiah Langhorne’s signature catfish slider on sweet potato roll, as well as such rotating plates as green gumbo soup with andouille, crispy lamb shoulder, and chocolate cake. The staff prepares 200 meals on weekdays and 250 on weekends; the offerings have sold out almost every day since the program started. In response, the Dabney has installed an additional line to accommodate callers.

In Chicago, the modernist Michelin three-starred Alinea has abruptly transitioned to comfort food, too. Co-owner Nick Kokonas says that when the restaurant went to a takeout model, chef Grant Achatz originally advocated elevated dishes. “Grant was thinking of doing multicourse meals in baskets and fancy stuff. He wanted to use $80 tenderloins for beef Wellington. But I said: ‘We need a plan to serve food tailored to go. And don’t price it high, because that’s tone-deaf.’”

Kokonas says Achatz responded: “You seem nuts, but you’re committed, so let’s go.”

On March 18, Alinea began selling meals of beef Wellington with 50/50 mashed potatoes (that is, almost half butter) and crème brulee for $35. Orders sold out within hours, and cars packed the streets outside the restaurant in Lincoln Park to pick up food.

The demand for Alinea’s to-go meals has since skyrocketed. “We did 1,000 coq au vin orders last night,” says Kokonas about the night’s menu of red wine-braised chicken thighs with bacon lardons, those 50/50 potatoes, and chocolate pot de crème. Kokonas adds that Alinea now has a waiting list “in the thousands.” The restaurant currently employs 42 people (about half of the total prior to closing), from early morning-prep kitchen staff to front-of-the-house workers who manage the hundreds of paper delivery bags dominating the white-walled dining room, plus those who run the bags out to the waiting cars. A few workers with ipads are stationed down the block, confirming orders. Drivers pop their trunks, meals are deposited, and dinners depart.

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