In 2019, Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, earned two Michelin stars. But in 2021, its chef, Dan Barber, will no longer be in the kitchen. Barber, who runs the restaurant along with his brother and sister-and-law, is pivoting to a chef-in-residence program focused on diversity. Plans are still developing, but they aim to welcome four chefs next year, one per season, to run the restaurant under the visiting chef’s name. “The kitchen and the cuisine will be theirs,” says Barber. Both Blue Hill at Stone Barns and the Blue Hill location in Greenwich Village will not use the “Blue Hill” name throughout 2021. While the chef-in-residence program had been in works prior to the pandemic, “This came about because we have been reflecting on this moment in time and where a restaurant belongs in our culture,” Barber said. The new program will take effect when the restaurants reopen for full dine-in service in 2021, and the team has not determined who will run the kitchens afterward.
As Chili’s begins to return sales to pre-pandemic levels, the popular chain’s parent company Brinker International has been investing more in virtual restaurant concepts. Brinker’s first virtual venture, It’s Just Wings, is now generating sales at an annual rate of over $150 million, according to CEO Wyman Roberts. With a whimsical menu and recipes, says Roberts, “we created this business overnight.” Wings, curly fries, fried Oreos and other specialties at It’s Just Wings are currently being offered for delivery-only from more than 1,000 Chili’s units around the country. After analyzing customer data, Brinker discovered that 70% of It’s Just Wings’ customers had never ordered delivery from Chili’s. Although Roberts recognizes the opportunity to drive delivery customers to Chili’s, he stressed that It’s Just Wings should not compete with the core brand. Other concepts are in the works as Brinker plans to build a portfolio of virtual restaurants offering different cuisines.
The upcoming season of Netflix’s popular food documentary series Chef’s Table is dedicated to barbecue and the pitmasters who prep, smoke, and craft it. The new season’s first episode focuses on Tootsie Tomanetz, the 85-year old pitmaster at famed Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas. Next up, Lennox Hastie of Firedoor in Sydney, Australia, shows how they do barbecue down under. The third episode is all about whole hog barbecue with Rodney Scott, pitmaster of Rodney Scott’s BBQ in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina and in Birmingham, Alabama. The final episode features Rosalie Chay Chuc, a pitmaster in Yaxunah, Mexico, who shows viewers how she keeps the thousand-year-old outdoor cooking traditions of the Mayans alive. .
According to the NPD Group, digital restaurant orders skyrocketed 135% in June compared to a year ago. NPD found that the greatest increases were among adults age 65 and older, who ramped up their digital ordering by 428%. Adults age 55 and older also increased digital ordering by 200%. Older adults often dine out but they are also a demographic at risk of the coronavirus, driving them toward the convenience and safety of digital ordering. Over the past decade, older adults have also increased their e-commerce in other sectors. According to the Pew Research Center, 73% of adults age 65 and older now use the Internet regularly, an increase from 14% in 2000. More than half of that age group also owns a smartphone, and NPD found that since the start of the pandemic, use of third-party services has doubled among buyers who were new to the services six months ago. Like other segments of the population, older adults tend to order from quick-service restaurants, including menu items such as burgers, fries, Mexican foods, sandwiches, and pizza, reports NPD.
Last week, the James Beard Foundation (JBF) announced that it will not issue its prestigious chef and restaurant awards this year due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The foundation has also suspended its awards for 2021 for similar reasons as well as to allow time to restructure the awards by removing “systemic bias” and increasing the diversity in its pool of candidates. The 2020 JBF food media award winners were announced online in May. The chef and restaurants winners were chosen in June and scheduled to be announced this September. Instead, the foundation will broadcast a live Twitter event, celebrating previously announced honorees in categories including America’s Classics, Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year, Design Icon, and Leadership. “The uncertainty of this time for our industry is already a hard reality and considering anyone to have won or lost within the current tumultuous hospitality ecosystem does not in fact feel like the right thing to do,” James Beard Foundation CEO Clare Reichenbach said. “In short, an honor which we know is held in high regard, at the moment, feels minor when compared to the dire situation we are in. As we strive to provide an awards program with the highest ethical standards, one that is fair, equitable, and reflective of the industry which we serve, we know that the right move is to step back and take stock of the nominees’ and honorees’ achievements.” .