A chef sharpening their knife while wearing Personal Protective Equipment.

Chefs on Duty: Cooking and Connecting During Covid-19

Across the country, chefs are adapting their menus, missions, and operations to a world turned upside-down—and exploring the industry with fresh eyes. Since we’re in the business of connecting chefs with great ideas, we wanted to capture some of these stories for you. But social distancing measures required us to get a little creative. So we gave chefs the camera.

“Mid-March, our world came to a screeching halt. We went to not knowing anything.”

From her home in Chicago, Jill Dedinsky describes that pivotal week when Covid-19 reached a head. At The Goddess and Grocer, the gourmet deli and coffee shop where she serves as Executive Chef of Catering, the shelves—normally packed wall-to-wall with orders—went bare virtually overnight.

Mid-March, our world came to a screeching halt.

Jill Dedinsky

But as the uncertain weeks have turned into months, Jill has stayed busy, devoting her energy to packing take-out orders and delivering Sunday dinners to neighbors quarantined in their homes. She’s even turned up the heat on a backburnered project: planting a garden in the empty side lot near her shop.

“Normally, we’d be running around like crazy because [we’re catering] concerts, this and that,” she says. “[Now], we finally have some time.”

A Game of Adaptation

For a lot of us in the industry, calling the pandemic a predicament would be an understatement. With barely a warning, chefs and restaurant operators had to shut their doors, decide how they’d keep their heads above water and protect their staff from layoffs. They found themselves in a new reality of food shortages, inoperative business models, and heightened expectations for safety and service. Not to mention social distancing, which doesn’t just turn away customers—it takes an emotional toll.

I always try to comfort everyone through food.

Jill Dedinsky

For Dina Altieri, checking in has been essential. “I didn’t anticipate how personal this was going to be for me,” she says. Dina is the Director of Culinary Enterprises at UMOM New Day Centers in Phoenix, which regularly serves hundreds of people experiencing homelessness in the community. While traditional restaurants were facing slowdown, centers like UMOM found themselves ramping up like never before. Since March, UMOM has launched a web-based ordering platform and provided meals, job skills training, and a safe community to over 150 families.

“I’m always amazed at how much change is happening every day,” she says. “It’s almost too much to describe.”

At Marquette University in Milwaukee, where the Golden Eagles found themselves on a months-long spring break, Executive Chef Mike Wichrowski considers the upcoming fall semester.

“More than ever, we’re going to have to listen to [our students] to figure out what’s working and what’s not going to work,” he explains. “Across the country, [chefs and food service] are going to step up their game that much more.”

“We’ve never had this much time to plan...ever,” he adds. It’s June, and students return—maybe—in August.

Into the Unknown

For the culinary industry, the path forward isn’t without challenges. “Getting back to normal” is unlikely to happen anytime soon, if ever. And sadly, many restaurants will not survive.

But for those finding ways to keep business viable, there’s energy in the air, and the glimmer of opportunity to build a more agile, more compassionate food service community. Chefs across the world are trading in old plans, dreams, and recipes for new ones, bringing a renewed creative energy to what comes next.

We’ve never had this much time to plan...ever.

Mike Wichrowski

From Chicago, Jill reflects on the core of her work. “I always try to comfort everyone through food,” she says. “As long as I can make people happy through food, that’s really all I can do.”

“I’m not sure I’m saying that I’m happy this is happening,” Dina admits with a hesitant laugh. “[But] we’ve sure grown through this experience. And that story, I think, is going to be really cool to tell.”

Connecting and Reconnecting. In Minor’s, You Have a Partner

As all of us face new challenges in the coming months, our world-class team of chefs is here to help. We represent all segments of the food industry, from independent restaurant owners to operators of large commercial kitchens. We love to tinker, create and problem-solve. And we’re dedicated to providing personalized service for your front- and back-of-house needs, however unique they may be. Consider us part of your mise-en-place. Whether you’re ready to reconnect or partner with us for the first time, we can’t wait to get started.

Update, August 2020: We are saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Chef Jill on August 29. She was, as shines through in her interviews, a vibrant member of her community who brought joy, comfort, and love to everyone she met—especially through her food. We’re so grateful to have gotten to know her for this project. Our thoughts are with Jill’s family and friends, and her community at The Goddess and Grocer.