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FOODSERVICE 2021: SUSTAINING STAFF


Local and systemic change


Add to this an escalating climate crisis that puts pressure on the entire food production system. Many chefs and operators have long understood that working with local producers was imperative to the future of the global community


Azurmendi, the three Michelin starred


restaurant near Bilbao in Spain was built with sustainability at its heart and chef Eneko Atxa was awarded the prize for most sustainable restaurant by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2018. For Atxa, a vital element of responsible behavior is his relationships with local farmers. “Without these producers we simply


couldn’t do what we do. These are people who bring the best of what they do to our restaurant, so it is easy for us to cook. They are the reason we can do what we do,” he says. “Working closely with people near us doesn’t make us radical. It is very normal for us to work with people who are close and who have become friends.”


His relationships with suppliers meant he was able to direct other restaurants to farms when he couldn’t buy their produce during the lockdown. “When we were closed, the team from Restaurant Frantzen in Stockholm got in touch to find out where they could source the peas we use, so I


ENEKO ATXA Chef/owner at Azurmendi, Bilbao, Spain


connected them with my supplier and it meant he could keep working,” he says. “We [restaurants] had a bad time in the pandemic, but these producers had an even worse time.” At Materia, Caranchini’s decision to only work with small producers – cheesemakers, breeders, foragers, fishermen – works for both sides. He gets the best quality products, and the suppliers receive consistent support, especially needed after a tough year. “If we – chefs and restaurateurs –


don’t act in a sustainable way with our suppliers, paying them the right amount for the job and within the given deadlines, they wouldn’t be able to keep working in a sustainable and ethical way,” explains Caranchini. “If I buy fish from a local fisherman, who is fishing only at the correct time, respecting the season and the reproductive cycle of the fish, and I don’t pay him or I pay him too late, in order to survive he might start to fish in the wrong way, forgetting about sustainability.”


TRACY CHANG Chef/owner, Pagu, Boston, US


Much of the industry understands that


major systemic change is needed and now is as good a time as ever to implement this. Acknowledging that menu prices have previously not reflected the true cost of the dish on the menu represents a first step for many – increasing prices to cover other costs such as decent staff wages is starting to be seen as acceptable, expected even. Earlier this year Amanda Cohen, the


chef owner of New York City restaurant Dirt Candy, addressed increasing prices by $30 to $85 for a five-course menu on re-opening after the pandemic in an Instagram post. “2020 forced the restaurant business to get real about how it treats its workers, and I’ve had to admit that in order to serve my customers, I failed my staff. To run the kind of restaurant I need to run, I have to serve both,” she said.


AMANDA COHEN Chef/owner, Dirt Candy, New York, US


“$30 more, that’s all it takes. But I need your support. If you don’t come, this doesn’t work. Everyone spent 2020 calling restaurant workers and delivery drivers heroes. We called them ‘essential’. We said we had their backs. Now’s the time to put those words into action.” Paying staff a salary they can live on has been at the core of Tracy Chang’s philosophy at her restaurant Pagu in Boston, since launch and it was especially important during the pandemic. “We make sure we pay our employees enough that they don’t need a second job, that they don’t need to take public transit, they don’t need to go to the grocery store. We provide all of that and I think that’s the bare minimum you can do as a business owner.”


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COVID-19


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