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Vivian Howard on Noma, Chef & the Farmer, restaurants in general, and the future


Alex
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When René Redzepi announced he would close Noma, his Michelin three-star restaurant/work camp in Copenhagen, food magazines and newspapers treated the inability to run a profitable business as Mr. Redzepi’s problem. That is, a problem that emerges only when you call your kitchen a lab and your cooks will work without pay, just to have your name on their résumé. But extremist fine dining’s challenges are just the amuse-bouche in a multicourse menu of the rotting state of the restaurant business.

 

Edited by Alex (log)
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"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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@Alex 

 

thank you for this ref.

 

Im a fan of Chef Howard,

 

her books , and her PBS series .

 

she has great talent , which you see in the shows

 

and her books.

 

it is sad that her flagship restaurant 

 

after so much effort and talent 

 

has closed.

 

I am pleased she sees new ideas

 

to get her dishes 

 

out there to people.

 

good for her.

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I had that one saved to share. Alex beat me to it.

 

I love the fine dining experience. Would I love it nearly as much if the food were dished out cafeteria style? It’d be better than not having access to it at all, I expect.

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Seems like her location where she could get $60/patron was the big problem for fine dining (as I imagine it).

 

Certainly there are ways to cut overhead on fine dining without blowing it up.  It may be that the old image of fine dining needs a tweak to get to what's important.

 

Baseline for me.... Takes reservations, Tables and chairs, china (not styrofoam), metal utensils, cocktails and wine , waiter service, appetizers, main courses and sides. Desserts are optional for me. Cheese is nice. 

 

I don't want a choice of 10 or 15 mains, 4 to 5 is enough, throw in a special and I'm happy. No hamburgers on the dinner menu (fine dining, right?).

 

You don't need a "wine program" or a som. Most of us can order wine just fine. Is a som better? Sure, but I doubt one gives much profit to the place.  There must be a study somewhere on right-sizing a wine list to maximize profits.

 

Restaurants like this do exist and the ones I go to seem to do well.

 

 

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I've followed Vivian for a good while now so I was interested to read this article.  

 

The only reason Chef & the Farmer survived in Kinston for so long was that it became a destination restaurant.  Something fairly rare to find in small-town America. The pandemic put the kibosh on a lot of that travel AND on all sorts of eat-in places. I'll be curious to see how she re-invents it with this "cafeteria-style" service. Not at all a fan of standing in a line with a tray to wait for food.  I can see some sort of chef's table situation being enjoyable but it's hard to see how it would work for multiple courses, even if it's just salad, main and dessert.  Still, I'll be watching. 

 

It sounds like the Viv's Fridge concept that she introduced last year is having enough success that she figures it will help keep a restaurant afloat. Per her website, there are 9 fridge locations presently.  I find the idea of easily (24-7) picking up a restaurant-quality meal that's been designed to be re-heated or otherwise finished at home to be ever so much more appealing than most take-out where dishes are almost always compromised by sitting around in conditions that do it no favors.  Quite a few restaurants dabbled in offering dishes of this sort for take-out during the pandemic.  Subway is into the smart fridge concept for grab & go cold sandwiches and drinks on college campuses and airports and Coolgreens has been doing something similar for some time  but I'm not aware of any restaurants in my area who have set up anything quite like this.  Anyone else seen this sort of restaurant-quality smart-fridge offering in their area?

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33 minutes ago, blue_dolphin said:

Anyone else seen this sort of restaurant-quality smart-fridge offering in their area?


We have a few of those, but not with “ready made meals”. Instead, here they are operated by farmers & butchers and you can get milk products, eggs, marinated meat, cold cuts … you get the idea. I think full meals from a “dispenser” would be tough to market here.

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well  

 

grocery stores have been selling reheat refrigerator meals for some time.

 

I know , its not a restaurant ...  but many of the ' dishes ' at better groceries 

 

are quite good .  Roche brothers near me has been doing this and indeed

 

they a turkey dinner that has thick sliced roast turkey ( from their ovens )

 

mashed potatoes stuffing etc  , a;; made at that shore 

 

Im not so sure about the gravy that comes with it  ....

 

Wagman's has similar made in the store  ( which also has restaurant )

 

but in different portion sizes , sides etc.

 

I know this is not going to be of the same quality as a very good restaurant

 

but the idea is the same , and a discerning hungry shopper can do quite well.

 

I very much hope that Chef Howard's  efforts prove very successful .

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I worked in a cafeteria in 1956 when I was in high school. It was in Lincoln, Nebraska. Now, I realized that a cafeteria in Lincoln, Nebraska in the '50s is the far cry from what anyone would think of as fine dining but it was probably one of the premier fine dining restaurants in Lincoln at that time. The food was superb, the salads freshly made in a separate pantry department and they had a separate bakery that turned out first rate desserts. There were tablecloths, cloth napkins, silverware and crystal ware glasses. At the end of the line, servers waited to carry the trays and arrange things at the table and we had servers that refilled coffee, tea, and iced tea. That said, cafeteria style restaurants don't have to be as cold and basic as a school cafeteria.

The place was open 3 hours at lunch time and 8 hours at night and I can remember very few times when we had empty tables.

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1 hour ago, blue_dolphin said:

It sounds like the Viv's Fridge concept that she introduced last year is having enough success that she figures it will help keep a restaurant afloat. Per her website, there are 9 fridge locations presently.  I find the idea of easily (24-7) picking up a restaurant-quality meal that's been designed to be re-heated or otherwise finished at home to be ever so much more appealing than most take-out where dishes are almost always compromised by sitting around in conditions that do it no favors.  Quite a few restaurants dabbled in offering dishes of this sort for take-out during the pandemic.  Subway is into the smart fridge concept for grab & go cold sandwiches and drinks on college campuses and airports and Coolgreens has been doing something similar for some time  but I'm not aware of any restaurants in my area who have set up anything quite like this.  Anyone else seen this sort of restaurant-quality smart-fridge offering in their area?

We have a couple of local places that offer fridge-to-table meals, sized for either 2-3 people or 4-5. Typically, they’ll have a different entree every day, and two sides and a dessert that come along; they’ll post a weekly menu on Sunday or Monday morning, and pickup is from mid-afternoon on. They also have a fair selection of frozen dishes, mostly casserole-style entrees, sides and dessert, you can simply walk in and grab-and-go; advance ordering is a good idea for fam-style meals. One of the places offers a soup-and-salad style lunch menu, and the other offers carry out single meals at lunch from whatever the day’s menu is.

 

Both are quite successful. Neither is fine dining, more along the lines of a meat-and-three type place.

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I have to say that I like the option that Viv's Fridge offers for their Raleigh locations to view the real-time inventory of the fridges. When you click on one of them, shows the most recent re-stock date and time. Should help reduce the chances of making a trip in vain.

Looks like she is using Byte Technology for that. I was unaware of that platform and don't know what their costs are but given the cut that delivery services take, it might make this sort of thing more appealing to a restaurant.

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I don’t know. It seems like Viv’s Fridge is an upscale version of what most chain supermarkets here in SoCal offer in the way of pick and go meals. Pavillions, Whole Foods, and Sprouts do them. Also, sous vide entrees are available in most markets (Costco has a wide variety) and are pretty acceptable, especially if you add your own touches. The one entree I just found on her site was $75. Assuming it serves 2, that’s still a price point I’d want to receive properly plated and at the right temp. 
 

I’ve enjoyed her shows and her cooking but always thought her recipes were very complex and required uber prep. That’s likely what made her restaurant successful but also made it hard to be profitable. 
 

Serving similar food cafeteria style would seem to be very challenging except maybe in an area of affluent, busy people who appreciate the quality but don’t need the whole nine yards of service. I’d think price would make or break the concept, assuming the quality was there. 
 

Just my 2¢.

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Clearly, I need to tour my local local grocery stores like I do when traveling abroad because I've never seen a cold case of take and bake items that I'd want. Likely, at least in part, because I rarely visit a grocery store and when  I do, I've never looked for them 🙃 The local farmer's market, Trader Joe's, a good bakery and a few international markets usually takes care of my shopping.  

22 minutes ago, Midlife said:

The one entree I just found on her site was $75. Assuming it serves 2,

Good point, even though ingredients were listed, serving sizes/portions are very much lacking from the on-line listings which seemed to lean towards soups, breads and a breakfast casserole.  Maybe it's more obvious when you see the stuff in the fridge.  Having participated in cookbook groups where everyone is working from the same recipe, I frequently see comments of, "...next time I will reduce the amounts because we had tons left over,"  or "next time, I will double the recipe because we were still hungry!" for the very same recipe so I'm not sure what would work best but I certainly wondered how much soup she was selling for $20!

 

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11 hours ago, blue_dolphin said:

but I certainly wondered how much soup she was selling for $20

Somehow or other I can't wrap my mind around this. Fine dining prices for takeout food. When you sit down and dine you may be willing to pay $20 for that bowl of soup in the restaurant because you are paying for the whole experience. Ambience, good service, and a dining experience. It's different paying $20 for soup that they give you in a plastic bowl and then there's the door. She may be saving money on servers and linen but somehow I would feel cheated sitting at the kitchen table eating reheated soup.

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1 hour ago, Tropicalsenior said:

but somehow I would feel cheated sitting at the kitchen table eating reheated soup.

 

There are a whole lot of people though -- at least in cities -- whose entire food life is prepared commercially.  As a friend of mine put it to me:  most of our peers (middle-aged professionals) don't *cook* dinner, ever; they arrange dinner.  Daily.  

 

In my observation, the food budget for that version of life has exactly no idea how inexpensive soup can be.  

 

But, as another friend put it to me when I, unkindly, said something critical about her family's restaurant habits:  "well, what you, SLB, don't spend out of your pocket you do pay for in your time."  And she was not wrong about that, I've been reflecting on how much time I've spent making things that, in NYC, can be functionally purchased.

 

Anyway -- for them, it might feel totally reasonable/really nice to eat something as delicious as Vivian Howard's food without having to go out to dinner and manage the kids in a restaurant.    

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12 hours ago, blue_dolphin said:

Clearly, I need to tour my local local grocery stores like I do when traveling abroad because I've never seen a cold case of take and bake items that I'd want. Likely, at least in part, because I rarely visit a grocery store and when  I do, I've never looked for them 🙃 The local farmer's market, Trader Joe's, a good bakery and a few international markets usually takes care of my shopping.  

Good point, even though ingredients were listed, serving sizes/portions are very much lacking from the on-line listings which seemed to lean towards soups, breads and a breakfast casserole.  Maybe it's more obvious when you see the stuff in the fridge.  Having participated in cookbook groups where everyone is working from the same recipe, I frequently see comments of, "...next time I will reduce the amounts because we had tons left over,"  or "next time, I will double the recipe because we were still hungry!" for the very same recipe so I'm not sure what would work best but I certainly wondered how much soup she was selling for $20!

 

The $75 dish was said to serve four and the soups two to three. You have to futz around a bit on the site to find this.

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

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37 minutes ago, Tropicalsenior said:

Somehow or other I can't wrap my mind around this. Fine dining prices for takeout food. When you sit down and dine you may be willing to pay $20 for that bowl of soup in the restaurant because you are paying for the whole experience. Ambience, good service, and a dining experience. It's different paying $20 for soup that they give you in a plastic bowl and then there's the door. She may be saving money on servers and linen but somehow I would feel cheated sitting at the kitchen table eating reheated soup.

 

Is that not the case for pretty much all restaurant takeout?  All the places near me charge the same prices for dining in or take out.  

I tend to avoid takeout because the stuff ends up sitting around too long but I'd be up for something designed and packaged to be reheated.  

 

13 hours ago, Midlife said:

The one entree I just found on her site was $75. Assuming it serves 2, that’s still a price point I’d want to receive properly plated and at the right temp. 

 

I poked around a little more on Vivian's site and that $75 caramelized onion short ribs with gingered cabbage and coconut rice is supposed to serve 4.  One of the $20 soups says 2-3 servings, I assume that's the case for the others.  They come with something like sausage cornbread or cheese breadsticks.

 

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interesting insightful comments.

 

it must be difficult , as it always has been , 

 

making living in any part of the food industry.

 

and even more so now w changing economics.

 

the $ 20 soup reminded me of a new-dish item 

 

@ TJ's :  Italian Wedding soup.   in a clear jar , $  4.99

 

IWS is one of my favorites . Progresso has a version , in a can.

 

used to come around on sale for $ 1.00      price has gone up

 

of course , possibly $ 2.00   

 

so next trip  Im going to try the 5 buck soup

 

just to see if there is a difference that justifies the const difference.

 

I wouldn't mind trying the VH  soup.   just once 

 

to see if that cost is justified.

 

an industry w minuscule margins , constantly increasing costs

 

much of it going to overhead , 

 

has to be frightfully challenging .

 

hope this works out for VH  

 

but as mentioned above $ 29 soup might not be an effective answer.

 

 

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Here's a little TV news blurb with Vivian showing off one of her fridges.  I remember that she first rolled these out last summer in vacation areas and at the time, I could certainly imagine arriving at my vacation rental late at night and grabbing a breakfast casserole and a bunch of hand pies or other snacks to have on hand in the morning.  

 

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@SLB 

 

'''  you do pay for in your time '''

 

indeed we all do .

 

its not that interesting calculation what ones time is worth

 

in dollars and cents 

 

but cooking at home might save some $$  

 

based on large variety of Indices 

 

how valuable is the time spent on that soup 

 

that's personal satisfaction of simply making that soup ' your own ? '

 

and how valuable , given ' disposable income ' varies exponentially among groups

 

is the cost savings ? 

 

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@blue_dolphin

 

thank you for sharing that video.

 

it explains a lot about the project.

 

Im curious about the payment system :

 

looks like a credit card system on the R

 

then   ...   self-service ?   possibly w an honor system ?

 

very interesting.

 

VH seems to be trying to make the food ' her own '

 

in previous ties , not that long ago 

 

a variable fortune might have been made 

 

simply selling her name ,  and outlining a few Rx's

 

that can be AgraCon'd   int :

 

think :   Mrs. Smith fz pies , Marie Callander 

 

Uno's Deep Dish  ( fz and refrigerated. )

 

she seems to have a personal trait , 

 

of assisting others ( Im sure for some sort of fee )

 

seed  money back then for staff that had worked for her

 

for some time , and wanted to branch out on their own.

 

here  the concept , should it work , would be available 

 

for others 

 

she seems to be running her business 

 

for more than cold cash .

 

 

 

 

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6 minutes ago, rotuts said:

and how valuable , given ' disposable income ' varies exponentially among groups

That is so true. I realize that for some people 'take out' is their way of life. To me it is always been something that you get in an emergency situation when you can't cook. On days that I don't feel like cooking I have a whole repertoire of meals that I can cook in 15 to 20 minutes. I guess to me it just smacks too much of Stauffers TV dinners. And if I'm going to pay that much for food that someone else cooks, I want to sit down and have someone serve it to me and someone else to do the dishes.

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7 minutes ago, rotuts said:

@blue_dolphin

 

thank you for sharing that video.

 

it explains a lot about the project.

 

Im curious about the payment system :

 

looks like a credit card system on the R

 

then   ...   self-service ?   possibly w an honor system ?

 

very interesting.

 

Yeah, I'm guessing the smart fridges operate like a cross between pay-at-the-pump gas and hotel smart minibars.  Both systems scare me a little for fear of getting charged for someone else's stuff!  

 

10 minutes ago, Tropicalsenior said:

And if I'm going to pay that much for food that someone else cooks, I want to sit down and have someone serve it to me and someone else to do the dishes.

That's fair.  You know yourself well and are not in the target market for this service.  I'm not part of the target market for most stuff either, like the aisles and aisles of prepared foods in the grocery stores, though this one intrigues me.  Oh, and that plastic bowl of soup doesn't exactly generate a ton of pots and dishes to wash 😉

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I find myself torn between the need to eat when for whatever reason you cannot cook, and the experience of a restaurant meal, which is so much more than the food. Somehow the fridge method seems to slip between these two. It doesn't meet my need for inexpensive refueling, nor my desire for a pleasant dining experience in the ambiance of a good restaurant.

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

My 2004 eG Blog

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@blue_dolphin 

 

im hope sure what a smart mini bar is , but I can guess

 

Im more interested in the process of determining the payment on your card

 

and what you take out of the frighted :

 

in a brillant insight :  maybe you pt your card in

 

its validated , the door unlocks 

 

and the honor system is you swipe the bare codes  , and you are done.

 

i have a side interest in economics , w a minor in human behavior .

 

when self serve set up arrived in walmart , your major grocery store

 

the idea is to save on labor , and possibly increase speed of purchase .

 

one person helped out on 4 - 6 registers   Walmart of course 

 

one person 8 check outs ( this is only an economic statement )

 

eventually ( remembers these systems are immense ) theft grew to

 

a non viable level.    and you bet , theft is very much factored in

 

to your Super or not so super Store experience.

 

I would love for this system to be very successful 

 

and I love to see some SmartyPants @ the Wall Street Journal 

 

( Jason Gay would assign a Wolverine to this project . He claims there are  way to many @ WSJ )

 

looking over this sort of thing , and sorting out the bits and pieces 

 

you don't often think about )

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