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Food

L.A. restaurants and the unprecedented state of things

Josef Centeno at his restaurant Orsa & Winston in October 2019.
Josef Centeno at his restaurant Orsa & Winston in October 2019.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Josef Centeno is one of the chefs I admire most in Los Angeles. The owner of four restaurants — Bäco Mercat, Orsa & Winston and Bar Amá downtown, and Amacita in Culver City — he’s the kind of leader I’d nominate for a chef of the year award.

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On March 15, when Mayor Eric Garcetti directed Los Angeles restaurants to suspend dine-in service to help combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Centeno made the same snap choice as many other local chefs and restaurateurs: swing to takeout and delivery, keeping as many of his workers employed as he could.

On Monday night I ordered delivery from Bäco Mercat: pasta with pork belly sugo and caramelized cauliflower with pine nuts and mints. The next morning, I went to report on the fire sale being held at All Day Baby, the Silver Lake restaurant I’d reviewed the previous week before the moratorium took hold. I bought half of a smoked chicken. Dinner that evening was a jumble of rigatoni, smoked pulled chicken and leftover cauliflower, sparked with lemon and urfa chile. It felt bolstering to throw together something delicious from places I’d supported in tiny ways.

All Day Baby
The line that formed at All Day Baby’s fire sale on March 17.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

On Friday morning I woke up and read the latest message on Centeno’s Instagram account. It said in part:

“After giving this a lot of thought, in light of intensified Stay At Home orders and predictions of an overwhelmed medical system, we’re hitting pause. A lot of my staff have families they want to focus on at this time because they’re taking care of people whose health depends on them. So I just wanted to let you know we’re suspending pickup and delivery services for now. I want to say thank you to all who showed tremendous support over the last few days (when things are happening so fast every day feels like 5 days of decision-making). It really made clear how so many people can pull together and show up for each other during tough times. Please continue to support small businesses on the front lines. Now’s the time to reflect and we will see you on the other side.”

Each day has brought similar, annihilating messages from restaurants and other small-business owners. Maybe because Centeno’s food sustained me over two days this week, this one felt particularly jarring: I hung my head and let emotion take over for a few minutes.

I’ve typed “unprecedented” into text messages so many times this week that my phone anticipates the word after the first three letters. The restaurant industry employs 15.6 million Americans; 70% of restaurants are small businesses. So many accounts of support — through buying merch and through Venmo donations and fundraising apps, and witnessing fast responses from nonprofits like the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, and the simple act of ordering from restaurants who haven’t before relied on delivery to support their business — have given many of us bursts of hope.

It won’t be enough. The government that made the correct decision to halt restaurant dining must follow swiftly with equally appropriate emergency relief funds. Urge elected officials through Resistbot or Common Cause. The James Beard Foundation has compiled tool kits of talking points and statistics.

My Food colleagues mobilized profoundly this week. Forgive one more ask, but it costs $1 to subscribe to The Times for the first eight weeks. Now is the right time to support journalism.

Have a question for the critics?

To stay current

Editors Peter Meehan and Andrea Chang report on the March 19 decision to extend the shutdown of dining-in restaurants, as part of the “Safer at Home” ordinance, until April 19.

Here are names of resources for restaurants and workers affected by the crisis.

This is a list, updated frequently, of restaurants still open for takeout and delivery.

Chefs at Sushi Ginza Onadera in West Hollywood prepare to-go orders in an otherwise empty restaurant.
Chefs at Sushi Ginza Onadera in West Hollywood prepare to-go orders in an otherwise empty restaurant.
(Bill Addison / Los Angeles Times)

Scenes from the week

Nancy Silverton, funded by a $50,000 grant from Maker’s Mark and an initiative started by Kentucky-based chef Ed Lee, is feeding restaurant workers in need at her restaurant Chi Spacca. This is nightly from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Jenn Harris reported on Silverton’s first service on Thursday.

The Food team reached out to chefs across the city for their reactions to the initial shutdown announced on March 15.

Garrett Snyder gives us a glimpse into the crowds at Wednesday’s Santa Monica Farmers Markets, and into farmers’ growing concerns. In that vein, Geoffrey Mohan looks at how the agricultural supply line could be affected amid the widening outbreak.

Jenn shows us how one restaurant, Ronan, spent the first day after the shutdown.

Cooking help

We’re all bunkering now. Our cooking experts Genevieve Ko and Ben Mims have your backs:

— First things first: tips for keeping your kitchen clean

— How to organize all the ingredients you just bought

— How to make some of your own pantry staples

— How to freeze everything

— Mastering the art of rice

Lastly, it is a surreal moment to be a restaurant critic. Patricia Escárcega has thoughts. I do too.

Let’s take good care of ourselves and one another right now.


Newsletter
Eat your way across L.A.

Get our weekly Tasting Notes newsletter for reviews, news and more from critics Bill Addison and Patricia Escárcega.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
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