The COVID-19 crisis has put gastronomy tourism — one of the engines of the new food era — at unprecedented risk. Forecasts that indicated the sector would grow by about 10% year on year until 2023, didn't foresee a pandemic.
Nobody knows when travellers who usually choose a destination by its restaurants will be able to venture in search of the best meals worldwide. In the meantime, chefs are looking at their local guests with renewed interest, and making significant changes to attract them to their (no longer full) tables.
These adaptations range from creating new menu options to reducing the meal prices. But some have bet on new formats or even created new concepts from scratch to draw the attention of those who live nearby.
A casual plant-based alternative
When Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen determined that restaurants in the country should close in early March, Copenhagen-based chef Rasmus Kofoed was busy celebrating the 20th anniversary of his acclaimed restaurant, Geranium, and the recent retention of its third Michelin star.
Photo of Epur courtesy of Rasmus Kofoed
If the decision was a real party pooper at the very beginning, the quarantine weeks spent isolated in the Danish island of Samsø helped the chef to open his mind, and he finally brought to life an old project he had been cooking in his head: a plant-based restaurant.
More casual and affordable, Angelika is for now a temporary project, and Kofoed doesn’t know for sure how long it will last. But as it goes, it’s a way of offering something new to Copenhagen residents during these hard times, in dishes such as grilled vegetables with creamy butter beans or green peas with grilled pea juice.
Named after his mother, who taught Kofoed to love vegetables, Angelika was also a solution to keep the group employees in the face of a more unstable economic scenario. As Geranium is open only for dinner, relying on fewer clients, Angelika has become an option for replacing Geranium lunches, now with a local audience.
Kofoed says he has long wanted to do a plant-based project, but never found the time. "It was an old dream to create a more affordable, casual vegetarian restaurant, and I think this was the right moment to open it," he explains.
Local guests have responded well — the restaurant is almost fully booked until September. "Still, many of our Copenhagen customers say they are now able to come more often, as they don't have to book a table months in advance," he adds.
Pivoting to local
In Lima, Peru, a city that has gained a recent international prominence among food lovers, Virgilio Martinez and Pía León, chefs and partners of Central, also embraced a more appealing concept to captivate limeños or residents of Lima.
They decided to pivot their bar concept Mayo around a more casual food approach. “Originally, Mayo is a long-term, more ambitious project, where we hoped to create spirits and fermentation experiences, elevating our beverage service,” explains Martinez. But with the pandemic, those plans will have to wait.
Since Mayo was the couple's least-known brand, it seemed the easiest one to adapt. “Central and Kjolle [run by Pía] are already established as destination restaurants, so it would be difficult to replicate the same experience,” he says.
During the quarantine in Peru, Mayo prepared comfort dishes for delivery and it went well. Now that they can finally reopen the doors, even with restrictions, they continue to bet on Mayo as their local concept.