Text by Annette Sweeney, FOTE Ambassador 2019
Week 2: Will Goldfarb and Amanda Cohen
From Bali to Manhattan- ‘Cooking our Way Through COVID-19’
It was uplifting to be virtually ‘transported’ to a tropical island during lockdown and get the grand tour of Will Goldfarb’s garden that surrounds Room4Dessert in Bali. The wonderful garden is a live apothecary where over 200 medicinal plants and trees are grown in the Balinese tradition to provide inspiration and flavour for R & D for the restaurant and bar. While the plants are mainly used for R & D, since Covid-19, he has found it amazing that, instead of going to the markets and to farmers, because of the garden, he is now self-sufficient. Alongside this he has turned his famous dining room into a grocery, selling baked goods, pastries, ice cream, preserves and charcuterie. From the garden to Manhattan, day two this week was a check-in with Amanda Cohen in New York. Amanda, whose restaurants are closed in a city that is more a ‘ghost town’, talked about the current tension in the industry, where a cultural depression has set in.
Both chefs spoke openly about their current focus and the importance of community and their role in the industry, in getting them through the challenges they face. According to Amanda, it’s hard, as ‘running restaurants is what we love’. Of great concern to her are the consequences for her staff and suppliers ‘we are losing our families here; it feels like a huge loss’ and ‘not meeting people is the most difficult thing’. Keeping her going is the link with other restaurants and she’s inspired by this community voice and its power. For Will, mentally, while it is a time for reflection for him, he doesn’t deny how hard it is and is also challenged by being true to his love of providing hospitality. ‘This is such a social job and not being able to provide hospitality without making people feel unsafe, is devastating’. While he is generally optimistic, COVID-19 has caught him off-guard. Simultaneously and ironically, he recognises he is in paradise! Despite this, all his team are still working, and it was moving to hear that his priority was ‘how does our staff stay fed’ as there is no government support. ‘We are here, we are safe, our staff are safe and that’s what it’s all about”. In addition, his care expands into the community, cooking for those in need.
Looking to the future, Amanda takes the positive view that in 1-1.5 years she will be back to where she was. Will also takes an optimistic and indeed altruistic view, “ we know how to cook, so we need to cook our way through it, our job is to cook food, people need to eat, at the end of the day in a very fundamental way, if we can look after the people that work for us and people that are less fortunate than us, in that sense everything is the same. If our restaurant becomes more a community-minded restaurant than it is- that’s a positive change’. ‘It’s not all about taking care of wealthy people from all over the world!’