Support your local chefs’ side hustles, if you can

Linzer cookies with heart cutouts
Photo: Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group (Getty Images)

When I decided to become a professional cook at the ripe old age of 21, I knew I’d never be making the big bucks. I came pretty close to dying from stage IV cancer the year before I put on my first apron, so I knew it was worth sacrificing a future of financial stability for a life spent doing something I genuinely loved. Whenever my bank account made me sad, I reminded myself that unlike my friends who could afford vacations and health insurance, I had job security. I couldn’t be outsourced or replaced by a well-written algorithm. I was in no danger of losing work to automation (most businesses can’t afford robots). As long as human beings kept requiring food to survive, the industry could never become passe or obsolete. I would always have a way to make a living—a way to hustle.

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Cooks have been side-hustling since long before it became a necessity of modern life, because we’ve always been broke. I would spend my mornings freelancing for a local caterer, my evenings working the line at a restaurant, and my after hours baking cakes for people in my neighborhood. When I had my first kid and couldn’t commit to a full-time restaurant position, I sold flooded sugar cookies that I made at home with a baby strapped to my chest. Whenever I needed a little extra cash, I could always find a few people who didn’t mind exchanging some for pie. It’s a normal part of a cook’s mindset, not only because of the money, but because it offers more chances to have fun in the kitchen and make people happy. Cooks literally live to feed people, and there will always be people who need to be fed.

Of all the worst case scenarios I imagined could befall the food industry, I never guessed that something like this would happen. What it’s already suffered has been unfathomable, and what will happen over the next several months will be, for some, insurmountable. Even if by some miracle the federal government decides to do their jobs and intervene, for most, it will not be enough. But even though the industry as we have known it might be receding, contracting, and reorganizing, it will not cease to exist. Because there’s always the hustle.

Right now, some of the best food you’re bound to eat this year isn’t found on DoorDash or UberEats—it’s on Instagram and Facebook Marketplace. It’s in Telegram chats and on Snapchat pages. Restaurants might close, but they never really die. The real estate might be gone, but the chefs, cooks, and bakers you love are very much still here, fighting to survive the only way they know how: by cooking.

In most places cooking and selling food out of your home is illegal, but desperate times call for desperate measures. If you don’t feel comfortable ordering food you randomly stumble across on the internet (it’s understandable), try connecting with the people who work at your favorite restaurants on social media; if they’ve launched a hustle they’ll be promoting it there, or at least provide some sort of indication that they’ve got something going on the sly. And if your local officials are cracking down on this sort of thing, call your councilperson and throw a fit that could put a cranky toddler to shame. There are much more important things they should be focusing on that don’t involve kicking people when they’re down and stripping them of their ability to survive.

No matter where you live, your restaurant options could begin to dwindle as the winter grows darker, but you might not need to settle for chains that can afford exorbitant third-party delivery fees. Takeout will still exist—it’s just changing. Even if Main Street is shuttered, your local food community will still be there, and they’ll need you more than ever. And you need to eat, right? There will always be people who are hungry, and there will always be people who want nothing more than to feed them.

Allison Robicelli is a writer, recipe czar, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Tweet me for recipe help: @Robicellis.

DISCUSSION

breadnmaters
BreadnMaters

There are many many ways “to be” an American, but, Allison, you are who I think of when I think of “people who exemplify what the American experiment was supposed to look like.” Not to suggest that you are an anachronism or anything. Turning your back on Big Biz affords one some self-determinism, dignity and the challenges that go hand-in-hand with risk. I’m really happy that you have support in your life because “going one’s own way” can get very lonely. Happy (better) New Year.