For an entire year, the restaurant industry has grappled with a series of unforeseeable crises. Beginning with the financial devastation from COVID-19 closures to a resurgence against widespread discrimination and abuse in the industry, restaurants are at an inflection point. At an even steeper precipice is fine dining, a powerful and potent subset of the broader industry where the profit margins are thinner, the food more expensive, and the stakes higher.
Two chefs who embody what may be the future of fine dining are Ian Boden of The Shack in Staunton, Virginia, and Russell Jackson of Reverence in Harlem, New York.
After initial worries about the logistics of mask-wearing and new takeout programs, the conversation has shifted to broad existential questions of their restaurants' place in society. While Boden has been focused on his small, critically-acclaimed restaurant's survival in a small, rural town, Jackson has been forced to grapple with the realities of being a Black chef and business owner in a community that hasn't fully accepted him or his cuisine.
Today, they are depleted. Their restaurants are barely making ends meet, let alone making a profit. But as restaurants begin the slow, tenuous crawl toward reopening, the lessons learned over the course of this past year might just reinvent fine dining as a more equitable, intentional, and connected industry.