Coronavirus Cuisine

THIS WAS NOT going to plan. On Monday, March 16, I was supposed to be in Austin, Texas, wrapping up a weeklong event at South by Southwest, where I would have been making Scandinavian craft cocktails alongside some of the top chefs in Denmark. Instead I was home in Portland, Oregon, essentially unemployed, alone on the patio of a brewery enjoying one last beer before my entire industry ground to a halt.

A few other lasts had occurred at the end of February, before I had any inkling of how drastically the “novel coronavirus” would disrupt the hospitality business. My last flight to New York City, which I happened to share with a friend who, upon landing, discovered his phone blowing up with congratulations for his bar’s James Beard Award nomination. Our last extravagant celebration that night, with champagne and exquisite French food and gigantic bottles of rare Chartreuse someone had smuggled over in suitcases from Europe. My last venture into food tourism, taking the Staten Island Ferry out to find lunch in America’s largest Sri Lankan neighborhood.

So many aspects of this ordinary trip seem impossible now: flying on planes, taking public transportation, casually running into friends, and, more than anything else, packing into restaurants and sharing dishes and drinks without the specter of a deadly disease hanging over us. By March 16, it was clear those things would be going away for a long time. The executive order shutting down businesses in the state was still a day away, but Oregonians were already staying home. I’d worked a couple of bartending shifts the week before—two of the slowest and lowest paid of my career.

Those last nights before the executive order I hesitantly visited a few of my favorite bars, torn between a desire to honor the virtues of social distancing and a desire to offer a last gesture of support to friends in my industry. I came up with ways to rationalize the visits: The places were mostly empty. The only people out were other service-sector folks. We all knew our time was up. I imagine it’s what being at Lehman Brothers in 2008 must have felt like, if people at Lehman Brothers were covered in tattoos and worked for tips. “See you on the other side,” we said as we parted ways, tapping elbows instead of hugging and having no idea what that would mean.

A few months into life under COVID-19, we’re beginning to figure it out. The combination of

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