COVID-19 has disrupted the entire infrastructure of the food business — from restaurants and food supply, to behavioral changes and the job market. The historic impact on the industry that employees more than 8 million individuals has been catastrophic, with an uncertain future ahead.
For this COVID Conversation, Hashi sat down with chef, author and artist, Elizabeth Falkner, to discuss the status of her endeavors and outlook on the road to recovery.
Photos: courtesy of Elizabeth Falkner
“This is a scary time in America. A changing time. We need to continue to battle giants.”
IN THE KITCHEN
Though she closed the door to her restaurants years ago, Falkner continues to make magic in the kitchen and tell stories in creative ways. This year has launched her on a journey of new partnerships and, most excitingly, a new documentary.
HASHI: Aloha, Chef! So much has happened in the last year. COVID-19 has especially had a huge impact. We have seen multiple reports that you’ve been working on a documentary… What can you tell us about that?
EF: What I can tell you is that we started filming in June, and we have been monitoring all along trying to figure out with all of our colleagues what might happen and where our industry is going. It has been such a rough year for everyone in the food and hospitality business, so the documentary about it needs to have optimism at a time when that seems unlikely. So stay tuned as we are finishing up an amazing collection and collaboration of stories during this time that covers most of 2020.
Elizabeth Falkner serving her Sticky Rice with Sangkaya at HFWF19 on top of the Hawaii Convention Center. Photo: Reid Shimabukuro/Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, 2019
EF: Everyone is just trying to stay afloat right now. I think it is an individual decision to stay open and attempt to make some things work out, and for others to have to shut down without fault of their own is just crushing.
HASHI: It seems whatever decision a restaurant comes to in response to COVID-19 is a challenging one. Many chefs have to think out of the box to make things work. How have you learned to pivot during challenges facing you and your restaurants?
EF: I am fortunate at this point in time to have lost my restaurants after the 2008 stock market crash and to have gone through the last decade recovering from the massive losses I experienced, financially and emotionally. I have perspective now about priorities that I didn’t have before, and I can only hope that my colleagues become creative and embrace the challenges that face the industry now.
HASHI: Restaurant workers in Hawaii and across the nation are facing challenging times as well. What impact is this pandemic going to have on the restaurant industry? What suggestions do you have?
EF: Just try to stay centered and focused on what is truly important in your life. You can make enough money being true and honest with yourself and your food. You just might have to take different paths than previously considered.
HASHI: How can people help?
EF: Adapt with us.
HASHI: With so much on your mind these days, what are you most concerned about?
EF: The health and well-being of all restaurant and hospitality workers and chefs.
HASHI: How are you all handling life at home right now?
Chef Falkner continues to cook and create “magic” in her new home back in Los Angeles.
EF: I am good because I have been pondering and questioning the structure of restaurants for years and believe there are better ways to present and serve food in new formats.
HASHI: In general, what are the positives you see in these times?
EF: I found someone who I am in love with during the pandemic and that is a major positive!
HASHI: Do you have any words of encouragement for your peers?
EF: This is not the end of the world. It may seem like it, but it’s not.
Chef Elizabeth Falkner competing on Guy Fieri’s “Tournament of Champions.”
HASHI: What are you most looking forward to in 2021?
EF: What I am looking forward to in 2021 is getting a documentary finished soon and out for everyone to see. It’s about our industry but from an insider’s perspective (me) and I am hoping to shed some light on what it really has felt like for so many of our colleagues in the food business during this last year and even earlier.
Also, now living back in California but traveling to Sicily at end of September and hopefully more tasty travels this year.
HASHI: What do you miss most about coming to Hawaii for HFWF?
I really miss Hawaii! I’ve been wondering if I should have moved even further west after leaving New York last year — just dreaming of the ocean, the aloha and the beauty that is everywhere in Hawaii.
HASHI: Can you also share anything about your participation in Guy Fieri’s “Tournament of Champions”?
EF: It is a crazy fun tournament. I don’t think I should have had to “play in” this season, and I hope to go back for some serious redemption next time. Love the sport!