This is not breaking news, but it remains true that the pandemic has upended every aspect of our lives this year. A (very long) several months ago, the United States and most other countries began lockdowns. We struggled to procure toilet paper and cleansing wipes. Masks were sold out. People continue to be prevented from seeing loved ones face-to-face. Zoom entered the vernacular. Everybody seemed to be baking bread. Our favorite local restaurants had to convert to takeout and delivery to keep the lights on.
And most chefs have had no choice but to improvise.
CNN Travel caught up with three chefs we profiled in recent years: Chefs Llewellyn Clarke of the Four Seasons in Nevis, Missy Robbins of popular Brooklyn restaurants Lilia and Misi, and Ludo Lefebvre, of two Petit Trois restaurants in Los Angeles.
It’s been a crappy year, and chances are the hits will keep on coming. But revisiting these culinary creatives, listening to how they’ve been coping and what they’ve been cooking up since things shut down, gives us all reason to hope that things will somehow, someday, get better.
Living and working in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in New York City during the pandemic was a far cry from our experience two summers ago, when CNN Travel spent the day with chef Missy Robbins. Robbins, along with her partner, Sean Feeney, own and operate two of New York’s most-beloved restaurants, Lilia and Misi, both of which were so popular that securing a reservation was a triumph of patience and will.
Robbins, like many proprietors, decided to shut down for the safety of her staff and guests before the government-mandated lockdowns. Having already drawn up plans to open a brick-and-morter grocery store, Robbins and company revised their immediate strategy to launch a prepared foods and provisions service, MP (MISIPASTA, Grocery and Specialties) during the pandemic. Robbins tells us what it’s like to forge ahead with a new enterprise while managing the myriad challenges of the shutdown and reopening her restaurants safely – and the little things that keep her going.
“When it comes to travel, places are always hard to distill to a single essence. But if you could put Nevis in a bottle, odds are it would be one of Llewellyn’s pepper sauces.” CNN Travel’s Lilit Marcus and Diana Diroy met Chef Llewellyn in Nevis, West Indies, a couple of years ago.
Clarke is a British-born chef who came to the Caribbean in 1999 and started making hot pepper sauces a few years later. Chef Llewellyn’s hot sauce business is more vocation than side-hustle. We were struck by his commitment to perfection, his warmth, his talent for butchery and for sourcing local ingredients.
We caught up with Clarke in September to check in on him, his family and the Four Seasons Nevis, where he works.
Chef Ludo has been offering cooking lessons with his family on his Instagram page.
When we found out in late July that Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre had to shut down his critically acclaimed Michelin-star restaurant, Trois Mec, we felt an all-too-familiar pang of disappointment and sadness.
Trois Mec was a fine-dining concept that opened in 2013 in a nondescript Hollywood strip mall, and served an impeccable and inventive tasting menu. The open kitchen allowed 28 diners to observe a diverse crew of talented young chefs. The experience was as interactive and theatrical as it was delicious. It was the kind of place that felt like home despite all the fancy-schmancy preparations and superior service – guests were greeted with a warm hello upon arrival and a heartfelt farewell when leaving.
And now it is no more. Chef Ludo, however, is indefatigable. While waiting on reopening his other restaurants, Petit Trois in Hollywood and in the San Fernando Valley, Lefebvre took to Instagram to teach cooking classes and spent some quality time with his kids, watching the classic American television series, “Little House on the Prairie.” And now his remaining restaurants are open for service – so go have a Petit Trois omelet, if you can.