North Carolina’s chefs have all had to pivot and change their business models in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Cheetie Kumar closed her Raleigh restaurant Garland in mid-March, right after she closed her music venue Kings.
Since then, her life has looked a lot different. Instead of managing a hectic kitchen and working nonstop, she and her husband have spent a lot of time in nature and actually relaxed on the weekends. Kumar says this strange time is teaching her to exercise patience as she looks for signs of what the future might hold. Earlier this month, the James Beard Foundation announced that Kumar is a finalist for Best Chef in the Southeast. Host Frank Stasio talks to the chef about the nomination, how she is planning to reopen and about the regular conversations and check-ins that chefs around North Carolina are having about how to navigate this time.
On what she has learned about advocacy from the James Beard Foundation:
In the last two or three years, I've just learned so much about advocacy and policy influence that chefs could potentially have. And that was not really something that I had ever considered going into opening a restaurant. … On the larger scale, I think [chefs] have the ability to balance so many financial systems, and we don't really even realize that we do that. But when you start thinking about it in those terms, you really feel the impact that you could make. And if we all were uniting as a single voice, or maybe, you know, at least shared voices, it would really make a difference.
On the importance of restaurants in our state:
We really have a very unique culture in North Carolina. We have such a rich agricultural tradition. … Between the fisherman and the proteins that are raised and all of the abundance of produce and the very rich restaurant scene across the state that's nationally lauded and recognized. And the interaction between those two: how North Carolina restaurants — so many of us support local farmers — and all of that money stays in the state. It goes towards tax revenue. It fills the state's budget coffers. And I think it's really important for the state and the government to turn around and recognize the importance of this sector of the economy.
On the text thread she is on with other North Carolina chefs:
We all really needed each other, and there was no secrecy, and there still hasn't been. I mean, we've really shared so much of our fears and actual numbers and strategies and vulnerabilities and systems that we've all had to just figure out on the fly. We're all kind of in the middle of reinventing our business.