During Covid, We Ate Comfort Food. We’ve Become a Lot More Adventurous. | Kanebridge News
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During Covid, We Ate Comfort Food. We’ve Become a Lot More Adventurous.

Whether dining in or dining out, the pandemic taught us that food has meaning that goes well beyond calories and comfort

By ADRIENNE CHEATHAM
Mon, Dec 19, 2022 9:09amGrey Clock 4 min

The world of food got a lot bigger this past year.

If the previous two years were defined by the word “pivot,” 2022 was the year that we could finally stop pivoting and stand still to take stock of the landscape that now surrounded us. That was true in so many areas—and the dining landscape was no exception. We spent time evaluating what is most important in our lives, and emerged with a hunger for deeper meaning and deeper connection.

Before Covid, restaurants that were serving an unfamiliar cuisine were primarily patronised by people from the culture the restaurant represented. Neighbours would pass by that local Senegalese restaurant, or the Laotian place they heard good things about, and think to themselves that they should go one day. But they kept putting it off, instead settling for that familiar place, that familiar food.

Then lockdown snatched those options from us, and our worlds got smaller.

Today’s the day

Once restrictions began to lift, we entered back into the world of dining with a new mind-set, and a desire for experiences that spoke to us in a new way. “We should go one day” became “We will go today.”

Between rising prices and knowing too well that tomorrow isn’t promised, the value of our time and money became front and centre. Life is too short to miss that chance to try something new, and spending money on mediocre food became a source of discontent after finding out during the pandemic that we can cook just fine for ourselves. There was no more putting off going to the restaurants we had wondered about.

Maybe it’s because most of us were unable to travel for almost two years and missed the humbling and beautiful feeling of surrounding ourselves in a culture that isn’t our own and the personal growth that comes from it. But people seemed more open than ever to new perspectives and dining experiences, caring more about substance than superficial trends.

So people began seeking out restaurants that provided not only delicious food, but a window into the heart of another culture. Or they sought out a familiar cuisine that introduced them to the flavours as they were intended to be served, rather than the watered-down version they were comfortable with before lockdown.

Before 2020, chefs trying to open restaurants that wanted to serve “ethnic” food, no matter how modern, were brushed off by potential investors. They were seen as only small neighbourhood restaurants that needed to be surrounded by a community of people from that culture, and the food needed to be cheap. Chefs, like myself, had been trying to break this paradigm for years, and kept running up against the same version of “no” from potential investors before eventually shifting to pop-ups or bootstrapping a bricks-and-mortar to prove their point of view.

By the beginning of this year things had started to change. Chefs putting forth a new perspective on deeply personal and cultural cuisine were being sought out as the appetite for new dining experiences grew.

Restaurants like Kann in Portland, Ore., serving delicious, modern Haitian food by chef Gregory Gourdet opened to a packed house every night and critical acclaim. Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi opened in a prime Lincoln Center location in New York serving swoon-inducing dishes with Afro-Caribbean flavours and Bronx flair that would be at home on any fine-dining table. Yangban Society, by chefs Katianna Hong and John Hong in Los Angeles, began dishing out inventive and delicious Korean-meets-Jewish deli fare to eager patrons. And Chintan Pandya and Roni Mazumdar from a self-proclaimed “unapologetic Indian” restaurant named Dhamaka, serving lesser-known regional dishes of the subcontinent bathed in their unabashedly bold flavors, took home the coveted Best Chef New York honors at this year’s James Beard Awards.

Home connections

But these types of experiences aren’t the only ways we are satisfying our need for deeper meaning and connection. During the dark days of the pandemic most of us were cooking at home more than we had in a long time, or ever had. Whether we liked it or not, people learned what they are capable of executing in their own kitchens, and the beauty of sharing it with loved ones. So while there are great restaurants and experiences to seek out, we learned that that feeling of intimacy and connection can also be found at our own tables.

Having sampled that intimacy, we’ve begun to crave it and have made space in our homes and routines for these more meaningful dining experiences. There is a level of intimacy that comes with a dinner party that is hard to replicate in public when people’s attention is often divided between their group and the surroundings. Whether it’s bringing wine, witty commentary, a side dish, entree or dessert, or helping with the dishes, everyone contributes a piece of themselves. And although people have largely allowed their sourdough starters to die a slow death, you may even see a fresh loaf baked by a friend who is yet unwilling to let go of the connection they formed with their starter, and the meaning it provided during hard times.

More recently, people or groups with more discretionary money may hire a local chef to execute the food for a dinner party so they and their guests can focus on the playlist and one another. And while this used to be reserved for the wealthier among us, there is currently a larger market and larger talent pool available than ever, making it slightly more accessible. Several chefs across the country left restaurants during Covid (willingly or unwillingly), and many have found a new path in the private sector cooking for birthdays, anniversaries or a group of friends gathering on a Friday night.

Still, while this is becoming more common for special gatherings, it is far from the everyday norm. More commonly, experienced hosts will divide the meal among guests, allowing everyone a chance to show off the skills they honed at home and provide something delicious for one another.

Our worlds have grown again, but this time we’re being more deliberate in designing the landscape, and building worlds that are rich with substance and meaning, more varied and beautiful than before. Of all the places to find what satisfies our souls, there’s no better place than across the table from people we care about, with food that also satisfies our hunger for more.

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Equities are often seen as expensive after promising start to 2023

By CAITLIN MCCABE
Mon, Jan 30, 2023 7 min

A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe

 

Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer

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