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

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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China’s EV Juggernaut Is a Warning for the West

Competitive pressure and creativity have made Chinese-designed and -built electric cars formidable competitors

Thu, Jun 8, 2023 4 min

China rocked the auto world twice this year. First, its electric vehicles stunned Western rivals at the Shanghai auto show with their quality, features and price. Then came reports that in the first quarter of 2023 it dethroned Japan as the world’s largest auto exporter.

How is China in contention to lead the world’s most lucrative and prestigious consumer goods market, one long dominated by American, European, Japanese and South Korean nameplates? The answer is a unique combination of industrial policy, protectionism and homegrown competitive dynamism. Western policy makers and business leaders are better prepared for the first two than the third.

Start with industrial policy—the use of government resources to help favoured sectors. China has practiced industrial policy for decades. While it’s finding increased favour even in the U.S., the concept remains controversial. Governments have a poor record of identifying winning technologies and often end up subsidising inferior and wasteful capacity, including in China.

But in the case of EVs, Chinese industrial policy had a couple of things going for it. First, governments around the world saw climate change as an enduring threat that would require decade-long interventions to transition away from fossil fuels. China bet correctly that in transportation, the transition would favour electric vehicles.

In 2009, China started handing out generous subsidies to buyers of EVs. Public procurement of taxis and buses was targeted to electric vehicles, rechargers were subsidised, and provincial governments stumped up capital for lithium mining and refining for EV batteries. In 2020 NIO, at the time an aspiring challenger to Tesla, avoided bankruptcy thanks to a government-led bailout.

While industrial policy guaranteed a demand for EVs, protectionism ensured those EVs would be made in China, by Chinese companies. To qualify for subsidies, cars had to be domestically made, although foreign brands did qualify. They also had to have batteries made by Chinese companies, giving Chinese national champions like Contemporary Amperex Technology and BYD an advantage over then-market leaders from Japan and South Korea.

To sell in China, foreign automakers had to abide by conditions intended to upgrade the local industry’s skills. State-owned Guangzhou Automobile Group developed the manufacturing know-how necessary to become a player in EVs thanks to joint ventures with Toyota and Honda, said Gregor Sebastian, an analyst at Germany’s Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Despite all that government support, sales of EVs remained weak until 2019, when China let Tesla open a wholly owned factory in Shanghai. “It took this catalyst…to boost interest and increase the level of competitiveness of the local Chinese makers,” said Tu Le, managing director of Sino Auto Insights, a research service specialising in the Chinese auto industry.

Back in 2011 Pony Ma, the founder of Tencent, explained what set Chinese capitalism apart from its American counterpart. “In America, when you bring an idea to market you usually have several months before competition pops up, allowing you to capture significant market share,” he said, according to Fast Company, a technology magazine. “In China, you can have hundreds of competitors within the first hours of going live. Ideas are not important in China—execution is.”

Thanks to that competition and focus on execution, the EV industry went from a niche industrial-policy project to a sprawling ecosystem of predominantly private companies. Much of this happened below the Western radar while China was cut off from the world because of Covid-19 restrictions.

When Western auto executives flew in for April’s Shanghai auto show, “they saw a sea of green plates, a sea of Chinese brands,” said Le, referring to the green license plates assigned to clean-energy vehicles in China. “They hear the sounds of the door closing, sit inside and look at the quality of the materials, the fabric or the plastic on the console, that’s the other holy s— moment—they’ve caught up to us.”

Manufacturers of gasoline cars are product-oriented, whereas EV manufacturers, like tech companies, are user-oriented, Le said. Chinese EVs feature at least two, often three, display screens, one suitable for watching movies from the back seat, multiple lidars (laser-based sensors) for driver assistance, and even a microphone for karaoke (quickly copied by Tesla). Meanwhile, Chinese suppliers such as CATL have gone from laggard to leader.

Chinese dominance of EVs isn’t preordained. The low barriers to entry exploited by Chinese brands also open the door to future non-Chinese competitors. Nor does China’s success in EVs necessarily translate to other sectors where industrial policy matters less and creativity, privacy and deeply woven technological capability—such as software, cloud computing and semiconductors—matter more.

Still, the threat to Western auto market share posed by Chinese EVs is one for which Western policy makers have no obvious answer. “You can shut off your own market and to a certain extent that will shield production for your domestic needs,” said Sebastian. “The question really is, what are you going to do for the global south, countries that are still very happily trading with China?”

Western companies themselves are likely to respond by deepening their presence in China—not to sell cars, but for proximity to the most sophisticated customers and suppliers. Jörg Wuttke, the past president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, calls China a “fitness centre.” Even as conditions there become steadily more difficult, Western multinationals “have to be there. It keeps you fit.”


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