It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the Philly restaurant scene as we know it. Many beloved restaurants have closed. Chefs, especially those who cook in independently-owned restaurants, have had to shift gears to make a living and keep their careers intact, but like all good Philly stories, chefs here are scrappy and determined to make something from nothing. From podcasting to feeding the food insecure, these are the coolest pandemic pivots from our beloved hometown cooks.
The Social Entrepreneur
It didn’t take go-getter Ange Branca much time to plan her next move when she closed her Malaysian destination, Sate Kampar. Branca opened Kampar Kitchen, an incubator/ghost kitchen combo for cooks from underrepresented communities. Each week, chefs take a night to cook meals from their heritage — like vegetarian Chilean or classic soul food. It’s available for delivery or pick up from South Philly’s BOK Building.
Eli Kulp, co-owner of Fork and High Street Philly, has long been known in the industry as a thinker. Lately, he’s been gaining a reputation as a talker too, thanks to his CHEF Radio Podcast that hit the internet airwaves just as the pandemic hit Philly. Kulp interviews fellow chefs about career tracks, sustainability, their pandemic activities, the future of restaurants, and more. After his injury in the 2015 Amtrak train derailment disrupted his cooking path, the podcast proved an ideal use of the chef’s knowledge and interest in moving the industry forward.
Early in the pandemic, with food insecurity rising, five local chefs joined forces to bring meals and other essentials to Philly communities. Everybody Eats was started by restaurateur and caterer Aziza Young, SOUTH chef Gregory Headen, Down North Pizza owner Kurt Evans, private chef Malik Ali, and caterer and front-of-house professional Stephanie Willis. The group has been feeding Philadelphians in a variety of neighborhoods for nearly a year and even took its show on the road to Texas after winter storms decimated the state. Now that Everybody Eats has a permanent home, stay tuned for bigger updates to come.
For 11 years, Pierre and Charlotte Calmels ran Bibou, a celebrated fine dining restaurant where Francophiles could break out fancy vin rouge from their collections to drink alongside pâté en croûte and soufflé. Last fall, Bibou rebranded as a market for hard-to-find, imported French groceries and prepared dishes. Now, customers can order fresh baguettes, ready-to-heat escargots, butter with sea salt crystals, rare mustards, tinned fish, and much, much more online for pick up or local delivery. Plus, Chef Pierre is still cooking his gourmet fare for weekly special menus.
The Ghost Chef
With his avant-garde eponymous restaurant operating in limited fashion, Peter Serpico and Starr Restaurants launched two ghost kitchens. Pete’s Place offers “kinda Korean,” like rice cake fries and a pork hot dog with cucumber kimchi relish. Chicken Scratch brings rotisserie chicken with all the stick-to-your-ribs sides. Both virtual restaurants can be found on delivery apps or ordered online for pickup on South Street.
The Celebrity Cooking Instructor
After competing on four seasons of Bravo’s Top Chef, Philly’s own Jen Carroll has become a regular on the popular cooking show and earned national attention. While her restaurant Spice Finch was closed, she took her television talents to the smaller screen with a series of regular, live-streamed cooking events. The celebrity chef levels up the standard virtual cooking class by streaming her lessons — like a romantic three-course dinner or pickle making — in a studio kitchen. Fans can sign up online or book a private class for a group.
The Sauce Boss
Kiki Aranita may have closed her Rittenhouse restaurant, Poi Dog, but she’s kept the magic of her Hawaiian cuisine going with a line of sauces and seasonings. Maui Lavender Ponzu brings a salty-citrusy-floral boost to brighten up home cooked dishes and Chili Peppah Water incorporates seasonal peppers to offer just the right amount of heat for any entree. Both are available as dry spice blends too. Aranita has also taken up knitting artistic interpretations of food and other items.
The Baking Guru
First, Abby Dahan won Food Network’s Chopped Sweets by dazzling chefs with her intricate pastries. Then, the Paris-born, French-trained Parc pastry chef launched The Bake School, where she offers virtual baking and pastry-making classes. Her bread-and-butter is team-building events for offices or groups, but she’s also been hosting public cooking lessons to walk home bakers through making treats like Pop Tarts and tiramisu.