Today’s chefs are changing their cooking style, experimenting with new dishes, and redefining the word “restaurant.” Where once brick-and-mortar locations were the ultimate definitions of restaurants, today pop-ups, food trucks, ghost restaurants, or fast casual eateries, have come into the forefront, and today’s chefs have a multitude of opportunities at their fingertips. Recognizing the options at hand, a number of award-winning chefs are diversifying their portfolio and opening more informal eateries. While chefs that began with more casual food trucks are expanding to brick-and-mortar locations.
The transition and how it’s played out are perfectly articulated in José Andrés’ newest ventures. A 2011 James Beard Award winner and Michelin-starred restaurateur, Andrés made a name for himself by opening high-end establishments such as minibar and Jaleo. Recently, he has expanded his horizons by opening a vegetable-focused fast-casual concept called Beefsteak. A plat- forward eatery that’s accentuated with animal-based garnishes.
Andrés’ knowledge has been formative in Beefsteak’s launch. A pro at creating and executing concepts, at Beefsteak he has created a whimsical setting through cartoons of vegetables on the wall and creative menu names, such as “Cauli-power.” In this new forum, Andrés has the opportunity to bring his high standard of cooking to a larger audience. Joe Raffa, the executive chef of ThinkFoodGroup, recently discussed this opportunity in an interview with Eater, saying “Getting into the fast-casual world allows us to put José’s message and José’s food in front of a much larger audience.” Now, the challenge for Beefsteak is to maintain Andrés’s high food quality standards, while also pumping out the food in a timely manner.
On the other end of the spectrum, Taylor Smith, a newly established restaurateur, has transformed his Silver Seed Food Truck into The Gold Leaf Collective. Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, The Gold Leaf locally sources ingredients to serve fresh and vibrant fare.
When asked about his successful transition from food truck to full-service, Smith attributes his success to the lessons he learned starting and running his food truck. “Everything we learned having our food truck has been utilized and expanded upon in The Gold Leaf.”
On the food truck, he had a small team, and took on the responsibility to fix many of the problems himself. “I've gotten very handy since The Silver Seed opened. With a food truck, anything can break at anytime, and you have to be able to fix it on the spot,” he says. Now that he has a larger support team in his full-service restaurant, he does not fix everything, but he still has an arsenal of handy skills, just in case he needs to leap into action: “That skillset definitely helps in a restaurant, where every dollar counts. Being able to solve problems without having to pay top dollar, makes our sustainability that much more achievable.”
Both Andrés and Smith jumped into unfamiliar territory with their most recent restaurant openings. While Smith has not had years of managing a number of restaurants, his experience running the food truck taught him how to manage a team, how to create foot traffic, and how to serve delicious, local food. These three skills that have been crucial to The Gold Leaf’s success. Though Andrés does have experience managing restaurants, opening a new restaurant concept is no easy feat, and neither Andrés nor Smith shy away from trying something new, and so far, their prior experience in the restaurant space has helped make their new restaurant concepts a success.
Today’s fluidity in the food industry is something that will continue to be present in the landscape, chefs can present and utilize their skills in a number of different settings. This in turn means that the number of dining options will continue to expand, definitely a more competitive setting for chefs, but it’s music to the ears of every curious foodie—the culinary world is a playground that we get to explore.