CHEF NOTES: Episode Six
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CHEF NOTES: Episode Six

January 11, 2021
by Rob Cottman [@chefrobcottman_]

Back in May, I had no doubt that by this time I would be writing to you from my desk at the venue after a busy night full of serving our guests.  If the early weeks of the pandemic taught me anything, it was to not assume anything and stop looking for a timeline. It has been one of the most difficult years of my culinary career, but I am continuing to find ways to evaluate where we have been and where I believe we can go. Here I’d like to take a look back over 2020 and reflect on the silver linings and lessons learned. 

Chef Rob wearing a face mask, standing in front of the brick wall outside the venue on 31st Street.

Right before the pandemic closed our venue doors almost ten months ago, we were wrapping up our annual Beer Fest helmed by our Bar Manager Gabe Dullek, and it was by far my favorite one yet. We had a great time sharing our favorite brews with hundreds of guests, and I really enjoyed preparing the perfect pairings on such a large scale.

Shortly after that highlight, we went from a full calendar of events to massive furloughs and total uncertainty. The hum in the kitchen and rhythm of daily activity went silent overnight. My first concern was our staff that was now suddenly without any source of income, and I was so humbled by the immediate outpouring of support we received. Thanks to hundreds of generous donations, we were able to send checks to our employees while they navigated the complications of unemployment compensation.

The big question of when we could reopen became less clear as time went on, and by May we realized it was time to focus on a new approach. With the help of the small but dedicated operations team left on staff, we developed a plan to continue to connect with our guests and allow me to cook for them again with a weekly rotating Curbside Pop-Up menu.  I also was given the opportunity to experiment with craft cocktails and add that into the mix. While we originally planned to offer this contactless service for a short time until we could welcome guests back into our space, we stuck with this plan for three straight months.

From left to right: Bridget, Cortez, and Lauren pose in front of the loading doors on 31st Street with their masks.

My favorite week was the Seafood Fest. It was definitely the most amount of work, but we fed so many friendly faces and new fans that it made all the long hours in the kitchen worth it.

I cannot begin to describe how grateful I was to be back in the kitchen creating menus, experimenting with flavor combinations, and putting everything into the meals being packed up for pick up every week. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect because this was outside of anything we had ever done before, but the overwhelming response was so incredibly supportive. In addition to the support of countless orders we were able to fulfill for our guests week in and week out, we raised over $7,000 in tips that were all put to our employee Emergency Relief Fund.

After Halloween, as regulations continued to remain tight, we decided to try some catering style menu items for the holiday season. It presented a new challenge, but it was so motivating to be invited into people’s homes with our prepared meals. 

As an organization, WCL is continuing to fight to stay connected and working to find our way back to the place where we are responsibly able to gather again. While we know right now we are still waiting for that time, we are excited to continue to find pockets of creativity and connections. This month we look forward to bringing you our version of some favorite brunch items to your Saturday afternoon. I’ll be working on twists on some classic breakfast favorites as well as some signature sandwiches and salads. We also plan to explore some new non-alcoholic and craft cocktail options. Make sure you are signed up for our emails and following on social media for the latest updates. I look forward to you being our guest.