Chef Kwame Onwuachi and Liz Bacelar on COVID Activism in the Restaurant Industry – SXSW Sessions On Demand Video

A month ago, Chef Kwame Onwuachi’s restaurant Kith/Kin was one of the hottest reservations in the country. But COVID-19 has closed its doors and turned the James Beard Award-winning chef into an activist.

Chef Onwuachi joins our weekly SXSW Sessions series for a virtual discussion with journalist Liz Bacelar on how he has been fighting for local restaurants and their employees, on facing racism in the culinary world, and the Hollywood film adaptation of his hit memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef.

Sitting in front of a paper bag lined wall of meals, Onwuachi shares his current project working at a reactivated Bronx restaurant through the World Central Kitchen – a foundation started by Chef José Andrés to help feed communities in the wake of natural disasters.

“The whole landscape of the restaurant industry is going to change.” – Chef Onwuachi

From mom-and-pop restaurants to fine-dining landmarks, Onwuachi and Bacelar examine the current state of the industry as many face the reality they may never reopen their doors to the public again. The current COVID crisis throws a monumental wrench in the popular dining model of tightly-packed spaces and reveals how these businesses cannot survive on takeout orders alone. “The whole landscape of the restaurant industry is going to change,” says Onwuachi. “If we already operate on thin margins, can you imagine if we’re at 50% capacity?”

Advocating for change in the industry, Onwuachi explores the benefits of restaurants moving to a model with a community relief effort built in and further champions those already making such efforts.

“In times of crisis, if you’re not coming up with the idea get behind someone who already has. All you ultimately want to do is help people. You don’t need to be the pioneer…getting behind someone is just as heroic.”

From what’s next for the restaurant and food industries to the importance of having a daily mantra, watch the entire discussion and virtual audience Q&A with Onwuachi and Bacelar. Stay tuned for more SXSW Sessions On Demand coming up next week.

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SXSW Sessions Online is a weekly series featuring 2020 speakers virtually sharing their stories along with a special Q&A portion. Catch previously-recorded programming on demand via our YouTube channel playlist.

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