Chef Kwame Onwuachi and Liz Bacelar on COVID Activism in the Restaurant Industry [Video]

Back before COVID-19 altered life as we now know it, Chef Kwame Onwuachi's restaurant Kith/Kin was one of the hottest reservations in the country. Since the pandemic forced its doors closed a lot has changed for the James Beard Award-winning chef turned activist from his community relief work to the recent announcement of his departure as Kith/Kin's Executive Chef.

In this virtual SXSW Session, Chef Kwame Onwuachi and journalist Liz Bacelar discuss 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.

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

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.

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.

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The SXSW Sessions Online series featured virtual conversations and audience Q&As with 2020 speakers. Catch previously-recorded programming on demand via our YouTube channel playlist.

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By Jordan Roberts