Celebrity Chefs Use Their Influence to Help Restaurant Workers

The optimists praise them for leveraging status to raise federal relief for struggling restaurants. The skeptics see them selfishly lobbying for grants. No matter their motivation, celebrity chefs have indisputably raised millions of dollars for independent restaurateurs who are truly suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Here is a recognition of the work of these celebrity chefs – those conflicted, sometimes outrageous, yet indispensable voices for millions of restauranteurs suffering from today’s economic crisis.

  • Good news arrived this week when celebrity chef José Andrés raised over $2 million in donations for Chicago restaurants.
  • In New York City, chef Daniel Humm has been serving free meals to hospital workers and unemployed residents. Humm donated his Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park as a commissary kitchen to Manhattan.
  • In Miami, Marcus Samuelsson of “Chopped” TV fame is serving free sandwiches and salads from his restaurant, Red Rooster.
  • Internationally acclaimed chefs Wolfgang Puck, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Daniel Boulud have been actively lobbying on Capitol Hill for more restaurant relief this month.
  • In addition, the 9,000-member Independent Restaurant Coalition by Alinea co-owner Nick Kokonas, Travel Channel TV’s Andrew Zimmern, and former White House chef Sam Kass, among others, continues lobbying for additional Paycheck Protection Program grants.
  • We also covered several closures of celebrity restaurants and their temporary transition into free meal providers for at-risk populations. Yes, even some Michelin star kitchens.
  • Another piece of good news: Food Network TV’s Guy Fieri helped to raise over $10 million for the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund which is mailing thousands of $500 checks to furloughed restaurant workers this week.

“The Health and Wealth of America is the Primary Goal”

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump appointed a handful of celebrity chefs to a new group with authority to recommend policy actions to the White House. The list includes the above mentioned Puck, Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, as well as Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller of Per Se and The French Laundry.

The White House formalized Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups (GAERIG) to combat the economic impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Members will advise the White House on reopening the economy during and after the shutdown.

President Trump has appointed 23 food industry executives to assist him in timing the re-opening of the economy. As mentioned above, included in the list are four celebrity chefs: Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

According to the White House, GAERIGs are bipartisan groups of American leaders who will work together with the White House to chart the “path forward” for their respective industries, especially the timing and reconstruction efforts needed to bring back their contributions to the economy.

There are over 200 members across all GAERIGs spanning all sectors of the economy: agriculture, banking, construction, energy, entertainment, healthcare, manufacturing, real estate, telecommunications and transportation.

Below is Trump’s full list of appointees to the Food & Beverage GAERIG.

    • Coca-Cola – James Quincey
    • PepsiCo – Ramon Laguarta
    • Chick-fil-A – Dan Cathy
    • National Restaurant Association – Marvin Irby
    • McDonald’s – Chris Kempczinski
    • Darden Restaurants – Gene Lee Jr.
    • Subway – John Chidsey
    • Papa Johns – Rob Lynch
    • Wendy’s – Todd Penegor
    • Waffle House – Walt Ehmer
    • Bloomin’ Brands – David Deno
    • YUM! Brands – David Gibbs
    • Starbucks – Kevin Johnson
    • Wolfgang Puck
    • Thomas Keller
    • Jean-Georges Vongerichten
    • Daniel Boulud
    • M Crowd Restaurant – Ray Washburne
    • Jimmy John’s Founder – Jimmy John Liautaud
    • Kraft – Michael Mullen
    • National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors – Dirk Van Dongen
    • International Franchise Association – Robert Cresanti
    • Inspire Brands – Paul Brown

As of March 2020, 60% of job losses attributable to the coronavirus were positions at restaurants and bars. Celebrity chefs are continuing important, idiosyncratic work lobbying for federal aid and voicing the needs of restaurant owners. “We can’t fail,” said celebrity chef Zimmern in an interview with the Associated Press. “Restaurants have to be open and ready to welcome their workers back.”

Photo by Cristiano Del Riccio – from Wikimedia Commons and originally posted to Flickr as Oscar Official, Chef Wolfgang Puck, CC BY-SA 2.0

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