Momentous transformations in the restaurant world
A silent revolution, surely detrimental to the traditional domains of food.
History teaches that we know how revolutions begin, but not how they will end. Indeed they often have unpredictable consequences, frequently the opposite of those we expected. However, while they are under way they leave a trail of casualties, whether few or many. A silent revolution is now taking place in full public view in the multifaceted world of restaurants, and it will surely damage the traditional domains of food. Reliable estimates predict a loss of approximately 15% of restaurant jobs, as we know them today, in favour of other food service modalities.
The classic ‘fast food’, once synonymous with ‘junk food’, is undergoing a metamorphosis, adapting itself to the requirements of a more mature, discerning clientele. The cast-iron creed of Dick and Mac McDonald, subsequently reinforced by McDonald’s ‘re-founder’ Ray Kroc, ‘just burgers and fries’, is now but a hazy memory. To prosper, today’s fast food restaurants offer salads, fried fish or chicken, sandwiches with local ingredients to represent the host nation, and increasingly, family services or even table service. To have some idea of this phenomenon, consider that McDonald’s alone has 600 franchised branches in Italy, with 23,000 employees. And they are by no means alone: beyond their eternal rival, Burger King, they contend with Autogrill, Chef Express, Roadhouse, Old Wild West and more recently ethnic fast food such as Kyosko Sushi. Alongside cafés with pre-made hot food, sandwich or piadina shops, and vastly trendy street food, a new food paradigm is taking shape, starting with Oscar Farinetti’s brainchild Eataly. Its first branch opened in 2007 in Turin’s Lingotto district, followed by branches in Genova, Roma Ostiense, Bari Fiera del Levante, Florence, Milan, Trieste and many others including those abroad, such as the celebrated New York location. This innovative formula provides customers with delicious foods made with excellent ingredients in autonomously managed restaurants. The venture’s crown jewel is the monumental FICO food park in Bologna.
Another restaurateur-entrepreneur has made a similar splash: the Florentine Umberto Montano, whose Mercato Centrale (‘Central Market’) format is conquering markets and railway stations. Launched in 2014 from the central market in Florence, his winning idea took root in Rome’s Termini train station in the area dominated by the imposing and splendid marble chimney known as the Cappa Mazzoniana (Mazzoni’s chimney, from it’s architect’s name), once the after-work haunt of railway employees; Montano also recently opened the Porta Palazzo market in Turin. He is now preparing to open another venue in Milan’s central train station, occupying the via Sammartini area on the station’s western side, with 20 artisanal food representatives offering tastings at their stands and at restaurant tables. The food world, then, is being transformed. In this climate of novelty and modernity, it is befuddling to learn that the World’s Best Female Chef 2019 has anointed a winner: the Mexican Daniela Soto-Innes, chef at the Cosme restaurant in Manhattan. We are happy for her, but in a world so fervently advertised as ‘gender-free’, it is confusing to see gender differences emphasised in the kitchen.
A chef’s ability has nothing to do with gender.
President of the Accademia