Picnic Societies, Cloth Napkins and Mess-Free Food: The Covid-Era Dining Trends to Look Out for, According to a Michelin-Starred Chef
Native Aussie Curtis Stone is the celebrity chef who’s got a popular food TV show (Field Trip with Curtis Stone on public television), a resume of global excellence (Quo Vadis in London) and not least, a Michelin star (Maude in Los Angeles).
But when the proverbial Covid-19 lockdown halted dining room service at Gwen, his glittering and delicious steak restaurant in Hollywood, Stone (like many others) had to pivot his business...and we’re so glad he did. He amped up production at Gwen’s already popular deli/takeout counter and introduced Picnic Society by Gwen, a new restaurant at the Grove that lets you create your own picnic to enjoy on the nearby lawn or eat on a patio table. We asked Stone to tell us more about his exciting new spot, plus give us his take on the future of dining in Los Angeles.
Seems like grab-and-go concept just got elevated with your new spot, Picnic Society. How did you come up with the concept?
“As the pandemic wore on, we noticed more guests at our little butcher counter [at Gwen] in Hollywood coming in with cabin fever and itching to get out of the house. They were stocking up on charcuterie, terrines and rillettes and talked about backyard picnicking as a way to visit with loved ones while maintaining social distancing. The butchers make everything in-house at Gwen. Sustainable practices and using the whole animal has always been an important philosophy for us. It’s something we have been doing since Gwen opened in July 2016 so a picnic concept during these times seemed like a natural progression.”
In the days of the pandemic, will we be looking to historic dining habits for ideas?“In the nineteenth century, Londoners had picnic societies where groups would gather and everyone was required to bring something to share and provide a bit of entertainment, like an outdoor salon. You see it in art and I hope the idea lives on a bit even when times start to feel a bit safer.”
Will food get any less messy, since we will be eating on the go?“A bit, I think so. I think we’re going to see more foods that don’t require utensils and can be nibbled on and items that can be put in jars. Our pastry team has a variety of desserts that you just need to unscrew the lid on to enjoy.”
Will people start carrying their own cutlery? Their own nice napkins? Should we keep a picnic blanket in the car trunk?“I love the idea of carrying your on cutlery to avoid using plastic when possible. Cloth napkins also cut down on waste, and frankly, just elevate dining. I already keep a blanket in my car. A picnic can be spontaneous and can happen anywhere. I’ve said it before—this really is a moment to make the world your restaurant.”
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Looking ahead, will the idea of a dining space become more fluid?“We have such a car culture here and such busy lifestyles that eating on the go existed long before Covid-19. But yes, I do think we’re going to see more outdoor spaces to dine. Restaurants are going to be mindful of outdoor dining as they’re being designed. We just had a drive-in screening at The Grove of my series, Field Trip with Curtis Stone, and guests were treated to picnic baskets in their cars in lieu of a concession stand. It was a blast and I see more of that happening.”
Editor’s Note: Picnic Society by Gwen is a pop-up restaurant through the end of 2020 (though we’ll be surprised if the concept doesn’t stay in place longer) that includes baked goods, luxury packaged foods and a menu of to-order cooked items. The upstairs patio of its location in the former Dominique Ansel space has been re-done to encourage casual picnicking. It’s one of the many dining spots at the Grove that have pivoted to become more outdoors-friendly: Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill has extended its outdoor seating, Italian restaurant edo by Edoardo Baldi has expanded its outdoor dining down Bow Street and the Fountain Bar has more tables outside.