Typically, beginning-of-year lists that celebrate folks who have achieved great things in foodservice and hospitality tend to focus on those chefs who have clinched that extra Michelin star or been fêted by the foodie press for pioneering some new cuisine or another. They feature photos of smiling hotel managers who have aced occupancy rates and operators who have smashed footfall and revenue targets.
2020, however, was not a typical year. It was a year of suffering, of grind, of survival. The heroes of hospitality we celebrate in 2020 therefore are those who have gone the extra mile to protect an industry facing extraordinary pressure. An industry dealt blow after blow by the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions its virulent spread has caused.
This list then is a hearty “Chapeau!” to those brave and inspiring individuals who have stuck their head above the parapet and spoken up for fellow professionals who have needed help more than at any other time in recent history. It is a celebration of those who have fought the good fight, helped, supported and grafted and, in many cases, raised or donated huge sums for the vulnerable in our societies.
It is, by no means an exhaustive list and there are countless men and women who also deserve our thanks and praise in this, the most testing of years.
1) José Andrés
As if his previous contributions to a kinder, better world were not enough, the Spanish-American chef, restaurateur and founder of World Central Kitchen (WCK) somehow found another gear in 2020. Proving once again that he really is the man to rise to the occasion, particularly in times of crisis, Andrés and his extraordinary colleagues at WCK once again won the admiration of our industry – and the world. WCK, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters, worked across the US in 2020 to distribute individually packaged, fresh meals to communities that needed support.
To date, WCK has provided a staggering 33 million+ meals in more than 400 US cities. WCK is also partnering with American restaurants via its #ChefsForAmerica initiative by providing jobs and meals for those in need.
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2) Tracy Chang
Up-and-coming US chef Tracy Chang – owner of Pagu in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, and a 2020 semi-finalist for James Beard’s ‘Best Chef: Northeast’ – also worked wonders in 2020.
In the wake of the pandemic, she moved quickly to co-found two non-profits organizations. Off Their Plate, serves frontline healthcare workers in nine US cities and offers economic relief to restaurant workers, while Project Restore Us, provides the families of essential workers in low-income locations with groceries packaged up by restaurants.
3) Guy Fieri
The peroxide-haired, flame-shirted chef raised an extraordinary $21.5 million in seven weeks to assist unemployed US restaurant workers.
Fieri, the self-appointed ‘Mayor of Flavortown’ started the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund in March 2020. The fund has since helped approximately 43,000 people receive $500 grants.
The host of TV show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives was also behind the documentary, Restaurant Hustle 2020, which focused on the hardships the restaurant industry is facing.
The CEO of UKHospitality, the voice of the British hospitality sector, was a tireless campaigner in 2020. When the UK government seemed deaf to the pleas from the sector that it was facing its hardest fight in living memory, Nicholls lobbied hard for urgent financial support for the sector, to mitigate against vast job losses and the permanent closure of many UK hospitality businesses. The government’s subsequent Eat Out to Help Out scheme saw more than 49,000 businesses take advantage of the initiative to draw diners back after the first lockdown and claim more than £849m through the scheme.
Nicholls also called for a replacement for the UK’s Job Retention Bonus Scheme, for the British Government to extend a rent moratoria and grants to support businesses. Her efforts to see a new UK minister for Hospitality position created have ensured the role will finally be debated in the UK parliament on 11 January 2021.
Not content with simply being one of the best young footballers on the planet, Marcus Rashford has decided to use his platform and status in the beautiful game to make the world a more beautiful place too. The Manchester United and England player, who has spoken at length of growing up in poverty, was so aghast at the UK government’s decision to not contribute additional support to feeding vulnerable children in the school holidays that he took matters into his own hands – and onto his social media channels – to rally for support.
When the UK government refused to extend its Free School Meals programme into the school holidays, Rashford kickstarted a petition. Across the UK, local businesses buoyed by his campaigning also stepped up to feed children. His efforts forced the government into two separate U-turns, as the prime minister finally approved an additional £400million of free school meals. Back of the net, Marcus.