The recipe for modern restaurant success.
At the time, Pickowicz was working at a restaurant that served a tony clientele on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Not knowing how her foray into political activism would fare among her restaurant peers, she forged ahead in putting together a charity bake sale with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood NYC. The response from the community surprised her: far from shying away from political activism, New York restaurants were eager to contribute their resources to a cause they believed in.
Seven years down the line, Chef Pickowicz has become a prominent voice in the culinary community’s activist wing. As something of a conscientious expat from restaurant life, Pickowicz is an in-demand pastry chef who donates her time and resources to numerous nonprofits, in addition to leading pop-ups under the brand Never Ending Taste in cities around the US.
We caught up with Pickowicz recently, on the heels of her latest bake sale benefiting reproductive rights, to get her thoughts on the massive political energy coursing within today’s restaurants — and on the need for the dining public to get real about the immutable politics of food.
Why do you think restaurants are a natural place for activism?
The reason I was drawn to service work and restaurants in the first place is that they bring people together. They’re venues that create community. And community is the root of political action.
The restaurant is itself a kind of platform. You're sharing your value system based on, you know, the way you’re sourcing ingredients and whether you’re working with farmers or buying organic. The nature of the dishes that you're putting on the menu: are they appropriating other cultures in some way? Are they original ideas? Are they seasonal and local? And then the human side: Is the staff diverse? What are they being paid? What are the working conditions? These are all political questions.
A topic like abortion access is more obviously controversial, but it’s no more political than the rest of the machine that brings you a perfectly-plated dish. And for those of us in restaurants, it’s no less important to speak up around those issues. So yes, food is absolutely political. And it can be used as a tool for social change.
Are restaurants typically receptive to engaging in political activity?
Oh my god, yes. They are so eager to make an impact. Whenever I reach out to people for a bake sale, everyone unanimously is asking, “What do you need? What can I do? I need to do this.” And you realize that people working in restaurants are craving these moments of connection and are so happy and desperate to be a part of something like this.
Granted, we New Yorkers are in a blue state. I think people who work in restaurants tend to be a little to the left already. Regardless, it's always been unmitigated, like, “I love that you're doing this, thank you for organizing, tell me when/where/how much,” etc.