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Forced to Close Their Dining Rooms, SF Chefs Are Pivoting to Video

The coronavirus shelter-in-place order has chefs looking for other ways to connect with their communities

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Pawn Shop chef Nick Ronan on his livestream cooking show
Pawn Shop chef Nick Ronan on his livestream cooking show
The Great Northern/Facebook

Nick Ronan, the chef of the Pawn Shop, is cooking an order of gambas al ajillo in the kitchen of his SoMa tapas restaurant, which is still open for takeout and delivery during the San Francisco’s ongoing coronavirus shutdown. Despite the shelter-in-place order, he’s cooking before an audience of hundreds — via Facebook Live, that is.

“Are you entertained?” he asks, looking into the camera. “I sure hope so.” In the course of the hour-long debut episode of “The Pawn Shop Cooking Show,” he douses a pan of shrimp with Cognac, lights it on fire, and briefly howls like a wolf to convey the joy of using a piece of bread to sop up the delicious sauce — all while wearing a face mask and plastic gloves. The video marks the chef’s first time streaming himself cooking on the Internet — and is, perhaps, a sign of the times, as chefs try on unaccustomed roles in a bid to drum up business and stay connected to their customers.

“We have to stay quite creative and find a way to keep people interested in what we do as a profession,” Ronan says. “I feed my soul through people; if I don’t connect with my people, my community, my soul dies, slowly.”

Pleas support our staff!

Pleas support our staff!

Posted by The Great Northern on Thursday, March 19, 2020

At a time when Bay Area chefs are, like everyone else, spending much of their time confined to their homes, posting videos can be a way for them to still make a personal connection with people in their community — more so than they can with, say, a to-go box delivered by a DoorDash driver. Indeed, coronavirus quarantines around the world have led to a mini-renaissance in these kinds of chef videos, as people stuck at home have taken a newfound interest in cooking: A recent Reuters report noted that under China’s strict quarantine measures, millions of viewers turned to the Internet’s instructional cooking videos for both education and an emotional outlet. Just last week, Italy’s Massimo Battura, one of the most famous chefs in the world, kicked off a free online cooking class on his Instagram page, broadcast from his own home kitchen and appropriately dubbed “Kitchen Quarantine.”

Here in the Bay, we have old food TV pros like Wayfare Tavern’s Tyler Florence, who earlier this week launched his new YouTube cooking show, “Wolf It Down,” with an acknowledgement that viewers watching at home were likely going a bit “stir-crazy.” China Live’s George Chen and his wife Cindy Wong-Chen took a break from hustling to keep their Chinatown restaurant mini-empire alive to post a video of themselves making beef and broccoli, one that included nuggets of wisdom about wok-tossing and peeling ginger.

And as the region-wide shelter-in-place orders are extended, and perhaps as more restaurants decide to shut down altogether, it’s likely that a growing number of chefs will join the livestreaming and instructional video-making ranks — maybe to the point that everyone will get sick of watching the videos, says Nick Cho, the co-owner of Wrecking Ball Coffee and an avid livestreamer and TikTok video maker in his own right. “All of a sudden it’s like people have less to do and so there’s a higher proliferation of the livestreams,” Cho says — noting that, of course, actually being good at making those kinds of videos is a pretty specialized skill set.

For his part, Cho has been livestreaming his morning pour-over coffee routine on Twitter a few times a week, and has found that it’s been a gratifying way to connect with people. “When people respond, they very often respond with a lot of gratitude — like, I really needed that, or that was really fun. So it makes you want to do it again. And so in that way it’s inherently addicting,” he says.

The beautiful thing about a restaurant, Ronan says, is that it’s a place where chefs can provide a way for people to escape for a couple of hours, and not have to think about their problems. But even without that in-person connection, Ronan believes a livestream cooking show can serve the same function. Without that connection to the outside world, Ronan says, he would otherwise feel unable to fulfill his responsibility to the community. “It’s the only way we keep ourselves alive as chefs,” he says.

Ronan plans to continue livestreaming from the Pawn Shop a couple of times a week for as long as he’s able to during the coronavirus shutdown. For the second episode, which will stream at 5 p.m. today (March 25), the chef says he’ll be cooking octopus, stuffed dates, and his “famous” burger sauce.

  • Cooped up by Coronavirus, Millions in China Discover the Joy of Cooking [Reuters]
  • Michelin-Starred Chef Massimo Bottura Launches Free ‘Kitchen Quarantine’ Cooking Classes on Instagram [Robb Report]

Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

2271 Union Street, , CA 94123 (415) 638-9227 Visit Website

China Live

644 Broadway, , CA 94133 (415) 788-8188 Visit Website

The Pawn Shop

993 Mission Street, , CA 94103 (415) 874-8041 Visit Website