Chefs / COVID-19

Unsung Heroes of the Philly Food Scene: Chef Jim Berman

I’m fortunate enough to count many chefs as close friends. Some are more recognized than others. While some hold down traditional Executive Chef roles, others work as personal chefs or jack of all trades types. I admire and respect all of them for their work in the Philly area food scene.

One chef often stands out to me, not just because we engage quite a bit on social media, but because of his many contributions as a volunteer to charitable organizations and efforts to give back to the community. Currently, Chef Jim Berman is donating time to World Kitchen Central’s COVID-19 Relief Program.

When he’s not graciously volunteering, Chef Jim is a restaurant industry veteran who is a sought-after restaurant consultant, as well as a media contributor to publications such as Edible, Poached, Restaurant Business Magazine, and Foodable just to name a few. He lives just over the border in Delaware, but has worked for a variety of Philadelphia restaurants.

I sent a few questions over to him so you can get to know him, how he’s helping during the coronavirus crisis and his predictions for the future of the restaurant scene when things stabilize.

Philly Grub: All total, how long have you been supporting World Kitchen Central?

Jim Berman: I started with World Central Kitchen during the federal furlough, going back to January 2019. Since then, I have gone to DC to assist with other WCK events and Jose Andres fundraisers to benefit the team.

PG: Can you tell us more about the work WKC is doing on the frontlines?

JB: “Wherever there is a fight so hungry people may eat, we will be there” is the mantra of WCK. In essence, anytime there is some form of turmoil that prevents access to food, World Central Kitchen mobilizes. From Puerto Rico to the wildfires in California, to the current challenge, there is a “boots on the ground” approach to helping feed anybody in need. Right now, I am involved with the expansive production kitchen at Washington Nationals’ Stadium. We initially started at a smaller kitchen on Pennsylvania Avenue just a few weeks ago, but quickly outgrew the space. This past week we were able to prepare over 50,000 meals at the stadium. I am only one of the vast army of volunteers, WCK staff, delivery drivers, and support crew making sure that the #ChefsForAmerica mission is fulfilled every day.

PG: How does it feel to be a part of something so crucial in a difficult time?

JB: Without sounding cliche, I can’t imagine not being part. I grew up in Pittsburgh and am a devotee of Mr. Rogers. He always reinforced the idea that you look for the helpers, that there will always be safety amongst the helpers. I want to be a helper. Yeah, it is a two-hour drive each way, every day, but it could be a helluva lot worse. A lot worse. I am just trying to be useful.

PG: The state of the restaurant industry seems bleak right now, what are your thoughts?

JB: We will return, for sure. It will be a new normal. We were already on the brink of a recession mixed with an oversaturation of the restaurant field. Precarious consumer confidence in being in dining rooms will undoubtedly change the restaurant experiences. Will large-scale delivery be a permanent fixture? Probably – as permanent as anything is in the industry. Counter service operations will most certainly bloom where full-service ops once lived. There is a lot of talk of simplified menus which came to life – not sure what that looks like, though. There isn’t much talk of it yet, but pricing will be impacted. There are going to be new safety practices that will be costly as will enhanced training, ongoing elevated cleaning procedures, and, well, a lot of unknowns.

Furthermore, the supply chain is a bit of a mess right now. Where there are production capabilities, distribution is in jeopardy. When transportation exists, product limitations or storage or staffing may be impacting supply. How long will this last? What does this look like as we get back to business? Turning the lights back on will be gradual. Returning confidence in customers will not be on the fly. Instead, with any good luck, supply and demand will hopefully flow together.

PG: Besides staying home, what more can WE do to help?

JB: I think supporting any relief effort with financial support is nice, but not always feasible. Giving blood is an excellent start. Use the Smile function of Amazon to make purchases. The Amazon function directs a percentage of sales to a charity of your choice. Checking in with friends that may have battles they are fighting on their own is always nice. Of course, ordering from local restaurants directly impacts one of the largest industries in our economy. Avoid third-party leeches that suck a considerable percentage of sales away from the restaurants. Instead, order direct and (safely!) pick up curbside.

Do you know someone in hospitality or working in a kitchen you think should be featured for their hard work? 

Contact me so that I shine a little spotlight on them. Thanks for reading!

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