By Joey Tarbell
From menu planning to mise en place, from sourcing ingredients to staffing up smartly, every successful chef knows prep is key. And sometimes, a passion for preparation pays off in unexpected ways—say, when a pandemic means you can no longer welcome diners into your restaurant. Like so many other restaurateurs, Chef Neil Griggs had to adapt to the new delivery-only reality.
After stints in high-end restaurants and catering kitchens, the Culinary Institute of America graduate had returned to his native Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2015 to open Cochon on 2nd. With a seasonal menu of local produce complementing wood-grilled proteins finished to perfection via sous vide, the “fine casual” restaurant and bar had built an enthusiastic following in Colonial Williamsburg.
And when the coronavirus struck in early 2020, Chef Griggs was well prepared to pivot.
“Cochon was really doing well,” Griggs says. “So we’d just finished setting up additional prep space around the corner.” Rather than simply expanding the Cochon kitchen’s capacity, Griggs had already decided to make that prep space a takeout and delivery place. Thus was born Moody’s Kitchen—named for his farmer-grandfather—just in time to begin operating the new delivery service called Cochon at Home.
It was Thursday, March 12, 2020, when Griggs gathered his whole crew at Cochon on 2nd. The governor would not close Virginia’s dine-in restaurants and bars till the 23rd, but Griggs could read the writing on his barn-wood walls.
“I told everyone we were shutting down the restaurant and reopening on Tuesday as Cochon at Home,” Griggs says. “If you want a job, you have one. Or you can file for unemployment.”
Everyone stayed on, though some in different roles. Servers and bussers became order-takers and delivery drivers. And business actually picked up. “We’ve had great support,” Griggs says. “Easter Sunday was our biggest day ever.”
Griggs’s approach in the kitchen—first at Cochon on 2nd and now with Cochon at Home—is a marriage of tradition and innovation. Growing up with frequent visits to his grandfather’s farm gave Griggs a love of fresh foods prepared simply, and the farm’s smokehouse imbued him with the primal appeal of wood-smoked meats and open-flame grilling. Later, as a professional chef, he discovered the advantages of sous vide.
“Sous vide takes out the guesswork,” Griggs says. “It’s consistent.” And now that he’s cooking for delivery only, he says that “sous vide is perfect.” The nature of sous vide enables easier multi-tasking, as cooks can attend to side dishes and other matters while the circulator does its work. “It saves space and makes our kitchen more efficient,” he says.
Virtually all of Cochon’s signature dishes—from the pulled-pork barbecue sandwich to the prime Black Angus beef tenderloin to the Scottish salmon—start with slow smoking or wood-grilling and finish with sous vide.
The only difference in the new takeout-and-delivery-only model is that customers now open the sous vide pouch themselves and do a quick reheating—and their own plating, of course. “Cochon is known for our wood-grilled meats, like our prime New York strip,” Griggs says. “Now our customers know they can still enjoy that steak. And it’ll be better than they could make themselves.”
And in these uncertain times, there’s a certain appeal in food that arrives sealed and sanitary. “It’s reassuring,” Griggs says. “That’s important these days.”
Image courtesy of Cochon on 2nd.
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