From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy Podcast
A Conversation with Amanda Cohen

A Conversation with Amanda Cohen

Listen now | Talking to the Dirt Candy and Lekka Burger chef about vegetables, gender, and running a restaurant in the pandemic.

It’s hard for me to properly state what I perceive to be the significance of Amanda Cohen. For more than ten years now, she’s been the chef-owner of Dirt Candy in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. The restaurant was once very small (it was once, indeed, in the space that now houses Superiority Burger), then she moved it to a larger space. Now, it’s rather small again, operating only on the patio with a lot of heat lamps, and she long ago adopted a no-tipping policy in order to pay staff a living wage. She’s only ever cooked vegetables. With Lekka Burger, she’s added veggie burgers in a fast-casual setting to her oeuvre, and the result is stunning.

I don’t think she has gotten enough credit for any of this. The reasons are sadly obvious: she’s a woman, and she cooks vegetables. Even vegans, I found out recently, despise her for occasionally consuming a piece of meat or fish in order to study flavor and texture, in order to put out food that really is on par with what omnivores are accustomed to (and while I usually say “fuck the omnivore’s palate,” I have to acknowledge that when my fiancé—only recently converted to vegetarianism—eats her food, he can barely speak because he’s focused on how delicious it is).

Anyway, I’ve interviewed Amanda many times for different pieces because her perspective is so essential to me, but this is a broad one. Listen above, or read below.

Alicia: Hi, Amanda, thanks so much for coming on.

Amanda: Hi, thanks so much for having me.

Alicia: Can you tell me about where you grew up and what you ate? 

Amanda: Sure.

So I grew up in Ottawa and Toronto in the ’70s and ’80s. And certainly, Ottawa was a winter city. It's funny, because I look back on it and we didn't have a huge amount of produce at all times. It's cold in Ottawa, in Canada, so the winter—vegetables were pretty pathetic. But my mother would always try as hard as she could. 

At the same time though, both cities were pretty international cities. Toronto is the capital of Canada, super cosmopolitan. Sorry, Ottawa’s the capital of Canada; Toronto's the capital of Ontario. And because Ottawa was the capital, it's filled with diplomats. So we had all different kinds of restaurants that we constantly were sort of going to. My dad was in government. We were meeting other families. 

And so I had this sort of really varied variety of cuisines. And I have this memory of going to the supermarkets when I was younger, and particularly in Toronto, which again is a much more cosmopolitan city filled with all different ethnicities and nationalities, where the — it's pretty exciting if I look back on it now. But the grocery store was filled with products from all over the world. 

And so if you were an adventurous cook, which my mother sometimes was — she wasn't always — we'd have really random fun ingredients in our kitchen cupboard. I think we ate all over the map. But also, it was a family of five kids. So we had a lot of pasta and pasta salads.

Alicia: And so, what got you into food actually?

Amanda: Well, I think there was a variety of things that got me into it. I am the youngest of five kids. And there's about a five-year difference between me and my — the next sibling who's closest in age to me, but all my — all those other siblings are about two years apart. So my brother's 12 years older. And then there's three sisters in between. This is a whole family history. 

But by the time I became a teenager, my mother had been cooking for about 25 years for her family. And kudos to her, she just sort of like, ‘I'm not doing it anymore.’ I swear, she looked at me and she was like, ‘You look pretty capable. You seem to know your way around the kitchen. You want to have dinner? Figure it out yourself.’ 

I mean, it wasn't quite that blunt. She didn't have to cook for a family of seven anymore, every single night. It was just sort of me and her and my dad. And I think she was kind of done with it, which I think we all understand now having cooked through the pandemic, how hard it is to cook every night. 

And I liked it. I was like, ‘Oh, this is fun, I get to figure out what I want to eat. And I get to play around.’ And I loved cooking magazines. And so I would cook recipes from them. I'm sure they were all terrible. My parents were certainly nice enough to suffer through some awful meals. 

But I liked it. I liked the challenge of it. I liked reading the recipe and figuring things out and seeing it come to life. I was a kid that was always so disappointed that I could never get what was in my imagination to come through on a piece of paper. Or I'd write a story and be like, ‘Oh, I imagined it so different.’ I’d paint a picture. I'm like, ‘I'm a terrible artist.’ But in my head, I'm an amazing artist. But something with — like a recipe, you get the ingredients together, you sort of have this idea of what it's going to turn out like, and it turns out like that. And so, that was so just satisfying to me. 

And I liked it. And it was always sort of my backup plan of what I would do if I couldn't figure anything else out. And as it turned out, when I was in my early twenties I really couldn't figure out what I wanted to do. And I was like, ‘Well, I've always liked to cook, so maybe I can just get that as a skill. If I can hold on to that as a skill, I can go anywhere in the world and I can travel and it'll just — it'll at least sort of be a lifeline for a moment while I figure out what I want to do.’ And the reality is it's what I wanted to do. I just didn't know it at the time.

Alicia: And you decided to go to the Natural Gourmet Institute?

Amanda: Yeah.

I'd been actually living in Hong Kong right after university, and I wanted more than anything to keep traveling. And so I was like, ‘Well, I have to figure out how to get this skill.’ And I lived in Los Angeles for a while and hated it. 

And I was starting to look at cooking schools, and at the time I was a pretty hardcore vegetarian. I think I’d just left my vegan stage, and I — there was no way I was going to a real cooking school. 

One of the reasons I don't eat — I mean, I eat a little bit of meat now, and fish, but particularly at the time why I didn't is I really — bones really freak me out. And so even as a kid, I didn’t like bones in my food. And so the idea that I was going to have to learn how to butcher something was really, really traumatizing. 

And fortunately, at the Natural Gourmet, you really didn't have to learn how to do that. They did actually have meat classes at the time, and I think there was a chicken butchering class and a fish class. But you were also allowed to miss two days. And so those were the two days I missed. 

But it was a great program, actually. And I look back on it now. And it's funny, because so much of the time it was like, people didn't think it was a real school. And they were like, ‘Oh, it's just a school with funny ingredients.’ And all those funny ingredients, and all the sort of recipes that we were using then, and all the courses that we were getting taught are actually now considered really cool and trendy. And it's so amazing how that's changed.

Alicia: You said you had a vegan phase. What made you stop eating meat?

Amanda: Well, I had stopped eating meat when I was 15 because, really, all my friends were. I mean, it was 32 years ago and becoming a vegetarian was super rebellious at the time. Very different now, where it's almost mainstream. But then really, it was super rebellious. And all my friends were rebelling against their parents. And I was like, ‘Oh, that seems like a good idea. I'll do that too.’ And certainly annoyed my parents enough. They're like, ‘You're not gonna have enough to eat, and what's gonna happen to you?’

But the reality is it actually — my diet didn't change. I had never eaten that much meat anyways, to begin with, and I didn't really like it. So when we started sort of having meals after I made the decision that I was a vegetarian, as it turned out there — I was just eating the exact same thing I was before and I just hadn't labeled myself as a vegetarian. And so it's not like it was a grand change in my life. 

And then when I moved to Hong Kong, and I'd probably — moving maybe a little bit beforehand, it just sort of — I had become, I think, vegan. And I think a lot of my friends and colleagues were vegan, so it was easier. I don't know now, but certainly at the time when I was living there, there wasn't a lot of dairy in the food I was eating in Hong Kong. And so it just all of a sudden, again, happenstance, I was a vegan.

Alicia: Right. 

Since your time at the Natural Gourmet Institute, you worked at so many vegetarian restaurants in New York. How have you kind of seen vegetarianism shift in this time, as a cuisine?

Amanda: You answered your own question. You called it cuisine. So I don't think that it had ever been considered really a cuisine beforehand. It was so disregarded and considered a second-class cuisine, I think, what, by most foodies and food writers and certainly the mainstream press. 

And nowadays, well, I'm not sure it's held at the top level. It's certainly in the playing field. We're seeing getting a lot more coverage. We're seeing vegetarian chefs being treated a lot more seriously. 

And what we're seeing, which I think is pretty fascinating and has been a huge shift is — and it's slow. We're not where I'd like to see us yet. But we're actually considering vegetarian chefs who started off in the vegetarian world as serious chefs, versus what was happening for numerous years, which was that you'd have a mainstream chat or an omnivore chef all of a sudden be like, ‘Oh, well, now I'm going to cook vegetables!’ or ‘I'm going to become a vegetarian for a while!’ And they got all the press. And it was you'd be a vegetarian chef next to them. And you'd be like, ‘Hello. Hello. I've been doing this for a really long time, too.’ And you were just totally disregarded because of your background. Who you did or didn't know. And I think that's a huge, huge shift and an important one.

Alicia: Right.

And I mean, when you opened Dirt Candy — for this reason, it was considered extremely radical. And how have you changed your approach to cooking, being as you're kind of on your own wavelength? You have to challenge yourself, it seems, because you're kind of in a league of your own in terms of what you're doing. Has your approach changed?

Amanda: Well, one, I'm a much more confident cook than I was. 

I think one of the things that I'll always find sad, and I'll find this sad for the rest of my career is, I'll never know actually what it was like to be a customer at little Dirt Candy when it opened, and what my food was like then. And I think it's changed so much now in this restaurant, because I have so much less to prove. But I'll also never get to really sit down and eat my food here as an outside observer. And maybe I'd hate it. Who knows? I'm pretty picky. 

But I felt like I had so much to prove at the beginning. And I think my dishes were so much more complicated. And then they had to be, but I also think they — it was a time of cooking where it was a lot more like that. And now I look at what I'm serving now. And it's a lot less pretentious and complicated. And I think I'd always wanted to serve fun food. My sort of what I didn't know I was covering up when served with microgreens. I was like, ‘Oh, well, all this fucking stuff.’

And now I am a better chef than I was, since I opened little Dirt Candy. It's ten years later. I don't have as much to prove. And so I can let the vegetables really speak for themselves a lot more. I'm still only competing against myself, I think. And so it still allows me to kind of do whatever I want to do, ’cause there are no rules for this kind of cuisine still, which is great.

Alicia: Well, as you noted, vegetable-forward dining kind of became a thing for which mostly men have been given credit, when I go through my cookbooks, my vegetarian cookbooks from the ’70s through now, it's mostly women who have always been doing vegetarian food and who have always been pushing the cuisine forward, who made it a cuisine. And you've been so outspoken about this. 

And so I wanted to kind of ask, have you seen or would you like to see food media change its approach to how it talks about vegetarian cooking? How have you understood how gender kind of manifests in this specific approach to how people talk about vegetarian cuisine?

Amanda: Well, I think it goes back a little bit to my answer about the mainstream chefs, which is really just a coded word for male chefs getting a lot of attention for entering this field. And I think what happens is they become considered the experts much faster than the people who actually have been doing it. They come with all the credentials, like, ‘Ooh, this is my press, these are my awards. These are my restaurants.’ Versus people who've spent their entire life doing this, and probably actually are the experts in it, they don't come with all the whistles and bells. They just come with knowledge. 

And fanfare seems to have a lot more weight than actual in-depth knowledge about a subject, I think, in the food media. I'd like to see that change. I'm not sure we are there yet. It would be very nice. 

And I thought this for a while with a lot of food coverage, if we could start talking about the history of the food and how we got to covering this particular aspect of it. Because I think once you go back through the history, it’s exactly what you see on your cookbook shelves if we're talking just about vegetarian food. ‘Oh, wow. There's so many women who were writing these cookbooks and were at the forefront of this movement.’ And then you can't deny that existence. It has to become much more sort of holistic when we report on food, and not just this narrow idea of ‘Ooo, what's cool?’

Alicia: Yeah. 

And I mean, I think that this is so prevalent in the veggie burger discourse now, too, where because people have obsessed so much over Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers, then when you did Lekka Burger it seemed kind of — to people who don't like to eat vegetarian food most of the time, they were like, ‘Huh, it's kind of an anachronism.’ And thus, you had that New Yorker review where the Lekka Burger was compared solely to Brooks Headley’s veggie burger at Superiority Burger.

I know you had a very strong response to that review. I've always been like, ‘Well, Superiority Burger was huge and got its press because of Brooks Headley’s prestige’ that he got in the same way that you just said. If you come with the accolades and those bells and whistles, then people will think that your veggie burger is more worthwhile than the veggie burger by someone who has actually been like — I mean, not that he hasn't.

And it's very difficult because I love Superiority Burger and Brooks is great, but at the same time it's like, ‘Why is this the only standard against which we can talk about any other veggie burger in the way that fine dining omnivorous chefs could make a burger and it would still just be made of meat?’ It wouldn't be that interesting. 

But yeah, so. I don't know. How is the perception of Lekka Burger, how have you felt about the press there that you've gotten?

Amanda: Yeah, I mean it's been a real up and down roller coaster. But I want to be very clear about this. I have nothing against Superiority Burger. I think the world of him, and so my issue was always about the press surrounding it and not actually Brooks himself, who I am friends with. He’s in my old restaurant, we talked about that for months going — I sat down with him and worked through his budget a little. 

So, it's just absolutely no issues with him whatsoever. I'm so glad he pushed the conversation, veggie burgers forward and what they could be. He has this sort of really good example of what one is. I have a very different example of what it is. 

And the reality is when I opened Dirt — er, Lekka. Dirt Candies. When I opened Lekka Burger, I never imagined that my competition was actually Brooks. Brooks has this really tiny, fun artisanal burger shop. And even then, he says that burgers aren't really necessarily the whole focus there. But it's not meant to be scaled up. 

And for us, when we opened Lekka Burger, honestly, our competition is Shake Shack. I mean, that's what we want to be. And so that's who I want to be compared to. I want to be compared to the burger at Shake Shack, which actually the vegetarian burger is all around the country. That's our competition, not Brooks’ really delicious, artisanal burger. 

And even if I was being compared to that burger, then the New Yorker review really sort of took it out of the context of the burger in the end. And they're like, ‘Well, it's something about the burger. We really like this sandwich instead, and that's what people should be doing.’ 

And that really discounts a female chef coming into the space saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I want to grow really big. This is my chance to have a franchise, or not a franchise but to have lots of different locations.’ And then sort of being told, ‘No, you can't do that because you're not up for it.’ 

Obviously, the New Yorker thought that I couldn't do that, because you're not doing exactly what this person is doing and this is what all people should be doing. And I just keep thinking, ‘But there's so much room out there for all of it.’ No, it felt there was no way to compete, even though I'm not trying to compete with Superiority Burger because the only person who can do that is Brooks.

Alicia: Yeah. 

No, it was very interesting because I think it spoke to how little imagination people have when they are approaching vegetarian food. And that's really depressing to me, of course, as a person writing about vegetarian and vegan food, that most of the people — when people who don't think about these things all the time approach it, they come at it with such a narrow perspective, which does such a disservice to how we should be able to discuss this wide and varied world of veggie burgers. I mean, that's what the cool thing about the veggie burger is, is that it can be literally anything. But yeah, it's very disheartening.

Amanda: I cannot tell you, because now I'm in the veggie burger world, how many articles every day are written about veggie burgers. And are they the next big thing, or what Beyond Burger is doing with the Impossible Burger. Nestlé's next burger. This is huge. We're on the cusp of some — whether or not it works, we're on a cusp of some weird veggie burger mock meat revolution. And it's a huge, huge conversation that's happening that never would have happened ten years ago.

Alicia: Right. To see it not taken as seriously as it perhaps should be is just — yeah, annoying, frankly—

Amanda: And really ignoring how much room there is for so many different kinds.

Alicia: Yes, exactly. 

I mean, but at Dirt Candy too in the pandemic, you've sort of also kind of embraced the sandwich as a tool. Which is interesting, ’cause you — now you've had this experience doing the veggie burger and that kind of approach. Did working on Lekka Burger influence how you approached kind of pivoting Dirt Candy during the pandemic?

Amanda: Yes and no. I mean, a little bit because of Lekka Burger, I had to simplify my process so much. The Lekka Burger, it's like ten steps or less to get a burger out, whereas before at Dirt Candy it was like, ‘Well, we're at 300 steps for this one dish. But that seems like enough. We're good to go.’

So, this idea of focusing on what a sandwich is, and how best, how easy it is to make it and what does an actual sandwich mean. And we talked about this a lot, but what's the best bread for this? What's going to happen to the filling? Is it going to soak into it? What's the textural contrast between the bread? And do you want thick bread, crossbred, crunchy, chewy? 

And all that sort of went into the burger at Lekka. So, I think I had started opening up my brain to that way of thinking. But also I didn't have a choice with Dirt Candy. Lekka was a choice. There was nothing else I could do. I'm looking at this restaurant. We're reopening in the middle of the pandemic, ’cause I, again, have no choice. I have to reopen or I'm going to close. 

And clearly, my fine dining restaurant isn't going to function. It's just not going to work. I can't make that food. I'm trying to keep as few staff members as possible on board, A. to keep my payroll low. But also, I — the idea of having to let anybody else go again was just too much for me. So I have this core group of staff, which if I'm slow or busy I can take care of. I didn't want to play the game of, ‘Oh, well, I think I'm going to be busy on Friday nights during the summer so we'll hire some extra people, but come October I'm going to fire everybody again.’ It just didn't seem fair.

I have to make food that my staff can handle. But I also have to make food that people want to eat. And my customers are gone. My customers were, I didn't even understand how many, but probably were 75% tourists. 

Alicia: Wow. 

Amanda: And then, the rest — Yeah, huge. I never understood. I always would pay lip service to tourists like, ‘Oh, I was a tourist destination.’ I really, really was. 

And the other part of my customers were probably people who also left the city because they had a lot of money. And we were treated as a once in a while restaurant, a fancy restaurant. Maybe you come to us once or twice a year, which is fine. I didn't have to be a neighborhood restaurant. 

But the restaurants right now that are surviving and that are doing well are neighborhood restaurants. They're really catering for their neighborhood. And it's been very humbling for me to realize that, ‘Oooh, that's not something I did.’ And I'm not sure it was necessarily the worst thing not to have done that. But in the long term, it wasn't great. But I also wasn't thinking down the road to a pandemic when I put my business model, ‘To sell, always consider a pandemic down the road.’

We've struggled with trying to figure out, what do people want to eat and how do they want to eat it? And what do they want from me? Because what we get is a lot of people who are coming in, they’re like, ‘Oh, I've always wanted to come to Dirt Candy. Oh, you only serve sandwiches?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, that is all we're serving right now.’ And we are sort of revamping ourselves all the time to figure out how we can best serve our community and our customers. And sandwiches happen to be an easy — not an easy one, but universally loved.

Alicia: Right.

Do you think you'll keep them on the menu, when things return to non-pandemic times?

Amanda: I don't know. I mean, we used to have a really good brunch. And I loved it. And we had some sandwiches, and we were a much more casual restaurant then. But brunch was just impossible for us. I don't know why I'm such a bad restaurateur at brunch. It’s so hard to find line cooks. I don't know, we had a deal for ‘you get a cocktail and a pastry and a sandwich and a cup of coffee all for $30.’ And it was our party brunch. 

And I think that's a really good deal. But around the corner, there's ten places that are doing bottomless brunches, and I'm like, ‘I can't pay my rent with that. I can't pay my staff.’ And so I'm not sure I can live on sandwiches. We can't count on it. Honestly, I have no idea what we're going to be at the end of this.

Alicia: Right, right. No, I mean, that's terrifying. 

Yeah, I mean, for you what would a good response have been by the government to keeping restaurants open but also keeping people safe during this?

Amanda: So, to take a step back, I don't fault them for the response we had. Within a week of us all shutting down, basically they had a care plan in place. The PPP was there, and there were seven stimulus checks and the extra $600 a week for employees, which was great. I mean, they came up with that. We’re basically a dysfunctional government. [Laughs.] They came up with that really fast, and once the PPP was sort of rejiggered early actually did work for most people who were able to take it or who had decided to take it. 

However, it's not enough. And that's where we're at. This real problem is they have sort of — it was short-sighted, and now we need to really be thinking long-sighted. Even within the PPP, one of the reasons it didn't work is you were basically paying people to go to work. And I still think the government should have paid people not to go to work, all people. I shouldn't have made the choice to open my restaurant so that I could survive, as opposed to I'm going to keep my restaurant closed. I'm going to keep all my employees on unemployment with the extra federal aid, and then I can keep everybody safe. That would have been a choice, and that's something that I really think the federal government should have thought more of doing. But they didn’t. 

So, now we're here. And we're still stuck without really a follow-up plan, and now it's dire. And this is where I think they really, really failed us. The cities failed us; the states failed us. And the federal government has failed us. We are not getting the aid we need to keep our doors open or keep our doors closed. Either/or, they're putting us in this really uncomfortable position, where we're all having to make not even smart decisions. We're just making decisions, and it's — everything's a band-aid

And we're not going to survive without another aid package now, without even passing the Restaurant Act or something akin to it. The Restaurant Act just happens to have the most movement behind it. I won't stay open. That's the reality, come end of January. If I don't know that there's a lifeline along — on the way, then there's just no point anymore. 

Alicia: Right. That's so scary and so horrifying.

Amanda: Yeah, because it's not just me. We're looking at every restaurant. I mean, not everyone, but the bulk of them facing the same issues. And it's two parts. If we knew that we had the money coming in, it was coming at the end of January, then everybody could breathe a sigh of relief. It's coming, right? We can hold on ‘til then. But the mental toll of sort of being kept in limbo, constantly? It's too much. And then we're just sort of throwing away good money after bad money. 

And then the reality is at some point, you have to make the choice. I have to close, I'm not making enough money. I've gone from making $10,000 to $12,000 a night to $2,000 to $3,000, on a good night $2,000 to $3,000. On a bad night, I can also make $600. We're not doing well here. 

And if I close, the city loses me. But the city also loses the jobs that I have. And yes, I only have six right now. But in six months, maybe I actually could have 20 jobs or 30. Maybe I could get back up to my pre-pandemic levels come summer, once the vaccine sort of has been rolled out. And they lose the taxes I put into the city, and they lose my payroll taxes. There's a huge, huge amount of sort of economic destruction that's going to happen if they don't start sort of having this long-term thinking.

Alicia: Right. 

I mean, I don't think at this point it has, it makes that much of a difference. But you've been one of the few restaurateurs who's been super outspoken about the — having a no tipping policy. Does that make a difference, do you think, in terms of how you've weathered the pandemic or how you could survive? I know in the beginning places that had, places — people that I was talking to who had tipping, a no tipping policy, they were really weathering the beginning a lot better. But that kind of wears out after a while.

Amanda: Yeah, I mean I think actually it's been a saving grace not having tipping for a number of reasons. 

One, it actually helped us with our — the amount of money we got from the government originally because I didn't have — my payroll was higher, and so it's allowed me to sort of sustain myself a little bit longer. But I think everybody who has tipping right now is seeing that they have nights where they're only making a couple hundred dollars, or $1,000. But they still have to staff up, and you still have to have your staff here for a certain number of hours. 

And so, people are going home with not a lot of money these days. They might have gone home at the beginning in the summer when — and we didn't have a curfew and there was a lot more money sort of flowing. From also what I've read and talked to other people, the money isn't flowing as quickly as it used to. And there's a lot of bad nights. 

I walk home about 40 blocks every night from Dirt Candy, and Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, curfew or no curfew, as soon as it got cold, places are done. And I walk through the East Village, through Union Square. There is nobody in restaurants except your three or four front of house workers who are standing there waiting to see maybe possibly a few people come in. So they're suffering. They're suffering a lot.

Alicia: No, it's absolutely horrifying. And I hope that something happens between now and the end of January. 

But to completely change gears, but I guess not, no, for you is cooking a political act?

Amanda: My restaurant is a political act, for sure. I think food is so incredibly political: where it comes from, who cooks it, who grows it, who's eating it, all of that. 

And sort of when I start to think about the global supply chain, it's so enormous and it's so overwhelming how basically every plate has become exceptionally political. But I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. And I'm just starting to sort of think this through. And for years, I've said, ‘We have to raise prices.’ And I think about how much I pay for my food and how much — sometimes I pay so little for food. I'm like, ‘This is insane. And sometimes I paid so much for food, I'm like, ‘Ok, this makes a lot of sense.’ 

But like when I'm paying so little for food, I'm like, ‘I don't understand how a driver who's dropping it off got paid? How the company afforded the boxes? What does that mean how little they're paying the people who shipped it, or the people who grew it, or how much are the seeds?’ Honestly, when you start to go back through that, it's — my brain doesn't know how to process all of it. 

And it's something that I know you've written a lot about, and probably know a lot more about it then me. But as I start thinking through it, and my guess: of course, what we eat, who eats it, and how we serve it, and why we serve it is insanely political. 

And on the flip side of that, I think that food is actually politics. And this is something that sort of really comes up over the course of the pandemic. One of the reasons that the IRC has been really successful, or not really successful but it's sort of come together and we've seen a little bit of movement, is because of how many actual restaurant workers there are and how many independent restaurants there are. 

There are 16 million, or there were. That number is not as high as it used to be. But there were 16 million restaurant workers in the United States. That makes us the second biggest employer, behind the government. And that's insane to me. And then the fact that there's like 500,000, independent restaurants, none of us knew these numbers beforehand. And we were so naive. 

But when we started putting it all together, and we realized how big our voice could be, A) I think, I mean, certainly for a lot of us we were like, ‘Oh, we've missed so many opportunities.’ But now, we actually can do so much with our voices. And it's one of the few good things that may come out of the pandemic, is realizing how much power we could have.

Alicia: Right. Absolutely. And I'm excited to see if that turns into something powerful and real and effective in the future. 

Well, thank you so much for coming on the chat. I know you're insanely busy. I've been going back to your cookbook lately and in my research, and it's still so fun and original. And I just love it, obviously. But yeah, thank you so much for coming on. And good luck. Can't wait to follow along with what happens.

Amanda: Yeah, me too. Thanks so much for having me. This was great.

Alicia: Thank you.

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From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy
From the Desk of Alicia Kennedy Podcast
A weekly food and culture podcast from writer Alicia Kennedy, who talks to writers, chefs, and more about their lives, careers, and how food fits into it all.