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Being a Restaurant Cook Is Now the Riskiest Job in California Thanks to COVID-19

Plus, a hot chicken mystery, San Pedro’s new outdoor dining plan, and the New York Times talks LA Instagram pop-ups

Diners and cooks inside of the small tasting menu restaurant Trois Mec in Los Angeles.
Busy cooks at a high-end restaurant in pre-pandemic times
Wonho Frank Lee
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

A new study out of the University of California at San Francisco’s Epidemiology and Biostatistics department has taken a look at high-risk jobs within the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in California. Per UCSF’s data, restaurant cooks carry the most risk of COVID-19-related death in the entire state, beating out packaging and machine operators, and construction workers. Of the five channels of employment with the highest risk for mortality, three are food related: Cooks, agricultural workers, and bakers, with head chefs and bartenders also making the higher-risk list, shown below. A preprint of the paper, titled Excess Mortality Associated With the COVID-19 Pandemic Among Californians 18-65 Years of Age, By Occupational Sector: March through October 2020 can be found here.

Statewide, Latinos make up more than half of all food jobs deemed essential during the ongoing pandemic, and 80 percent of all agriculture positions, while also carrying the highest level of job uncertainty. Black and latino residents are many times more likely to contract (and die from) COVID-19 than white counterparts across California. The state is now north of 3.2 million coronavirus cases, with more than 38,000 detahs.

In other news:

  • Here’s basically the coolest food-related story you’ll read all week. It involves a Depression-era neon sign that preservationists want to keep, a very popular hot chicken restaurant, and undiscovered questions about racial inequity and redlining that stretches from Malibu to the San Gabriel Valley. Oh, and Nat King Cole features prominently in the storytelling. Seriously, go give this a read at Vice.
  • With the resumption of outdoor dining at restaurants across the county on Friday, the seaside city of San Pedro is planning to greatly expand its public dining spaces, targeting a dense area with more than a dozen restaurants in less than a quarter-mile. The plan is for the city-built outdoor “dining platforms” to become permanent, making the neighborhood even more walkable in the future. Over the summer, the city was a leader in Mayor Garcetti’s Al Fresco program.
  • Like many restaurants around town at the moment, Spago in Beverly Hills has announced a return to on-site outdoor dining. The Wolfgang Puck star announced the intent to return for service Friday night on Instagram.
  • LA Weekly has a nice feature out on the Cook’s Tortas team out of Monterey Park, tracing their history to the many tortas they make today.
  • Silverlake Ramen is opening three new locations around greater Los Angeles, in cities like Monterey Park, Porter Ranch, and Burbank.
  • The New York Times turned its lens this week to the wild world of Instagram food pop-ups around Los Angeles, from Side Pie in Altadena to Perilla out of Koreatown.
  • Santa Monica’s Heroic Italian has opened a new fast casual location in Beverly Hills, just off the intersection of La Cienega and Wilshire. The small new space will focus on a tight menu of sandwiches and salads.