Do you know what dark kitchens are? Meet the star chefs who bet on them

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STRATEGY Gerard Barberan, from Bottega Bernacca: investment in the virtual kitchen format (Credit: Keiny Andrade)

PIONEER Alex Atala opened Noix
a year ago: strong competition (Credit: Disclosure)

There is a new challenge for those who love gastronomy: discovering virtual kitchens, created by famous chefs and that only work with a delivery system. Alex Atalafrom the award-winning DOM, Erik Jacquin and Paola Carosella, judges from MasterChef, a reality show by Band, and Gerard Barberan, from Bottega Bernacca, are some of the professionals who adhered to the concept of dark kitchen (something like “ghost kitchen”, in English). It is a British concept of a closed restaurant, without a lounge, tables or waiters. That’s why the prices are more attractive. But don’t expect to find the same options these chefs offer in the salons of their original restaurants. The menus are adapted to the experience of those who will eat at home, that is, they require a menu that resists packaging and transport. Behind each dark kitchen, there is a lot of technique so that consumer expectations are not frustrated, with the arrival of messy or withered food, as happens with some recipes in the conventional delivery system.

Chefs’ menus are adapted to the experience of those who will eat at home, that is, they require a menu that resists packaging and transport

The fashion emerged in Brazil during the hardest time of social isolation caused by the pandemic, in 2020. Today there are already franchise chains of this type. “With a low implementation cost, the format has become the favorite business model for investors”, says Rafael Matos, founder of ATW Delivery Brands, an international network of dark kitchens founded in 2017 and which already has 305 units.

Anna Carolina Negri

One of the first star chefs to bet on the sector was Alex Atala, known for having two latent talents: a taste for entrepreneurship and a talent for cooking. Owner of Dalva e Dito, Bio and DOM, the restaurateur is always on the lookout for new opportunities and partnerships. In 2020, he decided to enter the dark kitchens business and created Noix, which works only in the delivery system. The menu is eclectic and tailor-made for the proposal, with sophisticated and practical recipes at the same time, ranging from Poke Amazônico, a sealed tuna, with chili peppers and peas, to Chilli con carne, a stew inspired by Mexican cuisine. with red beans and spices.

Those who appreciate Portuguese cuisine should keep an eye out for the dark kitchen at Taberna 474, called Arroz Malandro – both are piloted by chef Chiquinho Viana. In addition to the typical Portuguese dish that gives the restaurant its name, there are typical snacks, such as the classic portion of codfish balls and veal croquettes. Among the meals, one of the main dishes is the Malandro do Mar, rice with octopus, squid, shrimp and mussels, topped with a touch of coriander. “The project had already been created a long time ago, but it only came out of the drawer during the pandemic”, says restaurantur Ipe Moraes – who is also a partner at Casa Europa and Adega Santiago.

PREPARATION Arroz Malandro: menu and packaging designed for
the food arrives intact (Credit: Anna Carolina Negri)

The format seduced Bottega Bernacca, led by Catalan chef Gerard Barberan, 42, and his partner, Italian entrepreneur Davide Bernacca, 56. The duo opened their first restaurant in 2013 and since then has been known for the taste of their artisanal pasta and sauces. After analyzing the market, they decided to open their own dark kitchen, a project that will open in two months. “The choice to build a virtual kitchen was strategic”, explains Barberan. “We are going to create a production center, from where sauces and pasta will be produced for our restaurants, delivery dishes and food for events.” With three addresses in São Paulo, the partners want to standardize the quality and flavor of the menu. “Dark kitchens will relieve restaurants, reduce costs and standardize quality”, he says. Apparently, the ghost kitchen is here to stay.

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