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Come In, We're Closed
An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants
By Jody Eddy
Foreword by Ferran Adria
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Format:ebook $19.99 $25.99 CAD
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Join authors Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy as they share these intimate staff meal traditions, including exclusive interviews and never-before-recorded recipes, from twenty-five iconic restaurants including: Ad Hoc in Napa, California; Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain; The Fat Duck in London, England; McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina; Uchi in Austin, Texas; Michel et Sebastien Bras in Laguiole, France; wd~50 in New York City, New York, and many more.
Enjoy more than 100 creative and comforting dishes made to sate hunger and nourish spirits, like skirt steak stuffed with charred scallions; duck and shrimp paella; beef heart and watermelon salad; steamed chicken with lily buds; Turkish red pepper and bulgur soup; homemade tarragon and cherry soda; and buttermilk doughnut holes with apple-honey caramel glaze. It’s finally time to come in from the cold and explore the meals that fuel the hospitality industry; your place has been set.
Our sincerest appreciation extends to all who have joined us on this two-year adventure, helped us navigate its peaks and valleys, and pushed us to reach our destination. We have a beautiful cookbook because of each and every one of you.
A special thanks to our editor Kristen Green Wiewora, and designer, Joshua McDonnell, as well as our agent, Sally Ekus, for believing in our vision. Our heartfelt appreciation to our hardworking interns Elise Reinemann and Hannah Selinger as well as Anne Carroll, a recipe tester without equal. And most importantly, a toast to our families: Evelyn Bragelman, Mary Eddy, Eric Schatzman, Bill and Anne Carroll, and Andrew and Felix Trask. Thank you for keeping the home fires burning and the phone lines open while we were off eating, cooking, and writing. You are as much a part of this book as we are.
Our thanks goes out to the many people who offered their inspiration, talents, time, and resources: Mark Anderson, Jamie Bissonnette, Dante Boccuzzi, Monica Brown, Katie Button, Elizabeth Button, Floyd Cardoz, Elaine Caron, Allie Carroll, Wai Chu, Kyle Connaughton, Katy Corum, Janet Crandall, Kristin Cunningham, Michelle Demuth-Bibb, Katie Donnelly, Rachael Dufresne, Lucinda East, Jeffrey Elliott, Suzanne Fass, Tanui Franken, Pol Perello French, Mhairi Galloway, Kjartan Gíslason, Janice Goldsmith, Joseph Gruber, Einar Gustavsson, Phil Gutensohn, Lien Ho, Erica Johnson, Kristine Keefer, Michael Kress, Steve Legato, Melissa MacLeod, Caitlin Maguire, Anne McBride, Felix Meana, Sofia Piqueras Mir, Melany Mullens, Cristin Napier, Susana Nieto, Marta Mirasolain Oharriz, Ashley Primus, Kelly Puleio, Sean Rembold, Carissa Remitz, Jessica Rodriguez, Daniel Rosene, Peter Rosene, Sheila Rosene, John Ross, Nelly Sabdes, Fernando Salazar, Adam Sanderson, Ted Siegel, Randi Sirkin, Angie Tonnerre, Jasbir Uppal, Carrie Van Dyck, Diana Dogg Viglundsdottir, Erica Wides, and Josh Zoodsma.
Also, to David Waltuck, Thomas Keller, and Férran Adría for not only serving incredible staff meals but being among the first to write about them in books of their own. And finally, to the restaurants who allowed us to hover in their cramped kitchens only to then graciously share their meals with us. Your generosity made this book a reality. Thank you.
Even if you’ve never worked in a restaurant, you’ve probably seen a staff meal unfold. Perhaps you lingered over a late Saturday lunch, and noticed the hostess flipping the door’s “closed” sign while cooks and servers slowly filled a corner table, their plates piled with braised hunks of meat or a fragrant curry—things you could have sworn weren’t on the menu. You were right: they weren’t. They are made for the staff only. In about an hour, the crush of their busy dinner service will begin. But right now? Now it’s time for a breather: a few minutes off their feet to join the communal table’s constellation, its lines connecting colleagues to good food and back again. It’s a rare moment to laugh, to hydrate, to relax, and to eat—mightily—before the battle of service begins. It is the calm before the storm.
At its most elemental, a staff meal is the food a restaurant serves to its employees, from chefs to dishwashers, cooks to bussers, waiters, sommeliers, hosts, and managers—anyone whose steps perform the intricate choreography that gets food to your table. A longstanding custom in France as well as in Japan, staff meals are gaining popularity as an insider perk for restaurant workers around the globe. The finest examples are meals made daily by passionate cooks using great (though often leftover) ingredients shared by everyone, free of charge, around one big table. At their most poetic, these meals highlight the raw beauty of people from all walks of life breaking bread together. In stark contrast, the not-so-great meals are chosen from an uninspired menu of bland, poorly executed, pre-processed options that are eaten in a hurry, or standing, or both. At worst, it is simply not served at all.
During stints in various restaurants over the years, we’ve sat down to our share of staff meals, some good, some not. We believe that a great staff meal is a perquisite of the highest order and is in fact, vital to a restaurant’s success. With that in mind—and inspired by David Waltuck’s cookbook Staff Meals from Chanterelle—this book began as a sort of edible thesis: to uncover and document the breadth and depth of the best staff-meal traditions in the restaurant industry. We started more than two years ago prodding our contacts in the restaurant business, then prodding our contacts’ contacts, beseeching them all to share their best staff-meal stories. People spoke up! We tracked down countless leads across continents. In the final tally, we settled on twenty-five world-class restaurants in six countries across North America and Europe.
But honing our list of participating restaurants was only the start of our education in staff-meal schools of thought. As we spoke with chefs and owners and ate with their staff, we uncovered the common denominators in staff meal practices, but also some unexpected outliers. For starters, the meal can go by many names: such as “staff meal,” “staff supper,” and “family meal.” But we also stumbled across more unusual variations during our travels, such as Morimoto’s traditional Japanese term “makani,” and The Slanted Door’s tongue-in-cheek interpretation, “rice and bones.” Although, in places where it was consistently made with care and affection, it is simply called “family.”
Why “family”? For one thing, the dishes are usually served family-style, piled high onto mismatched platters or served straight from the beat-up roasting pan it was made in. More often than not, it’s set out buffet-style to feed the staff quickly and casually—although several restaurants do take the time to set the table properly. And, just like at home, a family meal strives to be delicious and, for the most part, nutritious. As British Fergus Henderson, owner of the restaurant St. John warned us, “Never try and feed them slops.” Because if the food isn’t tasty, the staff may skip the calories altogether, leaving little fuel in the tank during the shift.
As for when the meal is served, we found many to unfold in that tiny slice of time bound by the end of the day’s prep work and the arrival of the evening’s first customer. It’s the dead zone between what most consider normal mealtimes, taking place a little earlier than dinner but a little later than lunch, usually around the 4 o’clock mark. A few restaurants dismiss this norm and eat their meal in the wee hours after the customers depart, while some serve multiple meals throughout the day if their staff changes over. Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc, in Yountville, California, goes further, providing a once-weekly “mega family meal” for the entire staff to dine, stress-free, the night before the restaurant closes for two days on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
As for the individual tasked with making the meal, in most restaurants virtually every cook on the line eventually shoulders the responsibility, whether solo or as part of a team effort. As Cochon co-owner and chef Stephen Stryjewski explained, even recent culinary school graduates are expected to cook a meal that is creative and delicious. While rare, a few restaurants, such as Arzak, employ one person specifically to prepare staff meals. Others, such as the Fat Duck, host stagiaires (short-term culinary interns) who, among many other duties, help to relieve the full-time staff of the responsibility. Still others, like Craigie on Main, use the staff meal as a kind of final test for a potential new hire. If the meal doesn’t make the cut, the cook doesn’t get the job.
But while the person responsible for making the meal may vary, the ingredients are often pre-determined. Staff meal recipes normally involve the offcuts, leftovers, and excess from a day of kitchen prep. This leads to fantastic meals built around the trimmings from pricier proteins. Consequently, while the chicken breasts land on the customers’ plates, the thighs are staff meal staples. Homemade smoked paprika sausages, Caesar pasta salad, and “sashimi-style” steamed thighs with ponzu sauce are just a few of the happy results. The day’s vegetable scrap is usually transformed into sides and salads—such as the gnocchi-like mustard green malfatti at Ubuntu—and economical carbohydrates like potatoes, rice, and pasta round out the plate. Desserts, while rare, tend to be sweets that can be scaled up easily and dished out quickly, like Uchi’s peanut butter and curry cookies, but truthfully, there often isn’t time for the extra course. In most places the entire meal lasts only about thirty minutes, or a luxurious forty-five if the meal entails a pre-service pep talk or educational wine-tasting.
Then there’s the fact that a cook needs to get the meal made fast, usually in just under an hour, something we all can relate to as we juggle our own busy lives. (Keep in mind, however, that many of the time-consuming tasks like homemade stocks, doughs, marinades, and braises have already been completed as part of the restaurant’s menu prep.) Though, unlike at home, it’s a meal made to feed the masses—upwards of twenty-five in some places we visited—who all happen to be opinionated culinary professionals. It’s a weighty task for even the most confident cook; however, all those we spoke with insisted that the opportunity to cook for their peers is a pleasure, not a chore. The time-tested game plan is to serve simple, stick-to-your-ribs dishes that have a personal viewpoint, the kind of food that cooks would choose to eat after a shift, such as McCrady’s Double-Stack Bacon Burgers, Oleana’s Chicken Shwarma, or The Bristol’s Steak and Kidney Pie. Naturally, this leads many to poach favorite dishes from their childhoods, like the mom-inspired Iowa-Style Fried Chicken at The Herbfarm. Yet some cooks go in the opposite direction, using the communal table as a laboratory, refining a new recipe for the menu—or, in the case of Stéphane Reynaud of Villa9Trois, a new cookbook—and then testing it out on the staff. Still others use the free time to sate a nagging food memory like the slow-cooked pulled pork at Piccolo, a childhood favorite of chef and owner Doug Flicker. This kind of creative freedom for a cook is anomalous since daily tasks are typically dictated by a tangle of superiors. So with total control of the menu, staff meal is a chance for cooks to prove their salt to each other, and get valuable feedback—even a promotion—in the process.
To our delight, the staff meals we experienced were ripe with inexplicable quirks, and unanticipated contradictions. We journeyed to Grace, in the northern reaches of New England, only to enjoy an authentic Southern gumbo made with tiny local Maine shrimp prepared by Executive Chef Eric Simeon under the acknowledged influence of his Creole grandmother. And yet, deep in the heart of Creole country, we joined the staff at Cochon in an Asian-themed feast of Gulf Coast blue crabs with sriracha and cilantro-scented herb butter, a nod to New Orleans’s large Vietnamese population. At Ubuntu, Napa’s vegetarian mecca, the meal for its very carnivorous staff was squarely centered on a succulent, sous vide pork shoulder cooked in whey and fermented olive brine. On the flip side, at St. John, Fergus Henderson’s nose-to-tail temple of meat and offal worship in London, we enjoyed a vegetarian staff meal of creamy cabbage salad and curried rice with chickpeas. And, quite unexpectedly, considering its perch atop the world of modernist cuisine, the staff meal at wd~50 in Manhattan emphasized traditional, “old-school food,” such as grilled hanger steak with classic béarnaise sauce—which, as Chef de Cuisine Jon Bignelli was quick to point out, “is still loaded with technique.”
Their distinctions aside, these restaurants’ family meals are serving just that: a family. Working in close quarters for long hours under intense pressure has the potential to draw a restaurant brigade close, or shatter it to pieces. Gathering around the table before the rush of service is a preventative medicine of sorts. It’s a restaurant’s best and cheapest pill to avert a total kitchen collapse. Analogous to our own dinner tables, there is laughter, ribbing, drama, and dysfunction. Ultimately, however, there is camaraderie of the kind that can only be forged through food. Just like brothers and sisters, spouses, or lifelong friends, wait staff and cooks don’t always see eye-to-eye. By creating a welcoming space around a good meal, honest communication has a fighting chance to flourish—which means the restaurant can, too.
In the end, in researching the subject of this book, we logged countless frequent flyer miles, tested and retested more than a hundred recipes, and interviewed the owners, chefs, cooks, servers, dishwashers, even gardeners, who make the daily staff meal a reality. Their backgrounds, ethnicities, points of view, and experience vary widely, but they all realize the profound importance of feeding each other as best they can. These recipes are the meals that they serve every day, every week, all year. They were not staged for our benefit, nor polished to perfection for our visit, and the resulting authenticity has led us on a journey of endless inspiration. We consider it an honor to have sat at each and every table.
Ultimately, despite any divergent views on the role of a staff meal or its daily practices, each chef and restaurant owner we spoke with shared the same underlying sentiment, neatly summarized by Annisa’s chef and owner, Anita Lo: “I don’t see how you can make your staff care about food if you’re not feeding them well.” We now believe, more than ever, that how a restaurant feeds its own says a great deal about its values. Those who make family meal a priority, despite the added cost or time, believe it not only benefits their staff but is also an indirect way of taking care of customers.
So whether served in a cramped basement or in a garden ringed by ancient chestnut trees, the staff meals within these pages are more than the sum of their parts. They are a daily reminder of why cooks and servers, chefs and owners, dishwashers and bussers, put up with their hot kitchen lives and set the table each evening: to nourish bodies and feed spirits. It’s this pure distillation of hospitality that got us cooking in the first place, and somehow, some way, got us eating the best staff meals out there. It’s our hope that these stories and recipes will encourage others to follow suit. That everyone with a family they care about—whether at work or at home—will pause for a few precious moments and eat well . . . together.
NOTES ON THE RECIPES
The recipes throughout this book originated in the restaurants we visited, and were made to serve a staff of twelve or larger. So that they can be made in a home kitchen, we have scaled them down to serve between four and eight diners. Please note that this conversion may yield results that appear slightly different than the photography since photos of the food were captured on site. But rest assured, they will taste just as good.
Conversely, there are instances in which ingredient additions or substitutions were made to the original recipe. All additions have been marked as “optional” in the ingredient list, and any substitutions made are listed in the recipe header or Notes. The photography will not reflect these additions or substitutions. However, don’t be afraid to get creative and add or substitute with whatever you have on hand. As any staff meal cook will tell you, family meal is all about using what you’ve got.
To feed a crowd, measurements have been given in both imperial and metric so you can scale up by weight. Please note that salt, spices, and chilies do not scale up in the same proportion as the rest of the recipe. Often you will need much less. Use the scaled measurement as a starting point and begin by using half the amount, adding more to taste.
Shallots are a restaurant’s workhorse, and appear in a majority of the recipes here. But when quantifying the amount for a recipe, there is often debate as to exactly what is one shallot. An average-sized shallot should yield about 3 minced tablespoons, and is about the size of half a small hard-boiled egg. As a rule, a small onion is equivalent to three regular-sized shallots, a handy ratio when you are in the produce aisle.
A good restaurant prides itself on its from-scratch stock. Therefore, many recipes in this book rely upon the flavor-enhancing properties of chicken, beef, fish, and vegetable stocks. If you cannot find the time to make your own, try to buy the highest quality stock available, avoiding any that contain artificial flavors or colors. We prefer to use low-sodium or unsalted stocks as this allows for better control of the salt content in the finished dish.
Several restaurants in this book used techniques for their staff meals that required restaurant-specific equipment including sous vide circulators, deep fryers, indoor grills, and liquid nitrogen. Where applicable, we have given the home equivalent.
While the method and ingredients listed for each recipe are what we could handily accomplish on our electric stove and a minimalist’s approach to cookware, please regard them more as a general roadmap rather than dogged directions. As we witnessed time and again at the staff meals we visited, trusting your gut instincts while cooking makes all the difference in the world.
GRILLED LITTLE GEMS WITH TORN GARLIC CROUTONS AND CITRUS VINAIGRETTE
SKIRT STEAK STUFFED WITH CHARRED SCALLIONS
RED FRESNO CHILE–GARLIC SAUCE
SKILLET-GLAZED KING TRUMPET MUSHROOMS
CHOCOLATE–PEANUT BUTTER CRUNCH BARS
Following a fine meal shared between sworn enemies, Samuel Pepys—a seventeenth-century English Parliament member who was also a fanatical diarist—sat down to record a simple observation: “Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everyone.” This lesson is not lost on Dave Cruz, the articulate chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s family-style comfort food destination, Ad Hoc, located in the manicured Napa Valley neighborhood of Yountville, California. Every Monday night after service, Dave makes it a point to host a mega family meal. It is a rare specimen in the genre. Because everyone works the same shifts—the restaurant is only open for dinner and closes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays—the entire staff eats together, and they do so in peace with neither the pressure of a dinner service ahead nor the responsibility of reporting for duty the next morning. Dave best describes the meal as a water-in-carafes event, a time to trot out the fine-dining frills bypassed at their more utilitarian midafternoon buffets. As was probably done for Pepys and his parliamentary guests, this does in fact mean Monday night’s table is set with linens as well as with roses. Although for the staff of Ad Hoc, the flowers are purely figurative.
“I’ve always thought that you don’t need to wait for someone to leave to tell them all the good stuff about them,” says Dave, explaining the Monday night “Thorns and Roses” ritual as roundtable discussion for lavishing compliments on your peers. The ceremony works like this: someone starts by giving someone else a compliment or “rose,” the recipient accepts, and then hands out a rose of their own. Everyone has a chance to give a rose, and most everyone gets one on any given Monday night. The name itself is a piece of Ad Hoc history that stuck. For a short time “thorns” as well as their “rose” counterpoints were doled out. The somewhat controversial thorn critiques were quickly dropped, however, when things got prickly. Now it is an altogether utopian practice with a hint of Northern California commune, but its origins are squarely Greek—Dave picked up the habit during his college fraternity days, bringing it with him to Ad Hoc when owner Thomas Keller put him in charge. Now head chef for the first time in his career, Dave wisely saw an opportunity to orchestrate the restaurant’s vibe: “It was like, maybe we could get something more out of staff meal than just getting full or getting drunk.”
But before the roses, the meal must be served. A little before midnight an iPod shuffles through a mix of obscure indie tunes as five dark wooden tables are strung together in back of the dining room, a kind of comfortable rustic farmhouse as interpreted by city dwellers. The table is dotted with linen-lined baskets of Bouchon bread and half-full bottles of wine. Collected throughout the week from Ad Hoc’s by-the-glass menu, they are tucked behind the lime green bar until Monday’s family meal. The staff trickles in, pours a drink, and takes a seat; almost everyone has found the time to change out of their kitchen uniforms, making it feel more like a gathering of friends than colleagues. The meal commences. A mountain of skirt steak pinwheels with scallions poking out of their pink swirls slowly diminishes as the platter is passed from hand to hand. And just when bottoms of wineglasses appear, the music is turned off, Dave clears his throat, and the first rose is given.
Some roses are funny, others serious, and while they may sound a bit manufactured in a corporate-conference sort of way, they are all completely heartfelt. Someone thanks the busboy for “bringing the thunder,” another is appreciative of how a particular female server always comes to work with a smile, and yet another gives a rose to the entire kitchen staff: “You’re killing it. It’s just awesome.” He points to his nearly empty plate: “This is family meal and it’s the bomb. I hate to drop f-bombs, but . . . it’s the family bomb.” A departing cook gets showered in roses and gives out the final bloom of his Ad Hoc tenure: “This rose goes to everyone. You guys are like my family, and it’s been probably the best restaurant I’ve ever worked in.” Dave ends the Thorns and Roses ceremony by giving out a rose of his own. He speaks with hushed authority: “I have only one rose and it’s for David Thomas. He’s been the sous chef here for two years.” Dave announces that David will be leaving the restaurant in just three weeks. “He’s been phenomenal for us and for our kitchen and our restaurant. The work that he does is way beyond what you see. And to fill his shoes and have trust in someone is the hardest thing. So, for tonight, this is where we’ll stop. David, this rose is for you.” Glasses clink, the feasting continues, and any tension built up over the week evaporates. All is reconciled, at least for this week.
Can you walk us through how a typical week of staff meals is made?
We’re only open five days a week—Thursday through Monday—so every day we have one person, Philip [Sales], our receiver/prep person, who will make a staff meal that goes up every day at 4 p.m. We even built picnic tables out back, and at four we try to all sit out there and have family meal. But things have evolved here. It’s busier and it’s hard to sit down every day, so we decided to have a big staff meal on Mondays.
What’s different about the Monday meals?
We sort of gather up what won’t last over the “weekend” and we cook it up together. We gather up the wine bottles too. It’s family-style, sit-down, pass-around. The idea is that we all enjoy what we do so the interaction is a binder. We have an exchange of things that don’t have to do with the restaurant. You don’t get that if people are staggered throughout the day; if you don’t have the time to sit down and bond.
Do you feel a different vibe on Monday during prep and service in the lead-up to the meal?
Oh, absolutely. Because everyone knows it’s coming, they’re pretty happy.
Are the staff meals planned in advance?
Not really. Another facet of the actual restaurant is that we design a set menu every day for our customers. In a way our staff meal is our menu’s leftovers. If we use asparagus today, we probably won’t use it again until next week, so it goes to us. We want to use up what we’ve got.
Do you ever invite guests for staff meal?
Yes. People from other restaurants. A manager or chef from other restaurants. The gardener, Tucker. And our dogs.
What are some publications that you like to tap into as a resource?
I love the style of Donna Hay Magazine. Before it went under, I loved Gourmet, mostly how much they related about the world.
Any food scraps that will always find their way into the staff meal?
- On Sale
- Oct 2, 2012
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Running Press