Friday, August 21, 2009

staff meal hits and misses

Staff meal, family meal, family, comida. No matter what you call it the food is usually the same. A salad, if you're lucky, something to get some sort of vegetables in your diet. Especially if you're a pastry cook. Some kind of meat since, as someone I used to know put it to me, most of the restaurant prep and line cooks are Mexican and if you don't feed them meat they will go somewhere else to get it since many are working two jobs anyway.

If you work normal-people hours of nine to five you'll likely hit two staff meals of the day. If you come in the early afternoon, depending on the restrictions at the restaurant and your familiarity with the line cooks you may be able to sneak a snack or a free lunch meal. If you plan on doing this and you are a pastry cook it really helps to give out free dessert at the end of the night. Those cookies that sat out for ten hours of service and won't keep? Give em to the line cook you ask for chicken sandwiches.

I had one job where half the pastry staff all day long would ask the line cooks for flatbread and fava bean dip. Food cost pretty minimal for favas, and since we were making the flatbread dough half or all of the time anyway we felt kinda entitled.

For those outside the restaurant industry reading this, family meal is what you feed your cooks and servers before they spend normal dinner/lunch hours on their feet hard at work. From an owner's perspective family meal is also where you use up your scraps. Fish on its last day or tomatoes slighlty gonig rotten on one side. Feed it to the family. There are plenty of restaurants that supplement their cupboard with goods just for staff meal--cheap pasta instead of expensive stuff, rice, ketchup, hot dogs. While staff meal is rarely expected to be great, an inspired staff meal can lift the cooks, servers and busboys to all work just a little harder to make everyone's night great.

You can turn to Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential for a number of truly awful staff meals, or you can call out any restaurant that segregates family meal by day - Wednesday pizza, Thursday sausages, Sunday eggs.

I expected there to be more standouts but in the end the meals that stick out are surprisingly few and far between. Staff meal successes that I can recall include, over various years and cities, from the hands of sous chefs and line cooks and caterers:
Fried rice with vegetables and eggs. While most people loved this one cause we worked at an Italian restaurant and it wasn't pasta, it also had a super low food cost and got rid of any leftovers.

Fish tacos. Same resto. The Mexican prep guys would make hot sauce and pico de gallo and bring in tortillas. You had to get there right on time for this one or you'd get nothing.

Make yr own burrito bar. This actually before my time in Cali. Guac, pico de gallo, cheese, refried beans, salad and meat. Fun, cheap, not too much work.

Thanksgiving leftovers. Multiple places, same agenda - turkey, potatoes, all the sides. A little hard to work after this one.

Sweet-hot chicken wings. A line cook made these super good one day kinda by accident, which unfortunately meant we never got to have them again.

staff meal c noii


Jes said...

Funny- in Heat, Bill Buford makes family meal out to be this wonderful thing. At Village Tearoom, we always made ourselves a crazy salad plus "whatever was a week old, but still good." I usually snuck in a dingle pie.

so much cake so little time said...

Oh, it can be. At Chez Panisse downstairs the servers get the same plates of prix fixe meal that's on the menu for dinner guests. But awesomeness is more the exception than the rule.

Connie said...

I think Family Meal should be requisite at every restaurant. Its not only a time to eat but also to relax and re-connect. Some places I worked at didn't have family meal more than a couple times a week. Pretty ridiculous but one of the great ironies of the Food Industry, unfortunately.

Tony said...

I just started working in an upscale restaurant and the staff meals are pretty good, there's one chef who makes awesome food.