Come in, we’re closed: An invitation to staff meals at the world’s best restaurants

comeinwereclosed

 

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.

 

While I loved reading about the staff meals in various restaurants in North America and Europe, I wondered why there weren’t more restaurants from other parts of the world. This book should perhaps be retitled “western world”. Plenty of North America for sure, also quite a few in Europe like France and Spain, even as far away as Iceland. But no Asia. I mention Asia as the writers themselves had talked about family meals in Japanese restaurants. they do feature Morimoto but that is a Philadelphia restaurant. So I remain curious as to what a Japanese restaurant in Japan serves as its family meal. If we look at the (controversial) list of World’s Best restaurants, there are a decent number located in Asia such as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Japan. There’s also South Africa, India, Brazil and Peru.

I don’t expect the writers to travel the world for a book (nor did I expect them to pick off that list that I linked to) but my beef is that if you’re going to subtitle it “world’s best” then it shouldn’t be just about restaurants in North America and Europe.

(See below for a list of the restaurants featured)

Perhaps the answer lay in the interview with Charles Phan of The Slanted Door, a San Francisco restaurant, who said that Chinese and Vietnamese family meals tend to be very basic:

Usually there’s always a vegetable, there’s usually a broth, some sort of soup, a little meat stir-fried with the vegetables. Those are always the three components: protein, vegetable, and soup. And also starch, usually rice. But one day a Caucasian woman on staff just lost it; she said all we eat is “rice and bones” and noth-ing else. It’s pretty cultural. Some people would go crazy if there was too much cheese and pasta.

I’m probably never going to cook most of the recipes in the book, like the crispy octopus suckers, the beef heart and watermelon salad, Pine-Infused Langoustines. But there were plenty of ideas that any home cook could use. I really am tempted to try the toasted coriander basmati rice from Craigie on Main, potatoes braised in vegetable stock (kind of like a gratin-style thinly sliced potatoes covered with vegetable broth and baked) from Michel et Sébastien Bras.

What I took away from this book: to be more aware about food wastage. I try to save ends and bits of vegetables like the tops and tails of celery or carrots, the stems of mushrooms, use the carcass of a rotisserie chicken to make chicken stock that kind of thing. But these restaurants really make use of the scraps and bits. One restaurant serves fried bones. Another uses the whey left over from making ricotta. And yet another makes a pie of kidneys and root vegetables to use up their glut of kidneys as they butcher in-house.

Other things:

Grinding bacon into ground beef for burgers at McCrady’s, to add smokiness and grill flavour. Genius.

A recipe for peanut butter and curry cookies has me intrigued.

Crosshatching potatoes before baking them. I love hasselback potatoes and will have to try crosshatching them next time.

 

The restaurants featured:
Ad Hoc – Yountville, California
Annisa – New York, New York
Arzak – San Sebastián, Spain
Au Pied de Cochon – Montreal, Canada
The Bristol – Chicago,Illinois
City Grocery – Oxford Mississippi
Cochon – New Orleans, Louisiana
Craigie on Main – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Dill – Reykjavik, Iceland
The Fat Duck – Bray, England
Frasca – Boulder, Colorado
Grace – Portland, Maine
The Herbfarm – Woodinville, Washington
McCrady’s – Charleston, Sourh Carolina
Michel et Sebastien Bras – Laguiole, France
Morimoto – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mugaritz – Errenteria, Spain
Orleana – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Piccolo – Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Slanted Door – San Francisco, USA
St John – London, England
Ubuntu – Napa, California
Uchi – Austin, Texas
Villa9trois – Montreuil, France
WD-50 – New York, USA

 

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This is my third read for Foodies Read 2015

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11 thoughts on “Come in, we’re closed: An invitation to staff meals at the world’s best restaurants

  1. I’m so with you on the use of the word “world” to mean Western. Sigh. I like the idea of grinding bacon into burgers … yummmmmmmmm

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  2. You put forth interesting food for thought. It wouldn’t have been too much trouble to add ‘Western’ before world or subtitle North America/Europe version or somesuch. As to the content, well, some sounded good, like the bacon in the burgers. Some…not to my taste. Not sure about fried bones. I did see a local to me restaurant – Uchi – which we have not visited, but I have heard good things. Austin has so many good food restaurants. Thanks for sharing about this book!

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  3. I’ve never heard about these staff meals, but it certainly is a good idea. You’d think they would have actually included more “world” restaurants if that name is used though…

    I have bacon left over from the clam chowder I made this week, and the idea of grinding it in to hamburger is brilliant. We’re making burgers tomorrow, so I may just give it a try.

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  4. Interesting concept for a book –but I agree with you and others that the title is misleading. Peanut butter and curry? Okay, that sounds pretty odd — but the bacon in hamburger sounds good. 🙂

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  5. Oh, this might help me with food waste. I have a compost pile, so I don’t feel bad about carrot tops, but why don’t I put them in my stock? I don’t know.

    I agree with your criticism that “world” is not North America & Europe. I wonder if the publisher demanded that title. But, still, we need to call them on that if we want it to quit happening. It’s disrespectful of other cultures, not to mention bait-and-switch.

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  6. Good idea.
    Funny, I love making and eating Chinese food now, but when I was small I was definitely put off by too much rice and veg.

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