Think restaurant staff enjoy the same dishes you do at eateries across your town or city? Think again. While any restaurant worth it’s salt isn’t serving up a carb-loaded extravaganza (you need staff to be able to hustle after all, right?), they’re also not having the prime rib or filet mignon you might be ordering. We spoke to three top notch Executive Chefs, two of which co-own their own restaurants to demystify the “Staff Meal.”
Here’s what they had to say:
Chef Massimo Capra, Co-owner of Toronto’s Mistura Restaurant and Sopra Upper Lounge, Cookbook author, TV Personality and Restaurant Consultant
Food: Contemporary, fine Italian cuisine
“Our staff meals are very happy because we have the chefs play with the menu and make things they normally wouldn’t make in our restaurant. So for the front of house and back of house staff, we make things like curries, fried chicken, fish and chips, chile, guacamole – all fresh, all made in house. Sometimes though, since my restaurant makes everything fresh every day, if there are good, fresh leftovers of something, we cook it and serve it to the staff so they taste everything that comes out of the kitchen. And other times, the staff just really wants junk food like Pizza Nova. Twenty people will go through eight of those pizzas, I kid you not! They also love the chicken fingers I buy at Costco for them, with a bit of pasta on the side with cream and tomato. It’s the craziest thing, but generally, they eat very well. We make beautiful grilled cheese sandwiches, tacos, fajitas, Shanghai noodles, coconut soups, refreshing salads full of grains and beans.”
What about dietary restrictions?
“At one point, the staff meal got very complicated. We had a group of staff that due to various restrictions including gluten intolerance, halal, vegan and vegetarian, we almost had to feed each one individually. That got nuts so they either brought from home, or ordered off the menu for a nominal fee. Now we have a cohesive group and it makes life easier for the cooks who have to prepare the food.”
Lora Kirk, Co-owner and Head Chef of Ruby Watchco with Lynn Crawford
Food: Seasonal, market-fresh Canadian haute comfort
“Our staff meals always feature something yummy and seasonal! We don’t do carrot or potato peelings. We take ingredients that we have and we make nice meals out of them, like the other night we had jalapeno-spiced polenta and on top of that we roasted down beef trims with left over mushrooms. We’re very creative- and we don’t want anything wasted. There’s always going to be some kind of trim that’s yummy, edible and not to be wasted, so we work with that. Other favourites include really good mushroom fried rice, Bolognese pasta and chicken pot pie. Once in a blue moon, we’ll make in-house hamburgers and buy good hot dogs because that’s what everyone wants. Generally, we take turns making the staff meal, so the stove cooks make a hot item and the cold station will make a salad or a cold component. And since they’re feeding their colleagues, they take it seriously. There’s a lot of pride that goes into making and serving our staff meals. They want to impress.”
All starch, all the time?
“No, we try to make sure there’s some kind of protein always, a vegetable and a salad. We want to make sure everyone’s got a good stomach full of food to carry them through but aren’t so carb-loaded that it’s hard for them to walk across the room.”
Therese De Grace, Executive Chef of Pillar and Post Vintage Hotels
Food: Niagara-based comfort food with a twist
“We feed all of the hotel staff, 150 people, so what we make largely depends on what’s going on in the hotel. This month- we have tons of conferences featuring sandwiches and lots of really lush, international salads like toasted orzo with bocconcini, so we prepare extras of all of the salads and offer a make your own sandwich bar with all kinds of condiments. Once a week we do a breakfast day with baked French toast, homemade banana bread, sausage and peppers and home fried potatoes. This week, we’ve had weddings and lots of good steak trims so we’ll do some stews, served with fresh bread and two vegetables. The lounge cook usually makes food for the kitchen staff, there are about 20 of us. Anything from curries, buttermilk fried chicken, homemade burgers, a Louisiana scramble. They’re pretty spoiled, especially since they don’t pay for food here!”
Pay for a staff meal and pay it forward?
“Oh sure, when I worked for Mark McEwan in the late 90s, he took $5 per meal off our paycheque. Same at Scaramouche and Pronto. Fresh charges 50 per cent for meals off the menu. Here, the staff can even have a morning toast and coffee. It’s a really nice little perk especially since we don’t get a budget for staff meals, it comes out of our food costs. But we manage, get creative and make it work. Once a month, we ask staff to give back, usually to the United Way. We show them how much they save by us feeding them, and ask them to donate a loonie or a twoonie to a good cause. It’s important to be grateful!”