Staff Meal

Food — By Crust on March 1, 2010

Staff meal is very important. At Feenie’s everyone was scheduled different days to make staff meals, and you were judged by your peers on staff meal. This is as it should be. Not actually judged but people see what you put up and they think things. I remember my first staff meal. I had just started to get used to working at Feenie’s and Kyle came up to my station and said, “I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?”
“The bad news?” I said.
“The the bad news is that you’re on staff meal…”
My jaw dropped.
“The good news is that I’m going to help you.”
“Oh thank god.” I said. “What should I do?”
I had never even cooked dinner at home growing up, how would I cook for 15 cooks? My parents never got me to help them in the kitchen, so I never learned to cook basic home food.
“We have ground beef so you should make bolognese.” Kyle said.
He told me what I would need and got me going on it, he took me through step by step.
He told me I would need a big pot to cook the pasta. I had been reading about big pot blanching, and some other italian books that were talking about using a big enough pot for the amount of pasta. Having no concept of how much pasta would be needed for 15 people, and also having no common sense, I got a massive stock pot on the six pack. Then I waited. Staff meal had to be up between 4:30 and 5 and the thing didn’t even begin to boil until 5:15, then I had to cook the pasta and I honestly don’t remember how we strained it, but there’s no doubt it was a struggle. Waiting for that pot to boil was so intense for me, I was freaking out looking at the clock, I had two sheet pans on top of it trying to cover it. Staff was finally up at 5:30 and I felt like such an idiot.

Then there was the time I had the idea to make beef stew and some of the guys were laughing at me because it was summer and 30 degrees out. That was before I even had a concept of seasonal cooking.

There was also the time I made stir fry and rice, or “stir boil and rice crispies” as they called it. I over crowded the pan a boiled the shit out of it and my rice was a little under. I also completely forgot to put the chicken in and Kyle and Bryan were like, “Yum, vegetarian staff meal, I love vegetarian staff meal, just vegetables, I don’t need meat, who needs protein, I won’t be hungry in an hour, good work Crust.”
Again I was embarrassed. But that is how you learn.

At least I never made “noodle caboodle” which was what we called it when someone would make a shitty pasta with scraps and no love or skill. Bryan would always say, “MMmmm noodle caboodle, very creative and so well executed, good work.” So sarcastic.

I figure planning ahead is the key to a good staff meal. And I hate to say it but I totally judge a cook on their staff meals.

9 Comments

  1. Colleen says:

    Planning ahead means you care. Treating the staff meal like a chore is the worst thing that a cook can do. Not only will you garner the distain of your peers, but it shows all of the little shortcuts you will make in order to get a product out. And that isn’t a good thing. Pride in your work should encompass everything that you make.

  2. Matt R. says:

    Interesting …

  3. Bill says:

    Quote: Kyle and Bryan were like, “Yum, vegetarian staff meal, I love vegetarian staff meal, just vegetables, I don’t need meat, who needs protein, I won’t be hungry in an hour, good work Crust.”

    Priceless

  4. Matt R. says:

    I suppose you must work at a certain calibre of restaurant in order to expect a staff meal like this. I admit I am entirely unfamiliar with it. Do you feed the servers as well?

    Where I work now, I suppose we do a modified version of this. Very often, a few of the cooks will get together and make something for themselves, each person contributing a part of the meal, or possibly nothing at all besides a thank you – this time… It all balances out. Most everyone else will make their own meal when it’s convenient for them. The GM cook might eat at 9 o’clock after the first courses have all gone. Sauce and entremetier will put something together after the last of the mains are gone and the pastry cook will eat whenever as they are usually so fucking busy. Perhaps it’s a sandwich and soup, perhaps a nicer full course meal, sometimes just a quick bit of sushi if you’re lucky. But never, almost never, does one person cook for the entire crew and we all stop and eat together. We see this happen on odd days – New Years eve, menu roll out days. More often at lunch than dinner, there will be a ‘ring leader’ who will express interest in something and see how many want in. The idea of staff eating ‘leftovers’ is also foreign, as everywhere I’ve worked has a defined use for extra product – meat trim, etc – and there’s no push to consume this instead of eating whatever else you would like. I am allotted a certain dollar amount per person per shift for meals. They can have pretty much whatever they like as long as it’s under this amount. Small shops probably don’t worry about this kind of thing. I’ve heard stories of restaurants that don’t take monthly inventories, and don’t even calculate a food cost! Nice restaurants at that!!

    My last job was at a hotel and the staff cafeteria was never used by the F&B department as we were usually too busy working. The cook for this was a third cook, maybe a pre-apprentice. It was usually pretty shocking. They also docked us $4.30/day for staff meals, whether we ate them or not.

    Prior to that, the restaurant would allow us specific list of products for free, another list of protein for $2, a third tier for $3 all the way up to strip steak or tenderloin for $4.

    I’ve never liked the whole kitchen stopping all at once actually – I find it’s hard to get them going again once they shift gears.

  5. Matt R. says:

    wow sorry, that was like a blog post.

    I really like your blog, great photos, and so authentic. big “ups”.

  6. Colleen says:

    I understand the need to keep moving. When we used to have a big meal at my former work (everyone sitting down together) I would often feel like I wanted a nap afterward rather than get back in the kitchen. However, the thought of how much work I had to do usually motivated me to get going.

    But we all worked hard, and the ownership insisted that we sit down and eat inside the restaurant before service. Originally the service staff were included until they started to complain consistently on what we chose to make. Then they were denied the meal. I think the main reason that we were told to make a meal was so that no one passed out during a 12 or 14 hour shift. (And this did happen one time….) So it got to the point where I scheduled people to make the meal otherwise it was always the same people making the meal every time. Some people would claim that they were too busy to eat, but we would force them to come and eat and then someone else would lend a hand to catch the person up.

    Now I work at a club and we have to make a staff meal twice a day for the employees. This includes everyone from the housekeepers and service staff, to catering staff and the cooks. The cooks rarely go down to the staff cafeteria to eat, but we usually take a plate before it goes down there. If we aren’t a part of the team that makes the meal, (there are 2 kitchens) then we make something for ourselves when we have time. Something small, and quick. And yes, there is a budget about how much we spend on staff meal per day.

  7. Matt R. says:

    Sure enough. I always encourage people to take their breaks when they can, and to make sure they take one!! On busy nights, I don’t like when the dishwashers stop to eat at the same time, but this of year it can be a casual affair – it’s really good bonding time, and even though they might not know it, they are all making my team stronger. 🙂

    At the hotel I worked at before, lunch and dinner were always served in the cafeteria, and sure the kitchen staff would grab a plate before it went down if something looked really good, but usually it happened so fast, at a time when everyone’s head should be down, that it was more often than not missed. We also used to keep a cold table full of ingredients to make sandwiches, and there were always salads in the table as well, ready to eat.

  8. Shane says:

    I remember my Feenie’s meals so endearingly. Chorizo mac n cheese… Spaghetti-Os from scratch with the ring-shaped pasta in dry storage… the time I made Pho and nobody wanted tripe. I think Brian’s Korean Short Ribs were the most legendary meal of that summer.
    Love your blog, Crust. You’ve pushed my competitive spirit, and now I will have to fine-tune mine so that it’s better than yours.
    Cheers from the Knights of the Corner Table,
    Shane

  9. Crust says:

    Hi Shane, I read your blog that night when I got home but it won’t let me post a comment. It’s amazing how bad I am with computers but still manage to have a blog. I’ll keep trying. Thanks for your support. I totally remember all your staff meals! That shit is so funny! Your Pho was good.

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