Inside Staff Meal: Mexican Home-cooking at Chifa

by Caroline Hatchett
Shannon Sturgis
December 2012

Staff Meal Facts:
Chef de Cuisine Natalie Maronski and Line Cook Angel Jimenez weigh in.

Staff meal food costs:
Maronski: The costs on Angel’s staff meals are pretty minimal. I usually only have to order tortillas, some sort of special cheese, and sometimes chicken. Most of the other ingredients we keep on hand and might have to order just a little extra for him. There have been days where he’ll stop at a Mexican grocery on his way in to pick up something specific if I can't order it through our normal purveyors.

Size of staff meal:
10 to 15

Time of staff meal:
3pm

Best staff meal:
Jimenez: My favorite I’ve made here is Chilies en Nogada—poblanos stuffed with ground beef, cinnamon, raisins, peaches, pears, and almonds. It’s everyone’s favorite.

Worst staff meal:
Maronski: Won't say where ... boiled eggs (unpeeled) and poorly cooked rice, no sauces, no garnishes, and the eggs were over-cooked.

“I’m proud to say that we probably have the best staff meals in the [Garces Group],” says Chifa Chef de Cuisine Natalie Maronski, who runs the kitchen at Jose Garces’s hybrid Peruvian-Cantonese restaurant. Maronski’s family meal philosophy is a blend of using leftovers and buying a few special pantry items to let her cooks shine. “Typically, we use scraps and random ingredients lying around,” she says.

But on bigger-staffed days like Friday and Saturday, Maronski puts in special orders with her purveyors to introduce new flavors into the staff meal line-up. And Saturdays belong to Line Cook Angel Jimenez, who fuels the team with dishes he learned in his home state of Puebla, Mexico—think tacos al pastor, posole, chilaquiles, enchiladas, and tostados.

The StarChefs.com team crashed Chifa staff meal on an unseasonably cold fall afternoon and found servers huddled around steaming bowls of Jimenez’s Sopa de Tortilla, the base of which is made up of tomatoes, smoky guajillo chilies, onions, garlic, chicken stock, epazote, cilantro, and tortillas. For heft, the wait staff and cooks pile on an assortment of fried tortillas, pasilla chilies, queso fresco, avocado, and sour cream.

“It’s nice that every day has a little bit of a different taste, since we rotate who makes staff meal,” says Maronski. And the Chifa staff can count on a taste of Mexico every Saturday, a tradition to get them through the busiest night of the week.

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