Chef de Cuisine Erin Shambura weighs in.
What is your staff meal cost?
We really don’t spend a lot of money; we bring stuff in, but it’s mostly scraps. Two times a week we bring in a protein, and if it’s only 10 pounds of product, really that’s nothing.
How many people usually eat?
15 to 20 people
What time do you eat?
12pm and 4:30pm
What is the worst staff meal you’ve ever had?
This was years ago when I was at a restaurant that hired someone to make staff meal. For some reason we had dried Asian noodles and they were really thin, and he didn’t realize they had to be cooked. He made a whole meal with them mixed in raw.
What is the best staff meal you’ve ever had?
When I worked at Lupa we had the bread guy make extra foccaccia, and we would make extra pizzas with that. It was so much fun.
As you rush around trying to check the last items off your prep list and set up the line for service, creating a color-coordinated staff menu is probably the farthest thing from most cooks' mind. But for Erin Shambura, chef de cuisine of the West Village Italian bistro L'Artusi, adding some fun into family meal, and even a little colorful inspiration, is necessary.
“I get a little crazy with it, so sometimes it’s based on color. I’ll do all green vegetables for pasta,” she says of her staff menus. “Basing it on something so loose as a color makes it fun. I need to make it a little fun because I have been cooking staff meal for a long time.”
Prepping staff meal at L'Artusi
Taking a break for staff meal at L'Artusi
Erin Shambura's Themed Staff Meal: Braised Chicken with Capers
But color isn’t Shambura’s only starting point for staff meal creativity. “I usually come up with a theme,” she says. And since she’s been dedicated to the Italian pantry since her days working as a line cook at Del Posto (where she met L'Artusi Chef Gabe Thompson), it makes sense that one of her favorite themes started with that miniscule Italian saline staple, the caper. The team liked the final dish so much—braised chicken with caper-white wine ragout—it ended up on the L‘Atrusi menu.
Not every meal is themed—even Shambura gets stuck in the weeds every once in awhile. “If it’s crunch time then it’s veggies and a quick pasta,” she says. But her meals always come out with care. “I want not just cooks, but servers, to have a meal of substance.”
Par for the staff meal course, chicken makes regular appearances because, as Shambura says, “it’s versatile.” The team also makes plenty of use of kitchen scraps, including “squash for ragout or pasta, and hanger steak [trim] for dirty rice.” And occasionally they bring in deli meat for sandwiches and create special meals for holidays, including tacos on Cinco de Mayo and barbecue on Independence Day.
Regardless of whether she has time to think of a creative theme, make a staff favorite (recently hummus, pita, grilled chicken, and cucumber salad), or whip up something quick but filling, for Shambura it’s all about cooking something her team will really enjoy. “I think it’s a great time for all the cooks and the front of the house to mellow out and gear up for service. That’s why I want to make sure it’s something they want to eat.” And, in theory, look at too.