Inside Staff Meal at Bell Book & Candle: Spot-on Sustainability

by Katherine Sacks
Shannon Sturgis
January 2012


Chef John Mooney of Bell Book & Candle - New York, NY


Bell Book & Candle
141 West 10th Street
New York, NY 10014

Staff Meal Details

Chef John Mooney weighs in.

Staff meal food costs:
I go through and I find some things I want to use up or that we have surplus of.

Size of staff meal:
12 people

Time of staff meal:

Worst staff meal:
The kitchen never eats bad. But I did work in some hotels where everything is brought in from industrial food service. I didn’t even eat it.

Favorite staff meal ever:
One of my first experiences working in Chicago was at Ambria, a four-star restaurant. Everyone ate a 4:30pm, and if you didn’t do a nice staff meal, you would hear about it. The chef—he was Basque—was very serious, but the food was always good. We had all the bistro classics: osso buco, kick-ass cassoulet. They would serve wine, too.

John Mooney is a chef who knows a thing or two about sustainability (he wasn’t crowned our 2011 New York City Sustainability Chef for nothing). Along with produce from his hydroponic rooftop gardens, Mooney packs his creative menu at Bell Book & Candle with local and sustainable proteins, often brought in whole hog (quite literally in the case of his Berkshire pigs).

»Click to enlarge

Sous Chef Tony Sanchez shows off staff meal at Bell Book & Candle The Bell Book & Candle team crowd into the kitchen to share staff meal Pork Stir Fry with Black Beans for staff meal at Bell Book & Candle

Nothing is more sustainable than the clean-out-the-cupboards mentality of staff meal at this West Village restaurant. The meal comes together “on the fly” after Mooney scours the line for surplus and prep from the night before. Pork butt from butchering those Berkshires ends up in stir fry, fish trim is added to winter stews, and—on lucky afternoons—the staff shares the few pieces of fried chicken leftover from the regular Monday night special. The dessert station is another continuous source of extras, complete with a sugar high. “No one complains about scraps of brownies, cookies, or bread pudding,” says Mooney.

That roof-top garden—60 vertical towers tended by Mooney, using skills he picked up working in restaurants in Orlando and India—helps make these staff meals even more soul-satisfying. His small staff crowds around the kitchen-side chef’s table to dine together, munching on chicory and baby arugula salads. While the vegetarians on staff appreciate the guaranteed meat-free option the garden provides, this in-house grocer also helps keep staff meals substantial and nutritious for the entire crew. “We have surplus from the roof, loads of great vegetables that normally you wouldn’t see in staff meal,” says Mooney. “Lettuces and herbs—normally you would be selling that stuff, but we use it for staff.” Whether it’s tomato soup topped with fresh basil or the weekly roasted chicken with garden herbs, Mooney’s green thumb keeps the bellies at Bell Book & Candle’s happy and full.