Inside Staff Meal: 2012 ICC Chefs Know Best

by Katherine Sacks
Antoinette Bruno and Will Blunt
August 2012

Our 7th Annual International Chefs Congress presenters have seen their fair share of staff meals over the years. And while savvy chefs put in the time, care, and decent product necessary to nourish the crew, the rush of service, a novice line cook, or an empty walk-in can all result in a meal that is less than satisfying. And most of the tried and true culinary pros that make up our ICC roster have seen the best, and worst, of it. From repeated staff favorites and holiday celebrations to trial-and-errors and ruined proteins, ICC chefs share their best and worst family meal memories.

The Best and Worst Staff Meals

Bart Bell
2012 New Orleans Rising Star Chef Bart Bell of Crescent Sausage & Co – New Orleans, LA

The Best:
Last Mardi Gras Saturday night, just before service, I bought king cakes for everyone on staff. Then I announced that we would be closed until Ash Wednesday. Everyone roared and stuffed their faces with cake.

The Worst:
I thought it would be “fun” to have Krystal burgers, corn dogs, and tater tots! It was all from the frozen food section and tasted like it too! Luckily, I bought ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

Jason Bond
Chef Jason Bond of Bondir – Cambridge, MA

The Best:;
The ones I have made, obviously. Especially meals of slow-cooked ribs and corn bread, slaw, and some melon salad. All stuff that is cheap, easy, basically set it and forget it.

The Worst:
The guys would save up the previous day’s glacé vegetables and just boil them. It was like boiled radish stew with a slick of grease on top. They called it Captain’s Stew. 

In the Middle:
I worked with a Brazilian guy who, when I gave him a bunch of hot dogs and buns, made this tomato and onion stew and cooked the dogs in that. Not what we expected, but pretty good. 

Brian Landry
2012 New Orleans Rising Star Chef Brian Landry of Borgne – New Orleans, LA

The Best:
Ropa Vieja, or “old clothes.” It's a traditional meal of leftovers: chickpeas stewed with chorizo, pork, onion, celery, garlic, and piquillo peppers.

The Worst:
Tomato Skin Pasta–all of the tomato skins that won’t go through the food mill over penne pasta with olive oil and garlic. Even the addition of basil and Parmesan didn’t help. 

Alex Stupak
2005 Chicago Rising Star Pastry Chef Alex Stupak of Empellón Cocina – New York, NY

The Best:
Thanksgiving dinner is usually the best. Yesterday at Empellón Taqueria we had a shrimp and corn chowder with open-face egg salad sandwiches; that was pretty great.

Joe Campanale
2011 New York Rising Star Restaurateur Joe Campanale of dell‘Anima – New York, NY

The Best:
I always love the staff meals at dell'Anima, I think they're really fantastic, but one time we did a staff meal trade with the guys at Fatty Crab. We both tried to make something very delicious for the other guys, and it was a lot of fun!

The Worst:
The worst staff meal was when we were opening dell'Anima. We were so busy that there wasn’t always time to cook staff meal and we would sometimes order in pizza. One day I was so busy setting up the restaurant for service that I couldn’t eat, and I put my slice in the walk-in for later. By the time I could settle down and eat, the pizza was very cold and gross and with the open kitchen I wasn't going to ask the guys to warm it up!

Shawn Gawle

2011 New York Rising Star Pasty Chef Shawn Gawle of Saison – San Francisco, CA

The Best:
Sushi rice with soft scrambled eggs, kumquat rice wine dressing, and avocado

The Worst:
Pig ear and tongue nachos

Jennifer Carroll
Chef Jennifer Carroll of Concrete Blonde – New York, NY

The Best:
At Le Bernardin after a long hard Saturday night service we would have Wagyu Fried Rice mixed with all the stations's leftover vegetables and herbs. Then we would add eggs, a lot of ginger, garlic, sriracha, and a few splashes of our special imported Japanese soy sauce. One cook would whip this up while the rest of us cleaned so when we were all finished we could sit down together and celebrate the end of the week. An added bonus was the one ice cold beer we got on Saturday nights. Double bonus: anything left over from Michael Laiskonis in the pastry kitchen.

The Worst:
I won't say which hotel, but it was pretty much anything served in their cafeteria. It was almost always leftover, overcooked banquet food. The cereal was even stale half the time. Needless to say I pretty much never ate there.

Dirk Flannigan
2011 Chicago Rising Star Chef Dirk Flanigan of Henri and The Gage – Chicago, IL

The Best:
Not so sure it’s the best, but the staff enjoys when I make Yet Ca Mein with Hard Boiled Eggs, Roasted Pork Belly, Scallions, and Togarashi. They also like when I make Fish Curry.

The Worst:
The Gage had just opened and we were corralling a turkey dinner with peas, skin-on mashed potatoes, and fresh rolls with butter. Everything is going as planned and everyone has a different task, so the job will be completed and the 30 FOH [front of the house] and 20 BOH [back of the house] can eat. I asked one of the new cooks to get some chicken stock onto the sliced, freshly roasted turkey, cover it with foil, and put it into the oven for a few minutes for heating. Food comes up and everyone is like, “Man, the turkey is sweet.” Everyone seems very happy, but then I keep hearing sweet so much that I’m like what the hell is going on. I taste the turkey, and man was it sweet! I ask the cook, “Hey man, please show me the chicken stock you used for the turkey.” We walk into the walk-in, and the ladle is still in it. I say, ”Oh you left your ladle in it. Well you should have read the blue tape that SAYS SIMPLE SYRUP!” So yes the turkey was sweet! And for the rest of the cook’s short tenure at The Gage, he was referred no longer by his name but by “Simple Syrup.” You could imagine: ”Hey Simple Syrup, fire two risotto, four scotch eggs. Simple Syrup, how long on two F and C? Add a poutine to that pick up.”