Inside Staff Meal at Manresa: FOH Takeover

by Katherine Sacks
Katherine Sacks
April 2012


Staff Meal Details

Chef de Cuisine Chef Jessica Largey weighs in.

Staff meal food costs:
We don’t really have a strict budget, it’s pretty open-ended.

Size of staff meal:
35 people

Time of staff meal:

Worst staff meal:
Pasta with Bordelaise scrap from stock base; it was horrible.

Favorite staff meal ever:
Probably here, when David had his favorite place in New Orleans ship muffalettas. And JP [Chef John Paul Carmona]’s pastrami, hands down.

It’s Sunday, and your prep is totally wiped from the Friday/Saturday rush. There’s not even a single, solitary mise cup of micro greens left to garnish your asparagus-fava-nettle risotto. Sure, you only need to prep for one or two days, but—looking at an empty low-boy—that list is a disaster (and the hangover creeping in from last night isn’t helping). Staff meal is the last thing you want to think about come Sunday.

The Manresa crew digs into family meal Staff meal at Los Gatos' Manresa

If you’re a cook at Manresa, Chef David Kinch’s temple of biodynamic produce and inventive cuisine, you don’t have to. Because on Sundays, this Los Gatos restaurant has a tradition that spreads the family meal love: the cooks hand over the reins to the front-of-the-house staff. And just like the chefs, who follow a loose weekly cooking schedule, the wait staff, sommeliers, managers, and bussers follow their own calendar. “It rotates, and everyone has to do it. Some people cook at home; some people do it here,” says Chef de Cuisine Jessica Largey. On the Sunday that we happened in on the fun, Wine Director Jeff Bareilles was dressed in chef whites, deep frying downright addictive fried chicken—given an extra dose of love thanks to a few hours of sous vide tenderizing—for a meal worthy of a true day of rest.

During the rest of the week, staff meal returns to the hands of Manresa’s chefs. Largey usually handles the duty on Wednesdays, when the crew—just back from their Monday/Tuesday break—is really in the weeds. And everyone else pitches in, cooking all-American classics like the fried chicken and burgers, and also gumbo and muffaletta sandwiches in homage to Kinch’s New Orleans hometown.

You’d think that a restaurant that sources the majority of its produce from biodynamic Love Apple Farms would follow the typical staff meal use-it-up credo. But remarkably, the kitchen crew has utilization down pat, using every last ounce of veg scraps on their menu, in items like a foam for Kinch’s “garden” dish and vegetable beignets. “Most of the food for staff meal we bring in because we use all the prep in dishes on the menu,” says Largey. “We could use leftover prep for staff meal, but it’s all utilized. I think it’s great that we plan it out like that.”

And while they don’t splurge, the restaurant also doesn’t keep it too cheap when it comes to feeding the staff. “It’s pretty open-ended,” says Largey. “We want to have good staff meals so people are happy going into service.”

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