Inside Staff Meal at Umu: Conservation Philosophy

by Katherine Sacks
Antoinette Bruno
March 2012


Chef Yoshinori Ishii of Umu – London, UK


14-16 Bruton Place
London, UK W1J 6LX
+44 (0)20 7499 8881

Staff Meal Details

Chef Mark Berden weighs in.

Staff meal food costs:
We try to use everything, but with large stuff like that we have to buy it. We budget 2 [British] pounds per person for protein.

Size of staff meal:
35 people

Time of staff meal:
11am and 5pm

Worst staff meal:
Pasta with white cream sauce, where the pasta is too al dente and the cream sauce that didn't have any sign of viscosity, thin as a river stream. It looked like a cereal breakfast.

Favorite staff meal ever:
At Umu, we call it "Thanh San's Happy Meal." One of our more experienced colleagues makes us a hearty Vietnamese meal every Saturday lunch. It’s delicious and it makes me happy.

At London’s Umu, the cuisine is all about simplicity and understated style. Yoshinori Ishii, a 2008 New York Rising Star, takes his serious sushi knowledge and creates a menu of clean lines and crisp flavors. Staff meal at the Burton Place restaurant is equally thoughtful. Keeping with the Asian theme, their staff meal applies the Japanese philosophy of Mottainai, a term that roughly translates to “a sense of regret concerning waste,” to the meal. “At Umu, we diligently work toward full utilization of all the ingredients we receive,” says Head Cook Mark Berden. “We use experience and ingenuity to make a great meal for the staff while not incurring any extra cost.”

Loin of Pork with Mushroom Sauce
Loin of Pork with Mushroom Sauce

Looking toward this ultimate conservationist goal, Umu staff meal makes the most of in-house prep, creating hearty meals framed around rice, soup, salad, and leftover proteins. Drawing from his Filipino heritage, a country where pork is one of the main sources of protein, Berden often prepares pork loin for staff meal. His Pork Loin with Mushroom Sauce features a rich, brined loin topped with a creamy sauce made from leftover mushrooms, and toasted scrap bread (care of Umu’s sister restaurant, Morton’s Club).

“As part of our Mottainai philosophy, we don't buy any pre-cooked or frozen meals,” says Berden. “Instead, we use the freshest leftover ingredients and turn it into a meal that gives us the energy to do service and live a healthy life, even in this business.” For Umu, staff meal is a complete study on conservation and happy, full stomachs, the ideal goal of any savvy (money saving) restaurant.