What Do Chefs Eat at Work? From Pig-Head Pozole to Cheese Steaks, Notes on Restaurant Staff Meals
This week's review is of Cocina Economica Mexico on the Upper West Side, where Pedro Hernandez Perez was put in charge of a Mexican kitchen after winning over David Bank and the Land Thai team with the family meals he prepared, inspired by his hometown of Puebla. To celebrate good family meals (the ones that sustain cooks in between the mediocre ones), Fork asked a few chefs and restaurateurs about their favorites. Here's what they said:
Alex Raij, Txikito
Txikito's family meals are better than La Vara's, in all honesty. The two best dishes are a pozole made with suckling-pig heads, and pork ribs (or chops) in salsa verde. We always make salad and rice too.
Bill Telepan, Telepan
Every Saturday, the Ecuadorian butchers at Telepan prepare a great marinated chicken meal using a traditional spice blend of chile powder, oregano, orange juice, onion, paprika, lime juice, and cilantro. My sous chef, Kenny, grew up in Chinatown and makes a great sweet and sour pork whenever he's in charge of the meal. When it's my turn, my go-to dish is Italian beef sandwiches -- Chicago-style.
Dale Talde, Talde
When I was just a line cook at Vong, the chef was Geoff Felsenthal, one of my mentors. The day before Thanksgiving, he commissioned all the sous chefs to make a perfect family meal. Growing up Filipino, I never had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner -- just shitty turkey and lumpy mashed potatoes. But the turkey was bomb, the gravy was bangin', the stuffing was amazing (it was this cornbread stuffing with jalapeño and cheddar), and there was perfect creamed spinach. The pastry chef made pumpkin pie and pecan pie and it meant a lot to everyone -- a lot of the cooks at Vong weren't from Chicago, so this was the only meal they'd be having that Thanksgiving.
Gabe Thompson, Epicurean Management
My favorite family meal would definitely be at dell'anima over all our other restaurants (though we've had some great ones at L'Apicio lately). For lunch recently, the team made a tomato and sausage risotto that was super delicious, just really hearty and perfect for a cold winter day. We also have "chicken parties," which could include anything from roasted chicken to fried chicken wings (we just call it a chicken party to make it sound more fun), but it's always amazing and comes with killer sides.
Alessandra Altieri, Bouchon Bakery
My favorite staff meals are the ones that are indulgent. Pulled pork sandwiches, or cheese steaks, and then an ice cream sandwich made with chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Those are the staff meals that the whole team gets excited about, and they're a fun treat in the middle of a long and sometimes stressful day.
Joey Campanaro, The Little Owl
We buy the whole loin to butcher for chops, and to grind for our meatballs, so we end up with leftover pork. This leads to regular "pork night" family meals where all the tasty extras are made into anything from tacos al pastor, to barbecue pork chilaquiles, to saucy pork enchiladas. Sometimes our leftover bolognese from the Campanaro Family Lasagna is transformed into chili for staff meal and served with a "potato bar" with heaps of English farmhouse cheddar, crème fraiche, scallions, and more toppings. That might be one of my favorites.
Laura Maniec, Corkbuzz
Chef Hayan Yi's Korean spare ribs, made with spicy bean paste, served with scallion fried rice, is one of the best family meals she's ever prepared. She loves making simple, delicious food (and the spicy Korean bean sauce paired perfectly with a Riesling Spätlese!).
Elwyn Boyles, Per Se
Fish and chips! We have some English cooks on the team here who take great pride in their batter and tartar sauce. They love to make it and I love to eat it! And to complete the British affair, we make a sherry trifle -- it was always a favorite of mine growing up.
Marc Murphy, Landmarc
At Landmarc, our sous chef is Peruvian and we love putting him in charge to make his amazing chicken pio, which is marinated with cayenne, paprika, cumin, and garlic, then roasted. He always serves it with a cool pickled cucumber salad to complement the spicy chicken -- it's addictive. At Ditch Plains, we're lucky to always have a ton of leftover seafood, which we use to make everything from a seafood salad to a seafood-and-chicken paella (we make that with a seafood bouillabaisse from service). Empanadas are a staff favorite and a crowd-pleaser, so they end up making an appearance quite often.
Jesse Schenker, Recette
In the kitchen at Recette we have a great mix of ethnicities: Korean, Turkish, Filipino, Chinese, so it's a real treat when each person cooks from their roots. But my favorite is Korean noodles with pork, shrimp, and kimchi sauce. It's kind of a mish-mash of Korean flavors -- spicy, salty, and delicious.
Philippe Bertineau, Benoit
Our meals change daily, but my favorite thing that we eat together is a slow-cooked oxtail. We serve it family-style with vegetables, like celery, onion, potatoes, and carrots.
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