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  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Skeffington fine-tunes the sandwiches, which were the main course for staffers in this edition of Firehouse’s “family meal.” The restaurant schedules three such gatherings every day. Executive chef Deneb Williams says offerings often include grilled chicken, pizza, artisan grilled cheese with heirloom tomatoes and soups.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Zach Skeffington prepares the Firehouse Restaurant’s lunch staff meal on Aug. 26, pepper bacon and cheese sandwiches.

  • Owen Franken

    Find French farmhouse chicken in “Come In, We’re Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World’s Best Restaurants.”

  • Jason Lowe

    Warm white bean, bacon and spinach salad is a behind-the-scenes recipe that comes from The Fat Duck in Bray, England, one of the upscale restaurants visited by the book’s authors.

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Zach Skeffington made pepper bacon and provolone cheese sandwiches with a pepper aioli, and a side salad, for a staff lunch meal on Aug. 26 at the Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento.

  • Joshua McDonnell

    “Come In, We’re Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World’s Best Restaurants”

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. /

    Pastry chef Terry Glodrey, right, and assistant pastry chef Ian Cornelius eat their lunch meal last week in the staff break room at the Firehouse, where each day there are three “family meals.”

More Information

  • Restaurant economies shift with minimum-wage increase
  • Vaca family members are secret stars of Sacramento’s restaurant kitchens

    “Come In, We’re Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World’s Best Restaurants” by Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy ( Running Press, $35, 320 pages)


  • French farmhouse chicken and potato bake

    Serves 4 to 6

    From Villa 9 Trois in Montreuil, France: This is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” dishes. It embodies everything lovely about French farmhouse cooking, minimal fuss using fresh ingredients for maximum impact, plus there’s scant cleanup – it’s all done in the same pan.

    The real revelation is that the chicken is stuffed with an herb-packed soft French farmer’s cheese. (We used cream cheese instead, but goat’s cheese or Boursin would work, too.) As the chicken bakes, the cheese inside the bird melts into a fragrant and oozing sauce. After being scooped from the cavity, it dresses the potatoes as well as the chicken.

    Executive chef Stéphane Reynaud believes that roasts like this one are the perfect staff meal but are also useful for home entertaining. Prepared well in advance and served directly from oven to table, they leave ample time for the cook to enjoy their guests, and a cocktail, too. Reprinted with permission from “Come In, We’re Closed.”

    Note: Wild fennel can be approximated by using the soft, feathery fronds left intact on untrimmed storebought fennel.


    medium Yukon gold potatoes (about 21/2 pounds), unpeeled, cut into large cubes

    medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped

    rosemary sprigs

    bay leaves

    tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    cups cream cheese, at room temperature

    tablespoons finely chopped basil

    tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

    3  tablespoons finely chopped chives

    tablespoons finely chopped wild fennel (see note above)

    Freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste

    large (41/2-pound) whole chicken


    Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the potatoes and onions in a roasting pan large enough for the chicken. Add the rosemary, bay leaves and olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss well to coat.

    In a small bowl, stir together the cheese, basil, cilantro, chives and fennel. Season with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.

    Season the chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Stuff the bird’s cavity with the cheese mixture, then tie the two legs together with kitchen twine or twist tie. Bend the wings underneath the bird, and place the chicken breast-side-up on top of the potatoes and onions. Drizzle everything, including the chicken breasts, with olive oil.

    Roast for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and continue to roast for about 45 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the size of your bird, or until the skin is dark brown and crispy, the juices run clear at the joint when it is punctured with a thermometer, and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

    Remove the chicken from the oven, transfer to a cutting board, and snip off the twine. With a sharp, heavy knife or heavy-duty kitchen scissors, cut the chicken down the center of the breastbone, splitting it to reveal its molten cheese interior. Measure out about 1/2 cup of the melted cheese and mix it directly in the roasting pan with the potatoes and onions, making sure to incorporate the drippings. Scoop out any remaining melted cheese into a bowl and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice; keep warm.

    Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and serve with the potatoes, onions, and extra melted cheese for slathering over the chicken.

  • Warm white bean, bacon and spinach salad

    Serves 4 to 6

    From The Fat Duck in Bray, England: Whether fried to fragile crispness or ground to make a remarkable burger, bacon seems to be the only ingredient that 9 out of 10 cooks would feed each other.

    Consequently, staff meal is the stage upon which their bacon love affair unfolds. Here, The Fat Duck employs fried lardons – neat 3/8-inch rectangles cut from an enormous slab of Alsatian bacon – to weave a touch of smoke into tender white beans cooked in a pressure cooker (though we have given stovetop directions below).

    Part side dish, part salad, these beans partner well with slow-cooked roasts or swordfish steaks but also make a nice light lunch on their own. Reprinted with permission from “Come In, We’re Closed.”


    pound dried cannellini beans

    Kosher salt to taste

    pound slab Alsatian bacon, cut into lardons (see note above)

    10  shallots, thinly sliced

    tablespoons Champagne vinegar

    ounces baby spinach

    Freshly ground black pepper to taste


    In a large pot, cover the beans with cold water in excess of 3 inches and set aside overnight. (For a quick soaking method, bring the water to a boil over high heat and immediately take the pot off the heat. Set aside, covered, for 1 hour before proceeding.)

    Drain the soaked beans, rinsing under cold water until it runs clear. Transfer them to a large pot with enough water to cover by 2 inches, and enough salt to taste like the sea. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are fully tender and creamy in the center, 1 to 11/2 hours. Drain and keep warm.

    In a skillet over medium-high heat, fry the bacon until golden and crispy, about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the shallots, and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Increase the heat, add the vinegar, and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked beans, stir to combine, and season well with salt and pepper.

    Heap the spinach onto a serving platter and spoon the warm beans over the top. The heat from the beans will gently wilt the spinach below. Serve immediately.

    Extra beans will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for several days.

    Before being sliced, slab bacon must be stripped of its tough rind. Don’t discard! It is an excellent stock and soup enhancer. Just add directly to the pot, and remove before serving. If slab bacon is not available, an equal weight of unsliced Italian pancetta can be substituted. If only sliced bacon is available, buy the thickest-cut slices for an approximate substitution.

‘Family meal’ feeds restaurant staff

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2014 - 12:52 pm

At many of the top restaurants in Sacramento and throughout much of the world, employees sit down to a meal of their own, usually right before the restaurant starts to fill up for dinner. At the venerable and very busy Firehouse Restaurant in Old Sacramento, there are three staff meals scheduled throughout the day, and sometimes as many 60 employees partake.

The food for “family meal,” as it is known to industry insiders, is often very different from what the guests enjoy. It tends to be less fussy and fancy, but perhaps more purposeful. The food needs to give waiters and bussers, cooks and dishwashers the energy to power through hours of hustle and bustle without fading.

If an ambitious cook is assigned to do the honors, however, he or she might venture to get creative and dazzle co-workers, thereby making an impression that might lead to advancement. Sitting down to eat these meals is also a way to foster camaraderie, catch up on gossip and perhaps talk about issues related to making the restaurant even better.

“I’ve never understood places that didn’t do staff meals. As a boss, I need my staff not to keel over. I need them focused, as ready as possible, energized,” Tony Maws, owner/chef of Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Mass., told the authors of “Come In, We’re Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World’s Best Restaurants.”

In their entertaining and illuminating book, Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy bring staff meals to light, explain the dynamic that makes them meaningful and, most important, make a strong case that family meal is much more than feeding hungry staffers. It is a crucial component of a restaurant’s success.

In his foreword to this book, legendary modernist chef Ferran Adria of the former elBulli in Spain states that “what is served to the staff does not correlate with the cuisine of the establishment. But I insist, where the cooks eat well, you will eat better.”

Several of the included recipes are accessible for entry-level home cooks, and many others are involved enough to keep the interest of foodies.

Why is it called “family meal?” For one, the food is usually served family-style, piled onto plates that allow employees to grab what they desire. Second, a successful restaurant staff is one big (mostly) happy family. Adria saw this meal as so important that in 2011 he published a book of recipes called “The Family Meal.”

Who does the cooking? Probably not the executive chef, who is busy focusing on the food for guests. Usually, every line cook gets a chance to cook this meal. Sometimes, those trying out for a job or “staging” (working for the experience but without pay) might be tasked with whipping up a family meal.

“Come In, We’re Closed” says that whoever is assigned to cook the meal generally has an hour from start to finish. And it all takes place after prepping for dinner service and before actually cooking for dinnertime customers.

What is the right approach? Make something hearty and nourishing? Attempt to dazzle? Or hone a recipe and get staff feedback before placing it on the menu? All the options are there. The only limitation is the ingredients.

“Staff meal recipes normally involve the offcuts, leftovers and excess from a day of kitchen prep,” the authors write. “This leads to fantastic meals built around the trimmings from pricier proteins. Consequently, while the chicken breasts land on the customers’ plates, the thighs are staff meal staples. Homemade smoked paprika sausages, Caesar pasta salad and ‘sashimi style’ steamed thighs with ponzu sauce are just a few of the happy results.”

In writing their book and compiling its recipes, Carroll and Eddy traveled to these first-rate restaurants and sat down to eat with employees.

“To our delight, the staff meals we experienced were ripe with inexplicable quirks, and unanticipated contradictions,” they write.

The book showcases meals from an eclectic mix of highly regarded restaurants, including Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller’s casual restaurant in Yountville; The Fat Duck outside London; Morimoto in Philadelphia; and The Slanted Door, the modern Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco, to name a few.

Each restaurant provides several recipes that fit a range of styles of cooking and eating. Each chapter includes a Q&A with a chef or cook from the restaurant in question.

Maws, of Craigie on Main, says the daily family meal at 2:45 p.m. is a must, no matter how swamped the kitchen is.

Closer to home, the Firehouse (which is not in the book) serves the staff a meal at 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Executive chef Deneb Williams says family meal includes dishes such as grilled chicken, pizza, artisan grilled cheese with heirloom tomatoes and plenty of soups. Longtime line cook Miguel Rangel often cooks the breakfast family meal, and his food, Williams says, is so good it has become the stuff of Firehouse lore.

“These meals serve a dual purpose,” Williams said. “First, you get everybody fed. It can be really distracting to work with food when you’re hungry. It’s also a great opportunity for people to sit down, take a little break and have a little camaraderie.”

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

Read more articles by Blair Anthony Robertson

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