The Google Cafe: A Look Inside the Venice Binoculars
There is a somewhat mythical place where engineers and food obsessives converge. A place that isn't exactly a club, nor is it a restaurant, but it is Fort Knox-level difficult to get into and they certainly do serve pretty terrific food. For free. It's the offices of Google. And if you like to eat, this is the place to work.
Recently, Squid Ink took a peek behind the doors of the Frank Gehry-designed Binoculars Building on Main Street in Venice (former home of the Chiat/Day advertising agency.) We took a tour of the decked-out kitchens, the Google Café, the coffee bar, the edible garden, the citrus grove, the multiple themed snack and beverage bars, the barbecue pit and juice bar -- all of which left us somewhat awestruck at the level of eco-consciousness. And hungry.
According to CNN Money, Google is the best company in the country to work for -- and we wonder if its commitment to food factors into that. Every Googler (yes, they're really called that; at this location the Googlers are primarily engineers) is fed by chef Michael Brown, formerly of Red O and Patina. Every day, Brown is tasked with feeding 500-plus people good-for-you breakfasts and lunches, and he is given free rein to make what he pleases. With the luxury to use the highest quality ingredients he does it right. The meat is all natural, sustainable and humanely raised; the vegetables are primarily organic. Farms it supports (Windrose Farm and McGrath Family Farms feature heavily) are listed on a chalkboard so everyone knows where the goodness came from.
This is Google, and it isn't just about the food, it's about a holistic approach to eating. Health included. To that end, you can bet the behind-the-scenes team researched how to make sure everything works toward that. (We guess that research probably was something more than just, well, Googling it.) So they know that portion-controlled sweets should be placed below eye level to encourage eating something else, like some of the fresh and dried fruit that's piled up everywhere; and plate size/color really does affect how much you serve yourself. That said, if you still want chips, they're available, albeit maybe made with flax seeds.
In the main dining area, called Google Cafe, there's a salad bar, a panini sandwich bar, a flatbread and pizza station, a charcuterie board and a cheese board, a beverage station, prepared salads, and what it calls a spa bar, which features low-calorie, whole-grain salads and side dishes (like wheatberry, farro and quinoa). Breakfast bar? Check. Frozen yogurt station? Yup. Every chafing dish, platter and bowl (about 32 choices) is labeled with primary ingredients and nutritional information and color-coded to indicate if it includes meat, fish or dairy.
The day we visited a few of the lunch choices included a prosciutto and arugula pizza; Greek-style wheatberry salad (cheese on the side); a classic Caesar; grilled sea bass with fennel and garlic; sous-vide seasonal vegetables; and a roasted lamb sandwich. Brown also accommodates vegans and those with gluten-free diets, and not as an afterthought.
Googlers also are treated to cooking classes by local chefs such as Josiah Citrin of Melisse, knife skills classes, and the occasional beer-making demo to keep them enticed.
Are there subtle complaints of the "Google 10 pounds"? Yes, but it also has a gym, and yoga classes and a full-time nutritionist -- and surfboards! So everyone there has no excuse. As for the rest of us, we think it's time to go finish that application to engineering school.
Rachael Narins is a Master Gardener and can be found on Twitter @chickswknives.
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