Most of the talk this week is of Thanksgiving cooking -- at home. But Come In, We're Closed: An Invitation to Staff Meals at the World's Best Restaurants by Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy is a coffee table-worthy title (part chef interviews, part recipes, loads of gorgeous photographs) "dedicated to the restaurants that feed their staff like family," as the authors tell us.
If you've ever worked at a top restaurant that takes care to feed employees as well as its customers -- for better and worse; even restaurants have bad stove-top nights here and there -- you know the subtleties of what that means. It's a reminder that many kitchen and front-of-house employees will not be home cooking with their families and friends on Thursday.
Should you work at a restaurant that is generous enough to provide a meal (it is not required), as Piccolo chef Doug Flicker notes, a "staff meal is greater than the sum of its parts. If we can't sit together, share a meal and take the time to have a laugh and inquire about each others' day... what kind of example are we setting for our guests?"
In the cookbook, recipes for shared meals at Piccolo follow, including slow-cooked red beans and ham hocks, cast-iron cornbread with maple-pecan butter, and celery root-almond slaw. In New York, Anita Lo includes her spicy kimchi, tofu and squid hot pot recipes. At Napa's Ubuntu, whey and brine-braised pork shoulder make the staff meal rounds (not a bad place to work). No L.A. restaurants are included, but no matter, as we have some great staff meals here.
But back to the cookbook (100+ recipes). If you look closely at the photographs, and on several staff dinner tables (though sure, mostly abroad), there are bottles of wine to go along with that creamy beet-pickled herring salad and pine-infused langoustines at Dill in Iceland. In the entry for London's St. John, Fergus Henderson's caraway seed cake is served with a "generous" glass of Madeira. A recipe toast to the staff, in essence.
And so if you're going out to one of our favorite L.A. restaurants for Thanksgiving this year, remember to toast the restaurant staff who are cooking that turkey and opening your wine bottles. You might even bring them a bottle of wine, as you would if you were headed to a friend's house for dinner on Thursday. As Stephen Stryjewski, chef and co-owner of Cochon in New Orleans, says in Come In, We're Closed, whether you are the customer or server, "Meals are about good company enhanced by good food & good wine."
Make it a table wine that they, too, can enjoy with their friends after service. Nothing too expensive. At Thanksgiving, we all want something with a distinct personality that isn't too pretentious, even better if it comes in a full liter bottle (we're particularly keen right now on Loca Linda's 2010 Malbec, a great value for the quality at $17/liter). Or maybe even the new generation of "pouch" wines (Clif Vineyards and others) as there is no breakage possibility in the kitchen. Or if you happened to get up to Santa Barbara the next few days, a wine growler To-Go from Municipal Winemaker's Dave Potter, who will be smiling when you arrive, as he always seems to be.
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It doesn't really matter -- as long as there's enough wine to share. Because, it's Thanksgiving. And as Piccolo's Flicker says, "What kind of example are we setting?" A truly shared dinner table, at home or at a restaurant.
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