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Features 2 minutes 15 June 2017

Why Restaurants Still Cook Their Own Staff Meals At The Expense of Time And Effort

It's all about team bonding and reducing wastage at these two restaurants.

chef Sustainability

In this day and age, when chefs and kitchens are geared towards delivering their best service, the staff meal prepared by their own chefs and cooks to fuel up during break time has fallen by the wayside. Food is instead catered, as all time and energy is reserved for service operations.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case at Odette and The Kitchen at Bacchanalia which makes it a point to cook their own staff meals regularly. In the case for The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, that’s part of the daily routine, while chef Julien Royer of Odette reports that they do so thrice a week; on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

“It’s better when we cook,” says chef Royer. “It puts people in a good mood when we have something that tastes good. This takes us back to the notion of delivering happiness through our food. We do it for our guests [and] it’s the same for our team.”

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The staff of The Kitchen at Bacchanalia sitting together for a meal. Photography by Wong Weiliang.
The staff of The Kitchen at Bacchanalia sitting together for a meal. Photography by Wong Weiliang.
Reducing Wastage
The feel-good factor of a communal meal is not all there is to the picture. In fact, there’s a serious message of managing the restaurant business as well as encouraging sustainability and reducing food wastage — common factors for both restaurants.

“A restaurant should be very conscious of wastage, especially a fine dining restaurant where you are buying top products,” asserts chef Luke Armstrong who helms The Kitchen at Bacchanalia. “Most important thing you hear me say all day is that nothing should go in the bin.”

One example he cites are peaches from Okinawa. To maximise the fruit, every part of the peach is used. The cheeks are served to restaurant guests with foie gras, hazelnuts and green beans while the tops are used as a dessert for the staff meal.

“We make a little froth, whip up some cream, add some peach tops and add some digestive biscuits as a dessert for the guys,” says Armstrong. That approach extends to as many of the ingredients that they bring in as possible, from rhubarb to pigeon.

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Staff meals being prepared at The Kitchen by Bacchanalia. Photography by Wong Weiliang
Staff meals being prepared at The Kitchen by Bacchanalia. Photography by Wong Weiliang
Over at Odette, the same messages of sustainability applies. “They use whatever we have in the chiller to make (the staff meal),” he says. “If we have a lot of onions and carrots, we use them. There was a time when we had a lot of eggplants. (The staff) basically have to learn to manage stock and not waste anything.”

The staff meals can also be a time when the chefs test out an ingredient.

“Last week, one of our suppliers delivered tomatoes. They aren’t in season yet, but we still needed to taste them,” says Adam Wan, Odette’s sous chef. “So, I made a nice tomato salad with stracciatella cheese and basil. Very classic, very tasty.”

Balancing Time
Both restaurants also maintain that it’s a matter of balancing time and effort for these meals with service operations. At Odette, where the headcount is about 30, food is kept simple yet comforting.

“When you cook staff meals, you cannot do something fancy because it’ll make your day really busy,” says Royer.

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The staff of Odette helping themselves to burgers and fries. Photo credit: Odette.
The staff of Odette helping themselves to burgers and fries. Photo credit: Odette.
Wan adds: “It’s mostly comfort food like burgers and pizza. One time, we made tacos!”

The same is seen at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia, though the team makes sure the food that’s served is nutritious and well-balanced. Here, the headcount is at 12 – less than half of Odette’s. When we dropped in on one staff meal, it was chicken curry with a side of grilled chicken breast, risotto and vegetables.

The team starts preparing around 3pm and tuck in to a communal style meal around 4:30pm. Over at Odette, the food is cooked from 2pm and the food is laid out on the pass by 5pm.

“For 15 to 20 minutes, we sit, talk, and laugh,” says Royer. “It’s like family.”

“There’s a huge hierarchy [in the kitchen],” says Armstrong. “But at the end of the day we are all just guys and girls trying to achieve one very special thing, and that is to have a very nice restaurant.”

Recommended reading: Fascinated by kitchen life? Read more of such stories here.

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