Come In, We're Closed: Staff Meal at Uchi
New cookbook reveals behind-the-scenes goodness
By Kate Thornberry, 12:35AM, Mon. Oct. 22, 2012
Recently, Running Press brought out a new cookbook by Christine Carroll and Jody Eddy called, Come In, We're Closed that shares the recipes used in typical staff meals at 25 of the world's most renowned restaurants.
For the uninitiated, a staff or "family" meal is a fairly wide-spread tradition of serving your restaurant workers a meal before service begins. In a popular restaurant, once you get busy, nobody eats, sometimes for as long as six hours. It's just a good policy to give your workers a little fuel in their tanks!
Staff meals usually make use of ingredients that can't be served to customers (such as chicken thighs, fish tails, and prawn heads), things the kitchen manager ordered too much of, and items whose shelf life is expiring. At the incredibly successful restaurants featured in the cookbook however, ingredients are sometimes ordered especially for the staff meal. The responsibility for cooking it usually rotates around the kitchen, so that it doesn't become an undue burden on anyone. As a result, it has come in recent years to be a time when cooks toward the low end of the totem pole can be creative, strut their stuff and showcase their talents for the rest of the staff, including the executive chefs.
Austin's own Uchi was singled out as "One of the World's Best Restaurants", meriting a chapter in the book. To get the word out, a few of Austin's food writers were invited to share Uchi's staff meal on Saturday afternoon.
I know this won't come as much of a surprise, but it's true: Uchi's staff meal is better than most restaurant meals the rest of us pay top dollar for. I asked several Uchi folks if the staff meal I enjoyed was perhaps a tad more excellent that the usual fare (after all, the press was there!) and to a man, the answer was no: it was a very typical one, consisting of a curry (always a good way to use leftovers), rice, kimchee, Uchi's famous Brussels sprouts, condiments, and a green papaya salad.
The curry was Indonesian, a Sumatran "Randang" replete with cubes of japanese eggplant, pork, hot peppers, and Thai basil, all floating in a red chile and coconut sauce.
It was actually divine, and acclaimed by food critic Claudia Alarcon as "the best curry I have ever had." Uchi's Brussels sprouts are roasted to a simultaneously crisp yet soft perfection, then doused with fresh lemon juice and tamari, a dish that is unlikely to ever leave the menu, it is so popular and delicious. The kimchee was fresh and tangy without being overpowering, the green papaya salad refreshing, slightly crunchy, and enlivened by delicate leaves of cilantro.
If the recipes in Come in, We're Closed are anywhere near as good as Uchi's staff meal was on Saturday, this cookbook is bound to be a winner.