"Local" filmmaker chews on Staff Meals

Christian Remde has turned his lens on local restos' staff meals

Christian Remde
Christian Remde

Austin filmmaker Christian Remde (see "That Time of the Month") has many irons in the fire these days. Specifically, Remde has gone from the farm to the kitchen in a new series of docs focused on staff meals at local restaurants.

The first entry into the series was the elegant behind-the-scenes look at Uchi Houston and starring a certain local Top Chef winner.

This month's film centers on the pre-shift meals at Rene Ortiz's downtown interior Mexican hotspot, La Condesa. In it Ortiz explains that not only do the staff meals help energize the staff, but also helps the restaurant reduce waste.

I was fortunate enough to be at the La Condesa staff meals shoot back in April and it was nothing like the communal dining experience I had as a server at chain restaurants back in the day (difference #1: we had to pay for our staff meals at California Pizza Kitchen!). The staff meal that day was a buffet of Thai food: a spicy stew of potatoes and chicken, a vegetable curry, rice, and a watermelon and feta salad. The hostesses occupied a table to themselves, bright butterflies amid a sea of waitstaff in muted guayaberas and apron-clad cooks. The meal started out quietly, with conversation and laughter swelling as bellies are slowly filled. Ortiz and pastry chef Laura Sawicki lsat in a neighboring booth, not eating, but chatting congenially with staff while also hammering out future menu ideas.

Then, just as quickly as it began, the meal was over. Chairs scraped on concrete and cooks spooned one last tiny bit of food onto their plates before heading back to the kitchen to finish prepping for evening service. The front-of-ouse staff moved at a much more leisurely pace; the dining room was set up for service. Meanwhile, hungry patrons began to gather in the bar, waiting for the restaurant to officially open for dinner at 5pm. It was fascinating insight into what team-building looks like for industry workers (and provided a tiny maybe-preview into the flavors we can expect at Ortiz's forthcoming restaurant, Sway).

Remde's staff meals series (in addition to the two mentioned here, Remde hopes release two or three more) offers a unique perspective on aspects of the restaurant scene that most diners don't consider but might find compelling.

"The idea for Staff Meals really came about from spending so much time in kitchens and restaurants and seeing the staff put together their own meals before service," says Remde. "I had never really thought about what the front of house and back of house ate before they started serving everyone else, and it really interested me. I wanted to pull back the curtain a little and give people a look at what goes on behind the scenes at some amazing restaurants."

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christian remde, la condesa, uchi, paul qui, rene ortiz, laura sawicki

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