Archive for April, 2009

Grilled Pizza

grilled pizza Until a few years ago, I always preferred the pizza from my native state of New York to anything I found in California. The pizza in North County San Diego, where I grew up, was inedible as far as my family was concerned, so we always made our pizza at home. My mother’s pizzas were unparalleled by anything we could get at a local pizzeria — thick crust with a tangy tomato sauce laced with anchovies and black olives. When I moved to San Francisco years ago, I loved that I could finally buy a decent pizza. Right now, Oliveto, Pizzaiolo, and Dopo are my East Bay neighborhood favorites, with Pizzeria Delifina taking the gold medal for my all-around favorite local pie. Yet although these restaurants and many others offer wonderful Roma and Neopolitan-style pizzas, I still often make my own pies at home, especially now that I’ve discovered grilled pizza.

Yes, I am now grilling my pizzas. This may sound odd, but using your grill actually makes more sense than baking your pizza in an oven. Although people will disagree about toppings — sauce or fresh tomatoes? Anchovies or plain cheese? — it is universally known that you need a very hot oven to make a great crust. A home oven only reaches a max of 500 or, if you’re lucky, 550 degrees, while most grills get up to 600 degrees or hotter (mine gets up to 650 degrees). You’ll never replicate the intense radiant heat from a professional pizzeria oven at home, but using a barbecue grill will get you pretty close. Used with a pizza stone, your backyard grill becomes the perfect home pizza oven.

I also have a new dough recipe which is worth mentioning. I used to make my pizza dough the old fashioned way, kneading it by hand and then letting it rise in a bowl. But I recently tried a recipe from the New York Times Sunday Magazine and loved it. This recipe lets the paddle on your mixer do all the kneading, so it’s quick to make and pretty mess free. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can still knead the dough, but if you do have one, this recipe is so easy there’s no reason to ever buy pre-made dough again. Best of all, the final result is a moist pizza dough that crusts beautifully.

My new homemade pizza of choice is one made with wilted arugula, prosciutto, and Brie cheese. I love how the earthy and slightly peppery arugula tastes with the salty pork and oozy puddles of buttery cheese. It’s truly a match made in pizza heaven.

Why make your own pizza?

1. Homemade pizza is much less expensive than restaurant pizza, especially for a family of four. When I buy two pies at a local restaurant, I often spend over $40, but making two larger pizzas at home usually runs under $20 (and if I use only cheese, basil and tomatoes, I spend less than $10).

2. Making pizza is a great way to get your kids involved in the cooking process. My kids love to make and stretch dough, and slather toppings on their own pizzas. They take great pride in their finished pies and usually lick the plate clean.

3. Pizza night is just way more fun when everyone gets sticky dough on their hands.

pizza on the grill

Tips for baking a pizza on a grill:
1. Preheat the grill with the door closed at the highest possible setting.

2. Place the pizza stone on the grill before you turn on the heat or the stone will crack.

3. If you don’t have a peel, buy one. Pizza peels are a necessary investment if you don’t want to burn yourself.

4. Make sure your pizza peel is nicely floured before laying down the dough as you want the pizza to easily slide off. If the dough sticks to the peel, your toppings will fall onto the stone while your pizza stays on the peel. Before you try to slide the pizza onto your hot stone, give the peel a jiggle. If the pizza moves, you’re in good shape. If it seems stuck, carefully lift the edges of the dough and flick some flour underneath until you get some movement.

5. If you accidentally slide the pizza halfway off the stone, you can let it cook for a couple minutes and then the dough will be hard enough for you to pull it all back onto the stone without any permanent damage.

6. Your pizza will bake in 5-7 minutes on the grill, so be careful not to leave it on too long.

7. Always keep the grill closed when baking your pies

8. When checking for doneness, lift the pizza off the stone a bit to see if the bottom is getting too crisp. On a grill, the hot air doesn’t circulate but instead radiates upward so you can easily burn your crust if you’re not careful.

9. If using a gas grill, you may need to turn the heat down after cooking more than a couple of pizzas to avoid burning the dough.

Arugula, Prosciutto, and Brie Cheese Pizza

Arugula, Prosciutto, and Brie Cheese Pizza

Makes: 1 pizza

1 pound pizza dough (half of the NY Times Magazine recipe) already risen and then refrigerated for at least a half hour
2 cups fresh arugula
2 olive cloves smashed and chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped prosciutto
6 oz Brie (about a half-wedge) cut into ½ slices

1. Heat your grill with your pizza stone inside. For gas grills, heat on high for about 10 minutes. For charcoal grills, heat coals until white hot

2. While grill is warming, heat a large pan on medium-high on your stove top. When pan is hot, add 2 Tbsp olive oil, garlic and arugula and mix. Turn off heat and cover for 3-5 minutes, or until arugula is wilted.

3. Flour a solid surface, such as a stone or wooden counter top or large cutting board, and shape your pizza. You can stretch the dough or use a rolling pin to shape it into a 12 to 14-inch round.

4. Place dough on a floured pizza peel and drizzle the dough with remaining olive oil. Evenly sprinkle the arugula and prosciutto on top and then add the Brie slices. Dust the top with a dash of sea salt.

5. Jiggle the dough on the pizza peel to make sure it’s mobile and then place on top of the now hot pizza stone. Cover your grill and cook for 5-7 minutes or until the bottom of the crust is crisp and the top is lightly browned.

6. Slice and serve.


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Fresh Arugula and Tomato Pasta with Mozzarella Cheese

Ready for something easy, fast, and delicious? I have just the dish for you…

Now that it’s officially spring, sweet vegetables and fruits are making their way back into our markets. What better way to take advantage of spring arugula (which tastes more sweet than peppery this time of year) and early tomatoes than gently warmed in freshly cooked pasta. Add in some cubed fresh mozzarella, pecorino cheese, a bit of prosciutto and olive oil and you have a dinner that is both tasty and lovely to look at. As an extra bonus, this dish takes less than ten minutes to prep so you can spend your afternoon enjoying the sun.


Fresh Arugula and Tomato Pasta with Mozzarella Cheese
Makes: 4 large servings

1/2 lb spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine broken in half
2 cups washed arugula
1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
4 slices of prosciutto
1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

1. Cook pasta until al dente.
2. While pasta cooks, cube mozzarella, halve the tomatoes, and dice the prosciutto.
3. Set washed arugula, mozzarella, cut tomatoes, and prosciutto in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil and a dash of kosher or sea salt.


4. Drain cooked pasta, setting aside 1/2 cup of pasta water
5. Set hot pasta on top of arugula mixture and let sit for a minute. This will wilt the arugula and warm the tomatoes, cheese and prosciutto.


6. Add the olive oil and toss.
7. Top with a light coating of pecorino cheese and serve.

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Pizzaiolo’s Sunday Soup Supper

Pizzaiolo, that wonderful Italian restaurant in the Temescal District in Oakland, is hosting a community outreach dinner called Sunday Soup Supper this Sunday, April 26. Proceeds will benefit YEAH! (Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel), which is a local shelter.

Pizzaiolo hopes to serve “diverse segments of our neighborhood population together to eat delicious soup and bread.” Sounds good to me. Diners will pay on a sliding scale from $0 – $10. So if you can pay more, you do, and if you can’t, that’s okay too. The produce will mostly be donated by local farmers who regularly supply the Pizzaiolo kitchen.

It’s BYOB, so feel free to bring your own wine or beer.

Here are the details. Hope to see you there!

Date: Sunday, April 26
Time: 4:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Location: Pizzaiolo, 5008 Telegraph Ave (at 51st St), Oakland 94609
Cost: Sliding scale $0 – $10 per person; all are welcome!
The meal: Two soup options (one vegetarian), Acme bread, and BYOB

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Grilled Stuffed Artichokes

grilled stuffed artichokes

Artichokes are a deceptive vegetable. Their prickly and tough exterior makes them look not only inedible, but a bit dangerous to handle. Underneath those sharp and rough leaves, however, is a sweet and tender treat that is worth excavating. Left alone on the stalk, the artichoke morphs into an elaborate flower that looks a bit like a peacock with purple plumes. I often grow them in my side yard and leave the later harvest to flower because they are so pretty. If you pick them early enough, however, or purchase them at the farmer’s market or store (and you can find them everywhere this time of year) you get something that is both earthy and sweet. Such a great way to start spring.

My mother has always made giant stuffed artichokes for Easter dinner. Her large full chokes are truly gorgeous to behold — like enormous desert flowers filled with bread crumb pollen — and even more delightful to eat. But because I am lazy, I rarely make this dish. Filling each leaf of an artichoke seems a tedious task. And, although I love to spend long dinners leisurely making my way through a giant artichoke, my children and husband don’t have the patience to slowly nibble the meat from the edge of each leaf. I therefore came up with a compromise recipe: keep the stuffing, but ditch the tiresome preparation and elongated eating period. This makes everyone happy.

In my version, I use medium-sized artichokes, trimming off all the hard outer leaves and chopping off the top. I cook them halfway in a pot of water and then finish them off on the grill. Trimmed and halved, you’re left with the perfect receptacle for a dollop of stuffing with the added bonus that almost the entire vegetable is now edible.

trimmed artichoke cut in half

Like my mother, I use bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and parsley in my stuffing, but I’ve also added a few other ingredients. Because the intense heat of the grill caramelizes the natural sugars of the artichoke, I wanted to include a salty component to the stuffing. I have therefore added cooked pancetta to the mix, which really helps highlight the vegetable’s natural sweet flavors, along with a little mint to liven things up.

Grilling is the easy part. Just lay the artichokes leaf-side down on indirect heat and cover for about 20 minutes. I tried flipping a few over and the stuffing held in all but one. That said, they turn out wonderfully if you just leave them alone as well. The final product is something you can eat with normal bites. No more gnawing off edges for impatient kids and husbands, although plenty of sweet artichoke flavor for everyone.

a grilled stuffed artichoke

Grilled Stuffed Artichokes

Makes: 16 artichoke halves


8 medium artichokes

2 lemons

½ cup fresh bread crumbs

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup pancetta or bacon

2 garlic cloves

2 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley

1 Tbsp chopped mint

6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp water or white wine

Dash of salt and pepper


1. Wash the artichokes and then trim off the top prickly edges, about 1/2-inch from the top down.

2. Fill a large pot ¾ full with water and squeeze the juice from one lemon into the pot, tossing in the actual squeezed lemon at the end. Add 1 Tbsp salt to the water.

3. Remove the outer leaves of the artichoke until you get to the lighter and more tender underleaves.

trimmed artichoke

4. One by one, slice the artichokes in half and core out the furry part above the heart. Place each one in the pot of water when you are done. Be sure to place each artichoke half in the water as soon as you have finished cutting and trimming it, or else it will start to brown in the air.

5. Once all the chokes are trimmed, halved and defurred, bring the covered pot of water to a boil.

artichokes in water

6. Turn off the heat once you gain a rapid boil and then let the artichokes sit in the covered pot for 5-7 minutes.

7. Remove the artichokes from the water and drain. Press a paper towel against them to try to gently press out any excess water.

8. Place the artichokes in a large baking pan, cut side up, and drizzle 3 tablespoons of oil on top along with the zest of your remaining lemon as well as that lemon’s juice. Flip the artichokes over, and then cover and refrigerate the pan until ready to use. You can make these up to a day ahead of time.

9. About a half hour before you’re ready to grill, cut the pancetta or bacon into small cubes and sauté with the garlic in 1 Tbsp olive oil until crispy.

10. Place your bread crumbs, cooked pancetta and garlic, parsley, mint, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and water or white wine in a food processor along with a dash of salt and pepper. Pulse until everything is thoroughly chopped and combined.

artichoke stuffing

11. Turn the artichokes over so they are once again cut-side up and gently press a small mound of stuffing into each cavity. Top with a sprinkle of kosher or sea salt.

artichokes on the grill

12. Grill each artichoke on indirect heat for about 20 minutes, or until ready.

Note: For fresh bread crumbs, just place two slices of bread (I use the ends) in a food processor and pulse about ten times.

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Easter Bread


I posted this last year on Bay Area Bites

This weekend is Easter, so in addition to coloring eggs and having our annual Easter egg hunt, I wanted to make a nice loaf of Easter bread. I had a problem, however. I couldn’t figure out which type of holiday bread to make. Many cultures have breads that are traditionally served during Lent and the Easter holidays. One of the most famous is the Greek Easter Bread (called tsouréki), which is sometimes made with spices — such as allspice, cinnamon or cloves — or vanilla and/or citrus zest. Most recipes use mastícha, which is a Greek spice that can be found in specialty or gourmet stores. Hot cross buns are another type of traditional Easter bread and often have currents, raisins or nuts, as well as spices such as cinnamon. They are topped with a cross of icing and are a traditional English holiday bun.

My mother made a Greek-style Easter bread when I was a kid, and I always thought it was the perfect accompaniment to hard boiled eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies. I made this type of bread once or twice, but since having children, have relied on serving the lovely hot cross buns made at La Farine each Easter morning. Now that my daughters are a little older, however, I wanted to revive my mother’s tradition of making home-made Easter bread.

After a childhood eating traditional Greek Easter bread during Lent, followed by an adulthood eating hot cross buns, I had a case of culinary confusion once I decided to bake something myself. Luckily, my mom is visiting right now, so we put our heads together and came up with our own creation yesterday. It is reminiscent of the traditional Greek Easter bread in that it uses eggs and is airy and light. For sweetness, I added a sugar glaze similar to that found on hot cross buns. Because I was creating my own recipe, I decided to make just a simple yeasted egg dough, but am open to adding lemon zest and spices in the future. We cut the dough into three pieces and then braided it in a circle and decorated it with red Easter eggs, which is a tradition in Greece. The result was a slightly sweet light bread with a lemony glaze that goes perfect with coffee and eggs. I can’t wait to dig in Sunday morning.

golden easter bread

Easter Bread
Serves 6 – 10

1 cup tepid water
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 packages fast-acting yeast
1 cup warm whole milk
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 raw eggs
7 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp salt
8 hard-boiled eggs dyed
2 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp whole milk

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast. Let stand for at least five minutes or until it foams (see picture). Note: If you are using your stand-alone mixer to make the bread, use the mixer bowl.


2. Heat the milk in a pot on low until it’s warm.
3. Mix the milk, eggs, oil and salt in a medium bowl.
4. Add the egg mixture to the yeast mixture and stir.
5. Stir in four cups of flour. If using a mixer, such as a KitchenAid, use the dough hook.
6. Slowly mix in about two more cups of the remaining flour, or until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Note: the dough should still look glossy.
7. Lay the dough out on a wooden cutting board or counter top dusted with flour.
8. Knead the dough, adding in the last cup of flour if the dough gets too sticky, until it is pliable.
9. Put dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let it rise for an hour or two, or until it doubles in size.
10. Punch dough down and divide it into three equal pieces, stretching and lengthening each piece so they are about two-feet long.
11. Braid the pieces together in a circle, joining the ends.
12. Nestle five of the dyed eggs into the dough (yes — you bake the bread with the dyed hard-boiled eggs in it.)
rising easter bread braid

13. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap for 30 – 60 minutes, or until it rises further.
14. Bake the bread at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until it is golden brown and cooked throughout. Note: the bread only took 20 minutes in my convection oven.
15. Remove bread from the oven and place it on a serving dish.
16. In a medium bowl, mix one cup of the powdered sugar with 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice and 1 Tbsp of milk. It should be the texture of soupy toothpaste.
17. Spread the glaze onto the bread with a pastry brush.
18. Let the bread cool for a few minutes with the glaze and then make another batch of the glaze and recoat the bread.

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Google Dining: Part 2

Some of you may have read my post last week about Google dining. I was fortunate enough to be asked to have lunch on the Google campus, and while I was there, Google was incredibly accommodating. They set up a time for me to interview Scott Giambastiani, one of their Executive Chefs, and tour some of the Google cafés. But what was the food like? Eclectic, fresh, and small. Let me explain.

When I first walked onto the Google campus, I have to admit my expectations were pretty high. My friends Carol and Dan had filled me with stories of wonderful lunches they’d had there, including one day where they were met with heaping trays full of shucked oysters, buffet tables stacked with cracked crab, and mountains of shrimp. Yet although I didn’t find a “Seafood Friday Extravaganza,” as Dan and Carol dubbed that wonderful lunch they had a while back, I still had a more than decent meal and was impressed with the varied selection of dishes available and the quality of ingredients, not to mention the sheer abundance of food.

After sitting at a table outside with Scott, we journeyed inside the Big Table café for lunch. Now there seem to be two types of cafés at Google: themed and cafeteria style. Big Table is the latter. It’s a general all purpose eating facility that offers a varied menu and doesn’t really cater to any particular taste. Unlike Google’s Mexican taqueria or Spanish tapas café, Big Table has a diverse array of foods available for every taste.


Before I discuss the actual food, I should mention that Google has a small-plate philosophy. There are no heaping portions at Google. Sure they offer burgers and fries (albeit grass-fed beef burgers with organic potato fries), but the burgers come as small sliders and the fries are on proportionally-sized plates. The idea is for people to try a variety of dishes when eating, instead of gorging themselves on only one or two large items. The chefs are also hoping diners will eat a more varied diet. It seemed that in the midst of all the Google plenty, the chefs themselves advocate an aura of restraint: take what you need; include some vegetables to go with your meat; have an apple or banana; and try something you’ve never eaten before.


The first thing I noticed after getting my tray and silverware was a sushi bar to my left. Growing up in the sticks outside of San Diego, I didn’t even try sushi until I was in college, but when I did, I immediately fell in love. I therefore made a beeline to the sushi queue. While I waited for my turn, I noticed the sushi chef hard at work, cutting up pieces of salmon and eel to create fresh rolls. He seemed just as adept at his job as the guy behind the counter at my local sushi restaurant. Everything seemed to be made on the spot and I was impressed that Big Table hadn’t resorted to making a bunch of rolls earlier in the day so they’d have a stock on hand for the lunch rush. All the rolls seemed to be made fresh, right where the crowds could watch as they grabbed their small plates. Next to the sushi counter was a selection of regular and low-sodium soy sauce, along with wasabi and what looked (and tasted) like homemade pickled ginger.

After leaving the Sushi counter, the world was literally my oyster. Laid out before me were barbecued pork sliders and a variety of salads to go with them, Indian curries, pizzas, Asian rolls, calamari, meat-stuffed artichokes with a breaded topping, an enormous salad bar, soups, and other items that I just passed by in the whirlwind of food. I grabbed items here and there, completely skipping the curries as the line was outrageously long and headed to the beverage area.

Normally the drinks in a cafeteria aren’t remarkable, but of course at Google, even beverages get their moment in the sun. There seemed to be two main drink areas that on first glance seemed de rigueur, but not for long. Alongside the iced tea and apple juice sat a vat of lovely organic raspberry tea that was refreshing and sweet without being cloying, as juice teas often are. The soda fountain, meanwhile, was also unique. Instead of the normal “Coke,” “Pepsi,” and “A&W,” there was “Cola,” “Diet Cola,” “Root Beer” and so on, but with the clever inclusion of a short ingredients list for each. So instead of just grabbing a Coke, you were faced with the words “Sweetened with Cane Sugar” beneath, reminding you that your beverage of choice is laden with sucrose, although not the normal Beelzebub corn syrup.

Okay, now I’m actually going to tell you how the food tasted.

sushi rolls

The sushi was great. The fish tasted fresh and the rice was sticky but not gummy. My friend Carol said she got a tough piece of salmon in her roll, but my salmon and eel were both tender and delicious. The barbecued pork sliders were decent, but I have to admit they weren’t the best, or even great. This may be due to the fact that I like my barbecued pork laden in a tangy cider vinegar sauce and these had a sweet barbecue topping, but they were still good and I ate my entire sandwich. The stuffed artichokes were the least desirable item on my plate. The beef inside was just too dense and overwhelmed the sweet meat of the vegetable, and the tomato sauce on top was nothing of note and also detracted from the flavors of the dish. The pizza was better than your standard fare — cheesy and with a crisp crust — but not in the same league as what you’d find at Pizzeria Delfina or Pizzaiolo.


What impressed me most on my plate were the salads. The greens were fresh and crisp, the beets were sweet and earthy, the carrots perfectly blanched, and the dressings subtle in taste. Overall, I would rate the food as equivalent to what you would find in a two-star restaurant. That said, it was quite good for a workplace café. Dan and Carol both insisted they have often had better meals at Google, so maybe I was just there on an off day. Whatever the case, if my meal was the norm, those Googlers are pretty lucky to get such a variety of organic and freshly-prepared food for free. If I worked at Google, I would happily eat at Big Table or its equivalent every day with a big smile on my face.

After we were done eating, Carol and I perused the dessert area, but didn’t see anything too enticing. I was hoping to find a good cookie, but as none were available, I tried the brownie which had an odd flavor (I thought maybe it had peanut butter in it, but Carol thought it was made of carob). I was a little surprised the dessert at Big Table was lackluster as we had already enjoyed some wonderful mini-banana cream tarts before lunch while touring another café. The tarts’ crusts were flaky and crisp and the cream filling had a sweet banana flavor with a luscious texture. Everything a mini tart should be.

menu at slice smoothie bar

On the way out, Carol and I stopped by Slice, the smoothie bar. She got a Mangolicious while I asked for a Banana Split. Behind the counter, a café worker whipped up smoothies and poured them into glasses for anyone interested. The mango drink had a bright and fruity mango taste, while my smoothie had fresh coconut and chocolate flavors to accent the bananas. Both were lip smacking.

In each café, the focus really did seem to be on using local and organic foods that are in season, and the cleanup was equally green. Each restaurant has an area where you return your trays, compost your compostables, recycle your recyclables, and plant your reusable plates and silverware on a conveyor belt to be washed in the back. I also noticed the trash seemed relatively empty, which was impressive given the number of people having lunch at the café where we dined.

My overall impression was that serving that many people is a huge undertaking, yet everything seemed to run with a smooth efficiency. I was happy to see an overall emphasis on healthy eating and the choice to serve organic and local foods didn’t seem like a sham. Most importantly, the food was fresh and tasty. So if you’re thinking of applying for a job at Google, put some extra effort into your resume. The banana cream tarts are worth it.

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Dining at Google: Part 1

google sign
For years I have heard people wax poetic about the food at Google. The rumors seemed unbelievable: fresh organic, sustainable and locally grown foods prepared under the tutelage of a five-star chef. Oh, and did I mention it’s all free? Well, free if you work there. As if those stock options weren’t sufficient. It’s enough to make a freelance editor and writer cry.

So when a friend of mine who works for Google asked me join him for lunch one day, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to see for myself how the food operation at Google worked, and, more than that, if the hype lived up to the reality.

I had my own employee on-site dining experience years ago, when I was just out of college and worked as an assistant in the script development department at Walt Disney Studios. I quit after a year as I wasn’t up to swimming with sharks, but while I was there, I was able to benefit from a fairly good company commissary. It was run by Marriott Foods and although it wasn’t a five-star restaurant, it had a decent burger, a nice daily fish entrée, a solid deli, and breakfast at reasonable prices. Yet while I and the other underlings were dining at picnic tables outside, Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, the directors, agents and stars were all on the upper floors of the Team Disney building. In a circular dining room with views of, as Johnny Carson used to say, beautiful downtown Burbank, the mucky mucks would eat food prepared by a noted chef on china plates that had little Mickey Mouse ears around the edges. So as I walked onto the Google campus, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was downstairs-picnic-table dining for the masses and Mickey-Mouse-china dining for the brass? Just how good is the food for the everyday workaday engineer at Google?

Through my Google friend Dan, I set up an appointment with Scott Giambastiani, one of seven Executive Chefs at Google, and we arranged a time to meet. When I googled Scott from my home computer, I realized that if he was any indication of this company’s seriousness about food, I was in for a nice lunch. Scott was trained at the California Culinary Academy and then interned at The Lark Creek Inn (a restaurant I have loved for years). He has worked with Gary Danko at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, and then spent 9 years at Viognier in San Mateo. He left in 2006 to go to Google and seems quite happy with his choice. I had a great conversation with Scott. He was very welcoming and happy to share with me the ins and outs of Google dining, give me the skinny on some Google food legends, and detail how the dining operations are run.

google taqueria

Once I was on the Google campus, I was happy to see that dining at Google isn’t like dining at Disney. Google offers 18 cafés for their employees, which includes one at the San Francisco campus and one in San Bruno. There is no upstairs dining for the elite and outside dining for regular employees. It all seemed pretty egalitarian.

google veggies

The many cafés at Google are run by individual vendors who report to Google. Chefs like Scott act as ambassadors for Google and make sure all the cafés offer equivalent quality and value. As in many dining establishments, the menus are created daily and are dependent on what foods are available that day from the many farms and vendors they use. Local farms, such as Happy Boy, drop off food daily and the meals are then prepared on site. Other items, such as rolls and pastries, are purchased from local vendors and quality-checked by Google’s chefs.

kitchen snacks

In addition to its many cafés, Google has set up micro-kitchens throughout their offices. These are stocked with fresh coffee and often espresso machines, sandwiches, Naked Juice, cashews, dried fruit, It’s It cookies, and a variety of sodas and chips. As with the cafés, each kitchen is different. Although they all offer the same basic items, 20% of each kitchen’s offerings are unique to that kitchen and are chosen to meet the demographics of a specific office area, which are determined through surveys. So, as you might guess, the kitchens on floors with sales and marketing people have more raw nuts and the engineers want more chips.

its it cookies

When I walked through a few buildings, there seemed to be a kitchen around every corner. When I asked Dan about this, he said that according to Google lore, there is food within 150 feet of every office. Scott then confirmed the rumor as true. It seems that Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s founders, believed no one should ever be more than 150 feet from food (a philosophy I can get behind). They therefore had their offices built with numerous kitchens so workers could easily pop over for a quick bite while never needing to leave the near vicinity. I have to say that although this seems pretty convenient to the workers, I’m sure Google is getting a nice return on the fact that employees don’t ever stray far from their desks. Sort of like supplying pollen at the bee hive.

lego survey

The food choices at Google are very research-driven. Googlers (this is what Google calls its employees) can fill out online and paper questionnaires about the food they’re served; polls are taken; and they even have a Lego voting system in the dining areas where employees can vote through building a Lego structure using different colored blocks. The color you use says what you thought of your meal (i.e., red means “better luck next time,” yellow means “keep trying,” while green means “very good”). I couldn’t figure out how this actually worked as each dining area offers an abundance of food and the Legos didn’t seem to actually pinpoint a specific entrée, but it was interesting nonetheless.

The data Google gets from all those polls and surveys is crunched and then used to shape their food program. To satisfy the needs of their diverse population, they offer a variety of different dining venues. No Name offers a healthy vegetable-focused menu that includes raw food, while Pintxo has Spanish tapas and paella. 150 offers only local food grown within a 150-mile radius from the Google campus. There’s also a Mexican taqueria, a deli, and numerous all-purpose dining areas, like Big Table where I ate. These offer a variety of choices, including Indian food stations, pizza zones, sushi bars, and anything else you could really think of. Before leaving, my friend Carol (Dan’s wife) and I stopped off at the smoothie bar, named Slice, which was full of funky red and blue chairs and stools: quite a hip place to set up your laptop and work while drinking a free wheat grass shot.

smoothie bar

So how was the actual food? Read Part 2 Next Thursday where I continue my review by covering the café Big Table along with the smoothie bar. In the meantime, here’s a Google recipe for Heirloom Tomato and Summer Berry Gazpacho with Goat Cheese Ice Cream that Scott gave me.

Heirloom Tomato and Summer Berry Gazpacho
Makes: 8 servings
3 lbs. red heirloom tomatoes, washed, stemmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 ea. red bell pepper, washed, seeded and chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 ribs celery, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 ea. English cucumber, washed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1-pint each fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, rinsed and picked over.
4 tbsp red verjus or red wine vinegar
2 cups club soda or cold water
2 tbsp brown sugar
8 sprigs cilantro, chopped (reserve two sprigs for garnish)
10 ea basil leaves, chopped (reserve two leaves for garnish)
12 sprigs parsley leaves, chopped (reserve two sprigs for garnish)
1 each lime, juiced
Salt to taste
cayenne pepper to taste

1 recipe Goat Cheese Ice Cream, prepared (below)

1. To begin this easy and delicious soup, start by making certain that all the fruits and vegetables are rinsed clean under cool running water.
2. Rough chop the first four ingredients as stated above.
3. Place the chopped vegetables, berries, verjus, club soda and brown sugar into a blender.
4. Cover and puree until smooth.
5. Adjust the seasoning with salt and cayenne to taste.
6. Next, pour the soup into a mixing bowl and stir in the chopped herbs.
7. Allow the herbs to sit in the soup refrigerated for 15-20 minutes.
8. Finally, strain the soup mixture through a fine strainer, pressing firmly with a spatula or ladle to force the pulp through the strainer.
9. Discard any pulp that remains in the strainer.
10. Add the juice of one lime to the soup.
11. Serve at once. Garnish soup with fresh berries, diced cucumber, fresh herbs and Goat Cheese Ice Cream.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream
Makes: 4 cups
2 cups Heavy whipping cream
½ cup Whole milk
4 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
3 Tbsp corn syrup
6 oz goat cheese, Laura Chenel brand if possible
Pinch of salt

1. In a heavy-bottomed saucepot, bring the cream and milk to a scald.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar and slowly pour in some of the hot cream to temper the eggs. This keeps the eggs from scrambling.
3. Pour the eggs into the cream and continue to cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium-low heat, while constantly stirring the gently scraping the bottom of the pot with a rubber spatula.
4. Continue cooking until the mixture coats the back of a spoon and steam rises from the top.
5. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the corn syrup and goat cheese and then whisk this mixture into the cream mixture until smooth.
6. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and chill this mixture in an ice bath.
7. Once chilled, place the ice cream base into a single serving ice cream machine and follow your manufacturer’s instructions for spinning.

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