Tech Chefs

Dec 11, 2012 at 6am

I’m a girl that likes to eat. As such, I’ve done all manner of ridiculous things in the pursuit of a good meal, and it’s no coincidence I’ve ended up calling the culinary playground of San Francisco my home. The Bay Area has long been exalted for its produce and celebrated for its chefs. But in recent years, it has also cemented its reputation as a hotbed of innovation in the tech industry, and it is from this crossroads that a specifically unique union has been born.

Thriving start-ups are employing forward-thinking chefs, and everyone seems to be benefiting. And as tales of company perks began to include lunches I might trade a limb for, I wanted to find out for myself: Who are these tech chefs? Where did they come from? What was the appeal of cooking for techies? And really, was their food as good as the rumors had suggested?

From chefs cooking on their own to kitchen staffs upwards of 20 making the Whole Foods buffet line look lacking and limited, tech chefs are facing unprecedented challenges, and simultaneously turning out some of the best food the city has to offer.

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What's your cooking background? I graduated from the Natural Chef Program at Bauman College in Berkeley. Between that and cooking for BandPage, I cooked on a sailboat up in the Pacific Northwest.

What's the food culture like at BandPage? Often we'll eat lunch together either at our indoor wooden picnic tables or on our roof deck. I also love our weekly Wednesday night dinners because employees will sometimes invite family or friends, and the whole thing turns into an evening of music, some drinks, and great community.

What are the top three most-requested dishes you serve? 1. Taco Tuesday is always a hit. 2. Last week for dinner I served brunch. I definitely got requests for that to come back. 3. Anything with meat. (I usually cook with vegetables.)

Do employees pay for your food? No, the food is free for BandPage employees – such a great perk!

What are the particular challenges of cooking for a tech company? I think just the fact that I'm more immersed in the tech (and music) industry more than I am the food industry. Because of this, I'm probably "less connected" than other chefs who work within the food industry. But honestly, I can't complain. I feel very lucky.

What are the best things about it? Where do I start? I'd say first and foremost, having a relationship with the people that I feed every day is incredible. Next to that, I get to be completely creative with the menu. Last year our whole company went to SXSW Music Festival in Austin, and we all stayed in a ranch together where I cooked meals for everyone. At night we would all go out to shows together and hang out at our BandPage HQ venue. That week was definitely a highlight of my professional career.

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What's your cooking background? I'm self-taught. I started out as a raw vegan private chef and learned how to cook everything else on the job. I learned to scale my recipes for gourmet corporate food service at Google.

What's the food culture like at Airbnb? It’s very fun and playful. We run our food program in house, and I'm encouraged to be creative and punny with my menus. Everyone eats together and the food program is crucial to building community across our company. Check out our daily lunch blog: airbnbchef.tumblr.com. We even produced a rap track I wrote about the hard-knock life of a chef.

What are the top three most-requested dishes you serve? Avocado Chocolate Pudding, ¡Tacos!, and anything over rice noodles.

What's the most exotic dish you serve? #fawaffle: a mash-up of falafel and waffle batter, cooked in a waffle iron, topped with herbed chicken shawarma or braised lamb gyro, and smothered with hybrid sauces like bacon blackberry jam, cilantro whipped cream, spicy peanut butter, chili maple syrup, and cabernutella (Nutella mixed with red wine reduction). We created the #fawaffle in the office. It's since become a pop-up restaurant concept.

Do employees pay for your food? All food, drinks, and snacks are free for employees and guests. Work hard, stay late, be awesome, and we'll gladly feed you.

What are the particular challenges of cooking for a tech company, if any? Producing quality food in volume from scratch can sometimes get loud and messy, which is not always appreciated in the middle of a busy workday in an open office environment. Apparently, we get by on our charm and good looks.

What is the best part about it? It's really satisfying to know that your food is helping 200 people to be happy, healthy, and more productive so we can build a company that's changing the world. We also throw epic happy hours and host weekly tech and design lectures for our peers in the Silicon Valley, where I get to show off a little bit with swankier menus and experiment with my own twist on cocktail mixology.

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What's your cooking background? I grew up in a small Minnesota farming town, and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. I’ve worked in lots of American fine-dining restaurants across the U.S., including Aureole, Lark Creek Inn, and Striped Bass.

What's the food culture like at your company? We emphasize buying locally as much as possible – mostly from small farms within 150 miles. Furthermore, I have a strong focus for proper cooking techniques and passion for letting the food speak for itself – ohhh, and having fun too.

What are the top three most-requested dishes you serve? 1. Three-Cheese Elbow Macaroni Bake with Smoked Niman Ranch Bacon 2. Chicken Jook (a classic Chinese rice porridge) 3. Tuna Trio Tasting Plate

What's the most exotic dish you serve? Grilled Monterey sardines with heritage red flint polenta and salsa verde – I thought it would be a flop but people love it!

Do employees pay for your food? Don't we all pay for food in some way, shape, or form?

What are the particular challenges of cooking for a tech company? Tech companies typically are very international, so I need to be up on foods and dishes from around the world. It requires a lot of variety. We have five completely different menus, including three different soups and eight different composed salads every day – sometimes I run out of creative juice. And obviously, I have to make sure I tweet, via @birdfeeder, about what we’re serving every day.

What are the best things about it? The Twitter clientele is really appreciative of the food and service we provide, from the simplest little things to the way-out there stuff. It’s really a great environment – I love feeding these birds. Seriously!

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What's your cooking background? I joined Zynga after serving as a chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu CCA in San Francisco. I’ve appeared on the Food Network’s Private Chefs of Beverly Hills, and also ran my own catering company, Matty’s Fresh Meals Catering.

What's the food culture like at Zynga? I think of it as having friends over to eat, like a house party. We have carving stations, a farmers’ market where you can find all the local fruit that is in season, and a wellness center where we offer fresh juice and house-made granola. We make our own pickles, yogurt, beef jerky, beer, kombucha, bread, stocks, dressings – you name it.

What are the top three most-requested dishes you serve? The pizza is always a crowd favorite, the pasta bar is a close second, and our Indian cuisine menus are popular with our vegetarian and vegan friends.

Do employees pay for your food? Nope. It’s an important part of the culture for us to gather around and share a meal and to experience something together.

What’s the best part about cooking at a tech company? I love defining and then breaking the boundaries of this industry. I'm part of our popular game Chefville. I've written all the real recipes that are emailed out to our players upon completion of goals. In the culinary world it also isn't a bad thing when you find health benefits and a Monday–Friday gig.

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