Bond with the family over some chili verde

In "Off the Menu: Staff Meals From America's Top Restaurants," author...
(Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
Story by Judy Hevrdejs
(Chicago Tribune (MCT))
Sun, Jan 15, 2012
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What happens beyond the swinging doors that lead into a restaurant’s kitchen isn’t always the infernal scullery you see on reality TV.

Sure, plates get dropped, stockpots get banged around, kitchen crews shout above the din and temperatures rise as the evening’s service hits its peak. Happens in any kitchen (even yours or mine) as the clock ticks toward dinner.

What helps many top restaurants keep their kitchen crews cool and in sync when working in high gear? They sit down together before dinner service for a meal, often simple comfort foods, prepared by staff. Beyond nourishment, the meal builds a camaraderie that can survive day-to-day mini-uproars.

Two recent books vouch for the value in preparing and eating a meal together: “Off the Menu: Staff Meals From America’s Top Restaurants,” by Marissa Guggiana (Welcome Books, $40), and “The Family Meal: Home Cooking With Ferran Adria” (Phaidon Press, $29.95).

“At its core, it is a time for the health of the staff to develop,” writes Guggiana. “Like dinner for many families, it is the only time that everyone is together in an unstructured way.”

Perhaps, suggests Guggiana, some restaurant staff meals are not unlike Tuesday night family suppers, where ingredient availability, time limitations and seasonality all come into play.

“There’s a subtle, cumulative bonding that happens over time,” Guggiana says. “It’s not just the eating, but the getting to do something fun and creative and making it.”

The principle applies at home, too, Guggiana says: “People value things more when they’ve made a contribution — at home and in the restaurant kitchen.”


  • Prep: 45 minutes
  • Cook: 2 1/2-3 hours
  • Servings: 6
  • Note: In “Off the Menu: Staff Meals From America’s Top Restaurants,” author Marissa Guggiana includes this recipe from Osteria Stellina, in Pointe Reyes, Calif. The original recipe makes a restaurant-size batch; we cut the ingredient quantities in half. Serve with rice, tortillas or bread.


  • 2 1/2 pounds pork butt, trimmed, leaving a small amount of outside fat
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds tomatillos, papery skins removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 to 3 fresh jalapenos, seeded, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 2 cups each: water, chicken broth
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

1. Cut pork into 1 1/2-inch cubes. Place pork, oil, chopped head of garlic, salt and pepper in a large Dutch oven. Heat over medium-high heat until hot; lower heat to low. Cook, 1 hour. Stir occasionally so pork cubes brown well on all sides. Drain off all but a few tablespoons oil; add half the onion to pork. Cook, 2 minutes.

2. Add remaining onion, tomatillos, jalapenos, remaining 2 cloves chopped garlic, water and broth. Simmer uncovered, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check seasoning while cooking, adding salt and pepper to taste. Check meat at 1 1/2 hours; the pork should be very tender. If you’d like a thicker stew, increase heat slightly and reduce liquids. Check seasoning; serve garnished with cilantro.

Nutrition information:

Per serving: 453 calories, 22 grams fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 122 milligrams cholesterol, 18 grams carbohydrates, 45 grams protein, 411 milligrams sodium, 5 grams fiber.

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