During some recent interviews with candidates, we came across an interesting trend in answers to a particular question we ask. It’s an answer that we’ve heard before, but for some reason, this answer started to become more and more frequent…
MC: “Why did you get into cooking or working in a restaurant?”
Can: “Because I never knew when or where my next meal would come from, so by working in a restaurant, we always had a family meal and that way I could count on having one hot meal in the day.”
Now lets state the obvious here - We, as humans, need food to sustain life. Cooking food for people you love, or even for strangers, is such an intimate display, and food is fuel for our bodies and our souls. Whether or not it’s “soul food” that you’re serving, you are nurturing someone's life.
To pursue a career in this industry you must have an abundance of passion and a plethora of other attributes and superpowers. You must really and truly love food to withstand the long hours, sore feet and mental/emotional strain that gets thrown your way more often than not. But, there really is something so special about putting a dish on the table that came straight from your heart and hands. Yes, it’s more special when it is being served to people who you love and care about, but when you work in this crazy biz, you miss a lot of time with your actual family. You work on Christmas and Thanksgiving while your real family is home enjoying turkey and stuffing without you while you prepare the traditional meal for strangers. Of course, there is still care and love in your food + service, but how can you bring that connection and family feeling to your kitchen + comrades?
A lot of restaurants have a pre-service meeting to go over specials and new dishes or any new updates to share. This discussion is often had while enjoying a meal that is referred to as “family meal”. If you’re not sure what a family meal is, it is when a chef is instructed to create this meal for their “work family” as part of their daily prep so that the staff can be fed, energized and connected while getting ready for a smooth and successful service.
There are SO many chefs that got their first job as a dishwasher at a restaurant solely for the promise of a hot and free meal. They didn’t know where their next meal would come from otherwise. When you’ve gone without food (not by choice) you really have a new respect for it.
the hunger issue.
It may not be on the front page of the paper, but hunger is still a real issue in this day and age. Maine is ranked as the 7th most food insecure state in the nation and #1 in New England, which means that about 16% of Maine’s population is fighting hunger every day. In order to end hunger in Maine by 2025, it is estimated that efforts would need to produce and provide almost 40 million meals to struggling families. How crazy is that?!
It’s not a shocker that (some) restaurants create a lot of food waste. Higher-end restaurants can’t use prepped food that is not in its prime the next day and pubs and chain restaurants often prep a lot of produce and food to be ready for a big rush that might never come and then all of said prepped veg needs to be thrown out. Often times pre-cooked or cut food won’t be accepted by shelters or food banks for liability reasons. But one chef in New York has left his career to start a business that helps use food that would normally get thrown out after service to create prepared meals for needy people. He has gotten through a lot of loopholes by having knowledge from working as a chef in restaurants. He creates special tax write off paperwork for the restaurants that donate, and has a contract that nulls them from any liability of the food that he receives from them. This takes a lot of work and isn’t an option for most. But we think it’s an awesome idea!
Thankfully though, most restaurants combat food waste by using excess products/produce/prepped items (or soon to be expiring product) for their family meal. I’ve worked in restaurants where they make the most amazing cheeseburgers for the family meal just from the off-cuts when cleaning and breaking down meat, or what about those edge pieces from the most amazing brownies the pastry chef made earlier? Turn them into mini sundaes for staff. Restaurants are even striking deals with local farmers where they will provide food scraps for pig feed in exchange for free (or price-reduced) products, this is clearly a win-win for both the farmer and the tightly-budgeted restaurant.
Simply put - every little thing helps. It’s sad to think the person sitting next to you at family meal might just be enjoying their one and only meal for the day :(