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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Food Story 2

Growing up in Singapore meant that I really loved food, and always appreciated good food. However, I'm also cheap, and so never went to any fancy restaurants. It wasn't until Google that I actually had a formal, multi-course Western-style dinner.

By 2005, those of us who were on the Sarbanes-Compliance projects were deemed to be "done". At other companies, this might mean a bonus, but Google had something much better: in-house Chefs who could prepare a fancy meal on a budget. Many people think that the in-house Chefs at Google are an ostentatious perk that was an expensive luxury for employees, but in reality, I think the value Google got out of them in terms of extra work from employees and being able to run award-type events really cheaply meant that the culinary staff more than paid for themselves.

We sat down in a room near Charlie's (this room would eventually become the B40 gym), which had been laid out like a restaurant, complete with a special door from which food would arrive. I'd never seen table-cloths so white, nor had I ever had a place-setting with this many implements. I thought, "OMG, I'm in for a treat."

The first entrée arrived. It was a salad with dressing. I had been trained to get hungry by 6:30, and was starving, so I ate it with relish. Then came the Ceviche. That was really tasty too! Then came the sorbet. I was shocked. That's it? That was my fancy dinner? I was still hungry. "Oh well," I thought, "I can still go grab a burger at Charlie's afterwards." When the main dish arrived after the sorbet (it was Filet Mignon), I finally realized that the sorbet was a palate cleanser, not desert. The rest of the meal was fantastic.

Google ran many other "event"-type dinners. One of my favorites was the chocolate-themed dinner that Chris persuaded Charlie and the culinary team to run. That was a $20 dinner, but my goodness, you got $100 worth of food out of it. Another week, Google's culinary team ran the Cafe Crawl: visit all the Cafes in a week:
Lea and I used bicycles to visit all the Cafes in one lunch period. The reward: a special meal, and a pass that let you skip to the front of the line for a week! Needless to say, I took advantage of that pass to get a huge amount of sushi.

Google cafeteria reached their height in 2007 --- when I visited Paris in 2008 for a culinary tour, I unfavorably compared some restaurants in Paris to Google's Cafe 5IVE, for instance. I was sad to return from Germany to discover that many of my favorite Chefs had left. Olivia Wu and Scott Giambastiani are still at Google though, and they still turn out meals that could blow your mind if you were used to the typical corporate cafeteria.

There's a talent war brewing in the valley over corporate Chefs, so hopefully, having great food as part of your compensation package will be more common.

P.S. I'm fasting for an annual physical/blood-test, and writing this post while fasting was a mistake!

1 comment:

Tom Galloway said...

Ah yes, I remember the S-O and chocolate dinners...yum!

The other advantage of the great in-house food, at least until Google grew to a certain size, was promoting cross-company interaction. At least until the several thousand mark, it made sense to often sit down at random and meet new folk since 1) they'd almost certainly be interesting and 2) you'd probably run into them again at some point. As the company grew larger, 2) became less likely, and meals tended to be with folk you already knew.