Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters

Employees of Facebook eat THIS for lunch.

Black mission figs with Serrano ham. Tiny beef meatballs with pine nuts and sweet yellow peaches. Tender braised rabbit with moscatel, cinnamon, and fresh cherries. And rich chocolate roulade cake shot through with rum.

That was only a small portion of my incredible Spanish lunch last week at the Palo Alto headquarters of Facebook. After all, social networking — and creating the tools to do it — sure does work up a hefty appetite. No one knows that better than Josef Desimone, Facebook’s “culinary overlord.” And yes, that is his real title.

The energetic, fast-talking, 40-year-old chef invited me to come for lunch to see how his kitchen staff of 50 turns out 2,300 meals a day for more than 800 Facebook employees. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks are provided to this hungry crew — all of it for free. Make friends with someone at Facebook, and you, too, can partake of the scrumptious offerings that change daily, as employees are allowed to bring guests to dine.

Facebook's ''culinary overlord.''

The food, by this former chef of Cafe de la Presse in San Francisco, is so delicious and of such high-quality, it rivals that of restaurants where you’d have to pay a pretty penny to eat. Kathleen Loughlin, a Facebook communications person, jokes that the food is so irresistible that she’s had to frequent the gym more since Desimone came on board a year ago. Job applicants are always invited to come interview near lunch time, too, Loughlin says, because Facebook is well aware that its cafe is a monster recruiting tool.

If Google set the bar for gourmet cafeterias on Silicon Valley high-tech corporate campuses, then Facebook is aiming to push it even higher. Desimone has the cred to do it, too. Back in the day, he was the second sous chef hired at Google by the search engine giant’s famous original executive chef, Charlie Ayers. It was Desimone who designed the layout for the kitchens at Google in Mountain View, and who did the same for Facebook, when it moved into its S. California Avenue building three months ago after outgrowing its 10 buildings scattered around downtown Palo Alto.

“I’d do the Pepsi Challenge with them any day,” Desimone says about Google’s culinary program. “Google was good, but all the original chefs are gone now. And I got my pick of the litter. Eighty percent of my staff came from Google. We work our asses off here. But we have fun doing it.”

Indeed, they do.

One of Hawaii’s most well known chefs, Sam Choy, has cooked here. Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, is scheduled to drop by later this year to do the same. So is New Orleans legend, Paul Prudhomme. They don’t get paid to do so. They just want to do it, because they’re friends with Desimone.

A tapa of rustic bread drizzled with dark chocolate, olive oil, and sea salt.

Marinated Idiazabal cheese with rosemary.

Squash blossoms for Castilian-style zucchini with eggplant and tomatoes.

Meals are structured around cultural or global themes, which change not only daily, but between lunch and dinner. For instance, lunch might be a southern barbecue, while dinner might center around Cuban food. Desimone mixes it all up, never repeating the exact same menu again. He’s so organized that he can tell you what is on the menu for June of next year and which chef is in charge of it.

Employees can make requests. Someone once asked for an all-chocolate menu. Desimone complied with a “Willy Wonka Menu” of chocolate ravioli with pepper ricotta, lamb with a chocolate rub, and mole, of course. Then there was the tribute to “The Simpsons” TV show, which featured deep-fried pork chop in honor of Homer Simpson, and brown rice in an homage to his straight-laced daughter, Lisa.

“We’ll take on any challenge,” Desimone says. “If someone asks me to do their mom’s chicken and dumplings recipe, I’ll do it.”

Friday afternoons feature a happy hour with real wine and beer. There are “Nacho Thursdays,” a tradition started long-ago by one of Facebook’s original employees, only then it was just plain chips smothered with cheese. Nowadays, Desimone does it up with different meats or meat-substitutes, plus freshly made salsas and guacamole.

Rabbit with cherries.

Mushrooms with garlic and parsley.

Fried potatoes with spicy aioli.

Then there are the “reward dinners.” Periodically, Desimone will offer a free dinner for 10 people to the 50,000th or 100,000th or other significant numbered person in line at the cafe since the chef started there. That person gets pulled aside, is presented with a huge reward card and balloons. The winner and the chef talk food likes and dislikes. Later, a grand meal is prepared for them, complete with linens, proper stemware, table service, and even fancy amuse bouches.

With all this eating, it’s a wonder any work gets done at this place, isn’t it?

“If you starve here, ” Desimone says with a laugh, “Something is wrong!”

Meatballs with peaches.

Favorite dishes served include Chinese honey walnut prawns, Indian butter chicken, crawfish beignets, burritos rolled to order, and sushi, when you’ll find lines stretched out the door for nigiri and maki rolls. Compared to Googlers, Desimone says, Facebookers are more adventurous eaters. At Google, employees would just snub something if they didn’t find it to their liking, but here, Desimone says he’s been able to entice employees into sampling a lot of new things, including alligator, elk, and wild boar guanciale.

Turns out that Facebookers also are neatniks. They bus their own tables after eating, and keep the snack areas spic-and-span on their own. If someone dared to leave a dirty napkin on a counter or toss a plastic wrapper on the floor, co-workers would no doubt call them out on it, Loughlin says.

You won’t find paper plates here. Instead, there are reusable melamine bowls and plates, and real coffee mugs. Self-serve areas are stocked with fresh fruit, and healthful snacks, as well as gotta-have-them M&Ms, and potato chips. Cookies are baked daily in both low-fat and full fat versions. Food containers feature allergen labels disclosing if they contain seafood, nuts, wheat, dairy or eggs. Many ingredients are organic and sustainable.

Stacks and stacks of Le Creuset pots at the ready.

You also won’t lunch and dinner offerings served out of huge stainless steel hotel pans. Instead, everything is served from colorful Le Creuset pots or plated in individual ceramic ramekins because it’s more visually appealing. Frankly, I’ve never seen so many Le Creuset pots stacked up in one place outside of Sur La Table.

Lunch all set up, before the big steel doors open to the hungry throngs.

An extensive salad bar features a changing rotation of edamame, baked tofu, tuna salad made with olive oil, toybox tomatoes, and roasted portabellas. Two soups are available each day, such as chicken tortilla, or mushroom and spinach orzo. There is always one vegetarian entree, and a choice of two different pizzas. Soft-serve, made from a Straus Family Creamery organic base, is offered in various flavors daily.

Outside, there is a huge grill and smoker, where Desimone has smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf, 300 pounds of brisket, and a whole pig.

A whole pig has been cooked in the outside grill-smoking area.

With so many changing dishes, the diversity of cooking involved is staggering. It’s a huge change from when Desimone was a restaurant chef, but one he relishes, especially since he now gets holidays and weekends off.

“Corporate food has a stigma to it,” Desimone says. “I turned down the Google job for a year. It wasn’t until I toured the place and ate the food that I was sold on it. Other chefs tell me now that I have the best gig in the world. I tell them, ‘Damn right!’ Call Thomas Keller and see if he has two days off in a row this week. I don’t think so.”

Chocolate roulade with rum.

More: A Taste of Jia, Google’s Chinese Cafe

More: A Peek Inside the Cafe at Lucasfilm

And: The Cafe at the 49ers Training Camp

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Date: Thursday, 27. August 2009 5:15
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Going Green and Sustainable, Google/Tech/Corporate Cafes, Restaurants

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63 comments

  1. 1

    What a fantastic post..so much fun! Who knew? I want to be you for a day.

  2. 2

    Sure makes the cafeteria where I work look bad. I need a job at Facebook! (But would probably get fat….)

  3. 3

    Wow. I had no idea. I knew that Google was known for great food but had no idea it extended to Facebook too. In my old office location we had a great corporate cafe but it certainly WAS NOT free or that exquisite. I’m jealous of all the le creuset just hanging around. (Many of which I can see still have their original labels and other packaging elements.)

  4. 4

    Great report, Carolyn. One leftover from the Internet boom is that the good companies still make life pleasant for their employees. In contrast, I once worked at a company that refused to buy a water filter because it would “reduce shareholder value.”

  5. 5

    I had no idea Facebook has such a nice perk…I really want a job there now!

  6. 6

    Love this post- fascinating! Is the lunch free for employees? If not, what do they charge?

  7. 7

    Molly, they state in the article that the lunch is free. That’s totally awesome…

  8. 8

    As I see that “employees are allowed to bring guests to dine,” does anyone commenting here work there? We could all meet for Friday’s Happy Hour… yummy!

  9. 9

    HAHAH! This is SOOOO cool! This must be the best job ever….but talk abt employer’s 15! Haha, do they mention anything abt free fitness, too?

  10. 10

    This confirms my love/hatred for facebook…or maybe just jealousy in this case. Great review, as always.

  11. 11

    OK, does your blog carry drool-damaged keyboard insurance, Carolyn? Those chocolate cake rolls at the end totally put me over the edge!

  12. 12

    Fantastic post. I love seeing the photos inside the kitchen! I have a friend who did corporate foodservice on the east coast for years…holidays and weekends off were the best part, she said!

  13. 13

    As someone who has never worked for a company that offered perks like these, it’s very fun to see how the other half works.

    Can you wrangle me an invite to Charles Phan Day? :-P

  14. 14

    Oh my! The food looks simply wonderful and what a lovely perk for the employees of Facebook. Thanks so much for sharing the pictures.

  15. 15

    HA! lucky bastards!

  16. 16

    Geez, it would be worth working here just for the food.

  17. 17

    I remember being invited to happy hour at Adobe a few years ago and they served beer and wine with some good nachos and appetizers but it was NOTHING like this feast! I went to college with someone who worked at Google and used to tell me about the free meals there too and I was SO jealous! They also had free cereal, protein bars and SO many snacks laying around all the time too!

  18. 18

    Where do I go to apply for a job there???

  19. 19

    I’m blown away. It’s nice to see that even in a recession FB is making food a priority. Really excellent post!

    –Marc

  20. 20

    Man, we’re all missing Nacho Thursday today, too! Wonder if we all just wander over there, looking famished, if they’d feed us a few chips, huh? ;)

  21. 21

    These pictures make it out to be a lot better than it is ;)

  22. 22

    These high-flying companies and their hoity-toidy haute cuisine. Sheesh.

    Um, do I sound jealous? No, I’m not jealous. No sirree, not me.

  23. 23

    [...] Food Gal » Blog Archive » Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters [...]

  24. 24

    Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters…

    Black mission figs with Serrano ham. Tiny beef meatballs with pine nuts and sweet yellow peaches. Tender braised rabbit with moscatel, cinnamon, and fresh cherries. And rich chocolate roulade cake shot through with rum. That was only a small portion of…

  25. 25

    The lucky bastards at facebook are having this for free. I first thought they would be paying for this, then I searched for word ‘free’ and I confirmed they are indeed taking free food/meals. I didnt read the article in full but I did look at the nice pictures.

  26. 26

    [...] What is it like to eat at the canteen in Facebook headquarters? Bright pictures ahead, Link. [...]

  27. 27

    Wow, those facebook employees get to eat well! Great post!

  28. 28

    Who knew that Facebook had so many employees??

  29. 29

    I asked a former Facebook employee I know about it, and the reply was: “I never knew how good the food was until everyone started blogging about it.”

  30. 30

    Wow, they’re really giving Google a run for the money in this department. I’m going to have to do a comparison lunch – all in the name of research.

  31. 31

    [...] Work at Facebook, eat well. [...]

  32. 32

    They’re not turning a profit yet they can offer perks like this. Unbelievable!!! I’m not trying to be cynical / negative and I’m certainly not jealous, but this is a typical California style, pump and dump / over-hype internet business. The food does look great, though.

  33. 33

    Looks tasty, but I’d be more impressed if Facebook stopped allowing Holocaust denial and other hate groups to recruit and organize on the site!

  34. 34

    Ok wow, I knew they had money but I never imagined their cafe to be so fancy. Are those all Le Creuset dutch ovens? The food looks very good…

  35. 35

    [...] Food Gal » Blog Archive » Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters http://www.foodgal.com/2009/08/inside-the-cafe-at-facebook-headquarters – view page – cached Black mission figs with Serrano ham. Tiny beef meatballs with pine nuts and sweet yellow peaches. Tender braised rabbit with moscatel, cinnamon, and fresh cherries. And rich chocolate roulade cake shot through with rum. — From the page [...]

  36. 36

    [...] Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters (tags: facebook food) Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)What I bookmarked todayThis Week on MA.GNOLIAMy daily readings 11/09/2008   Leave a Comment [...]

  37. 37

    [...] Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters. No-one starves and job interviews frequently take place ar… — 4:13pm via [...]

  38. 38

    oh wow! Makes me think what post i could apply for in facebook! hehehe

  39. 39

    This is way over the top. haute cuisine. I bet this has Mark Zuckerberg’s written all over it. Talk of “raising the bar”. Trying to out do Google. Now we know where that $200 million that Zuckerberg raised from that Russian VC firm went. Figs, darn Figs!!

  40. 40

    [...] Apparently, Facebook is not hard-up for cash. Look what they feed their staff. [...]

  41. 41

    [...] Food Gal – Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters – Black mission figs with Serrano ham. Tiny beef meatballs with pine nuts and sweet yellow peaches. Tender braised rabbit with moscatel, cinnamon, and fresh cherries. And rich chocolate roulade cake shot through with rum. That was only a small portion of my incredible Spanish lunch last week at the Palo Alto headquarters of Facebook. Related Posts:Top Ten Free Fresh and Unique WordPress Themes10 Photography Pet Peeves We’d Throw Down a Black HoleGoogle Improves Voice Transcription; Still More to be DesiredSamsung TL225/TL220: Ultimate Vanity Camera; Camwhore’s Dream Come TrueHow to Easily Lock your Computer [...]

  42. 42

    I remember I used to visit my friends over at Google all the time for lunch. Looks like there’s a new place to lunch at in the Valley.

  43. 43

    [...] http://www.foodgal.com/2009/08/inside-the-cafe-at-facebook-headquarters/ [...]

  44. 44

    In all the years of cookn …i would have to say my friend ”zeke duru” has made some off the best tastin food around….He loves teaching fellow workers, hes a leader…a good friend to any one that dosent know to much about cookn…HE’S ONE OF THE BEST….if any one from the facebook team has anything good to say about the food, zegy had somthin to do with it….give my boy a pay raise and a gold star!!!!!!!!! from Sean Murphy aka:MURPH

  45. 45

    Wow, this looks so cool. My roommate works at Facebook and he’s alway bringing home all this amazing food. it always makes me drool… He never brings home enough for me to even taste! He’s says it’s too good to pass up and he would feel bad for taking more than he would eat. He says if he’s ever picked by the chef to have dinner there for ten, he would take me! Been keeping my fingers crossed ever since…. haha

  46. 46

    Damn. The only way to get free food in my office is to make sure I’m the first one in the conference room after a catered meeting ends.

  47. 47

    Chris, your office sounds like my old one at the San Jose Mercury News. A publisher’s meeting would end, a message would go out, and the next thing you knew, editors and reporters were descending upon the leftovers like vultures. It didn’t even matter if the food wasn’t all that great. They’d still swoop in for the kill. =)

  48. 48

    What an amazing look into Facebook’s Cafe. Great report!

  49. 49

    That is disgusting. Think of the hundreds of millions if not billions of people that are starving, malnourished, etc. Funny thing is I’ll bet Facebook execs and employees think they are progressive and saviors of the poor, downtrodden, etc.
    Wait until we get what we want and toss these robber barons out on their butts!

  50. 50

    Until Tim’s Revolution, Carolyn, will you put in a good word for me at Facebook? Puh-leeze? I’d be happy with lunch … but if you fix me up for dinner, I’ll gladly position myself at the center of its cafeteria entrance, defending that holy land against hordes of invading robber barron-tossing-malcontents … but not, of course, until I’ve had dessert and coffee …

  51. 51

    I do work at facebook, and let me say that while the food is great, it is a well deserved perk. We do not just sit idly and then cram our faces. Most of us here put in 12-15 hour days, six days a week, and before major updates like FriendFeed, make that seven days a week. It is a very hectic, often stressful environment and half the time I do not get time to eat. The only time I think I have actually eaten a relaxed meal in the cafeteria was during my interview, two and a half years ago. Otherwise, staff meetings at 1am and unrealistic frantic deadlines are the norm.

  52. 52

    I’ve worked for several Left Coast companies and this kind of perquisite is standard for them. Of course, it’s only true at the Mother Ship. Go out to the other offices (or ‘campuses’ as they like to call them, regardless of how non-campus-like it is) and you’re back to paying for lunch if there’s a cafe on site or fast food. Fine dining is a benefit of living in California (which to me is a happy trade-off. I’d rather have a 10 minute commute than a gourmet lunch.)

    And as one commenter said, it is expected that you work 10-12 hour days for most of these kinds of companies especially during upgrades & releases. And if you’re at the Mother Ship, it’s usually done in the office. So gyms, nice lunchrooms, and on-site concierges, etc., are often essential to get and keep employees as an incentive for their lack of life outside of work.

  53. 53

    *Drooling* wow I am hungry now. This a great entry, I had no idea about this part of the Facebook corporate culture, but it makes sense. Maybe I should do an interview there just to experience this, haha!

  54. 54

    [...] My Lunch at Facebook Headquarters Share and [...]

  55. 55

    [...] Gal:Inside the Cafe at Facebook Headquarters  —  Black mission figs with Serrano ham.  Tiny beef meatballs with pine nuts [...]

  56. 56

    [...] even future Iron Chefs! This week, with perfect timing for a certain new movie, she went “inside the cafe at Facebook headquarters” and I have to say I might consider working there just for the [...]

  57. 57

    [...] Unusual Cafes: Lunch at Facebook [...]

  58. 58

    Who would I contact regarding a Cook position at Facebook headquarters? Is it outsourced and who?

  59. 59

    [...] in 2008, has kept up traditions like “Nacho Thursdays” and added fun features, like a Willy Wonka-all chocolate dinner and a Simpsons-inspired meal (pork chops.) Other places with free food include Zynga, Twitter and [...]

  60. 60

    [...] in 2008, has kept up traditions like “Nacho Thursdays” and added fun features, like a Willy Wonka-all chocolate dinner and a Simpsons-inspired meal (pork chops.) Other places with free food include Zynga, Twitter and [...]

  61. 61

    [...] in 2008, has kept up traditions like “Nacho Thursdays” and added fun features, like a Willy Wonka-all chocolate dinner and a Simpsons-inspired meal (pork chops.) Other places with free food include Zynga, Twitter and [...]

  62. 62

    [...] A midi, c’est gratuit. Et pour les lèves-tôt, le petit-déjeuner aussi est offert. Chez Google,  Zynga, Twitter, récemment Yahoo! et d’autres dans la Silicon Valley, les employés profitent à l’oeil de repas mijotés par des chefs. Et pas question de manger tous les jours la même chose, le menus est revu en permanence. Chez Facebook, ambiance geek oblige, les cuisines proposent, par exemple, un repas tout en chocolat, inspiré par Willy Wonka. [...]

  63. 63

    [...] even future Iron Chefs! This week, with perfect timing for a certain new movie, she went “inside the cafe at Facebook headquarters” and I have to say I might consider working there just for the [...]

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