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.
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.
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.”