Category Archives: Google/Tech/Corporate Cafes

Are You What You Cook?

That’s the thought-provoking title of the Asian cuisine event, 6 p.m. July 21, upstairs at the Ferry Building in San Francisco.

Join Chef Kelly Degala of Pres A Vi in San Francisco and Va de Vi in Walnut Creek; Eric Gower, author of “The Breakaway Cook”(William Morrow); Michelle Mah, former executive chef of Ponzu in San Francisco; Kirti Pant, executive chef of Junnoon in Palo Alto; and Chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. They will talk about how they developed their signature styles.

Appetizers will be served, along with wines from Filipino-American estate winery, Eden Canyon Vineyards.

Tickets are $35 for general admission; $25 for full-time students and those in the restaurant trade. To register, click here.

The event is a kick-off for the Oct. 10-12 Asian Food Beyond Borders symposium at the Ferry Building. The event is being spearheaded by Bay Areans Andrea Nguyen, author of “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen”(Ten Speed Press), and cooking instructor and Asian foods expert, Thy Tran.

The three-day event will celebrate how Asian communities have created dynamic cuisines around the globe. Among the speakers will be: cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey; Public Television star Martin Yan; Google cafe chef and former San Francisco Chronicle food writer Olivia Wu; and James Oseland, editor in chief of Saveur magazine.

Yours truly also will be overseeing an Oct. 11 wine-pairing seminar hosted by Edwin Soon, oenologist and author of “Asian Food With Wine” (Tide-Mark Press), at Le Colonial restaurant in San Francisco. For more information, click here.

My Lunch At Google

Cucumber-seaweed salad, assorted vegetable kimchee, and chrysanthemum greens with tofu.

If you’ve been wondering what happened to that wonderful San Francisco Chronicle food writer, Olivia Wu, she didn’t go far in miles, but she did do quite the about-face in her career.

Wu put down her pen and notepad to free her hands for some bonafide cooking. Since early this year, she’s been an executive chef at one of Google’s famed cafes in Mountain View. At her Oasis Cafe, she oversees a staff of 26, who turn out more than 600 meals a day for hungry Googlers.

A former caterer, private chef, newspaper reporter, music teacher, and yoga instructor, Wu says one reason she took the job was for the challenge to expand the palates and horizons of this young, techie crowd. As one of her wholesale distributors said of her in awe, “She’s cooking Chinese food. Real Chinese food!”

Forget visions of chow mein and egg rolls. Think steamed fresh fish, pork hash with pungent salted fish, homemade lemongrass tea, and fresh juice from young coconuts cracked to order. Or the menu the day she graciously invited me to come for lunch last week: cold salads of chrysanthemum greens and tofu, cucumber-seaweed, cranberry shelling beans flavored with shiso, assorted vegetable kimchee, and 5-spice beef cut from the succulent shin bone. The hot selections that day included: spicy ma po tofu, melt-in-your-mouth crystal pork (steamed pork shoulder drizzled with a soy-garlic-sugar sauce), and stir-fried broccoli. If that wasn’t enough, there was also house-made bubble tea with fresh, peeled lychees bobbing in it.

Ma po tofu, crystal pork, fried rice, and stir-fried broccoli.

Wu uses as many organic ingredients as possible (including the tofu), and only serves sustainable seafood. She’s even added a few traditional big round tables with lazy-susans to the seating area to encourage more synergy among Googlers as they dine.

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Google Chefs In The News Again

About two months ago, Food Gal reported here that Google’s John Dickman had quit his job as global food services director for the search engine dominatrix.

Sources tell us that he didn’t go far. Dickman has joined Apple in Cupertino. Apparently the makers of the nifty iPhone and iPod not only want to feed their hard-working employees better, but want to give Google a run for its money in the gourmet cafeteria arena. Oooh, let the food fight begin.

Nate Keller, a former executive chef at the Google Mountain View campus, had recently moved to the Google facility in San Francisco to oversee Google’s Bridges cafe near the Embarcadero. Guess killer views weren’t enough, as Keller now has resigned from Google, according to sources. No word yet on what his plans are.

And what about Charlie Ayers, the first Google executive chef who set the original high bar for food there? Besides promoting his first cookbook, “Food 2.0, Secrets From the Chef Who Fed Google” and working on opening his Calafia Cafe & Market A Go Go in Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village, he’s joined the political fray.

Well, sort of. Ayers, former private chef to the Grateful Dead, has been asked to do the culinary honors for a July 10 political campaign fund-raiser in Minnesota for former Dead Head/comedian/actor-turned U.S. Senate-candidate, Al Franken. The buzz is that Ayers is already hard at work, contemplating dishes using Minnesota’s famed wild rice, walleye pike, and blueberries.

Take Five With Lisa Rhorer of the New Cin-Cin Winebar

Lisa Rhorer enjoying Bethel Heights Estate Pinot Noir 2004 Willamette Valley. Photo by Dave LiporiAs Google’s first marketing manager, Lisa Rhorer learned to think outside the box. That’s why the 40-year-old was undeterred when it came to leaving behind her passion for high tech to pursue another — wine.

On May 13, she will open the doors to her own wine bar and lounge, Cin-Cin, 368 Village Lane in Los Gatos (formerly Cafe Marcella). It’s a venture with longtime South Bay/Peninsula restaurateur Don Durante, the former executive chef of Le Mouton Noir in Saratoga, and Birk’s in Santa Clara, who now also owns Cascal in Mountain View.

With its use of bamboo, cork, recycled glass, and reclaimed black walnut, Cin-Cin emphasizes sustainability. That’s evident in the wines, too. The majority of the ones featured are made by eco-conscious producers.

With a menu of small plates infused with Asian and Spanish flavors, Cin-Cin invites you to linger. Don’t miss the Diner Sliders, cute as a button, and juicy as can be mini burgers made from organic house-ground beef and nestled inside tender Parker House rolls.

The executive chef is Los Gatos-native Chris Schloss, who has cooked at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Geneva, Switzerland; Azul in Miami; and Telepan in New York City. Durante has known Schloss since he was a kid, as Schloss’ father was involved with Birk’s.

Rhorer’s Google stock options came in handy to help finance the wine bar. After working for the search engine giant for three years, Rhorer left in 2005 to enroll in the wine studies program at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Later, she traveled extensively in Europe to meet winemakers there, then went on to work at the Vintage Wine Merchants in San Jose’s Santana Row and to be a wine buyer for Whole Foods in Los Altos.

We chatted about how working at Google prepared her to start her own business, her favorite food and wine pairing, and her remembrance of her first sip of wine when she was all of 10 years old.

Q: You were really that young when you had your first taste of wine?

A: Yes. It was a Robert Mondavi Cabernet. My Dad was taking wine appreciation classes when I was growing up. He took us to Napa. We visited the Mondavi winery. He was a huge fan of Mondavi Cabs.

We always had wine at the table. He allowed me to have one finger-full of wine at the table. It was less than an ounce. I did like it. I liked the feel on my palate. The funny thing, though, is that Cabs are not my favorite now.

Q: What are your faves now?

A: By going to Austria and Germany, I learned to really enjoy Rieslings, drier Burgundys, and Gruner Veltliner. For reds, I like drier, more complex ones like Pinot Noir from Oregon or Burgandy. I don’t drink a lot of Merlots and Cabs, I have a sugar sensitivity. The high alcohol of wine in California don’t agree with me. I get real headachy and bloatedness. The high sugar and high alcohol also mask food. I really go for wines that go well with food because it creates a harmonious experience. That’s why I go for wines with more complexity and elegance.

Q: What is it about wine that captured you?

A. It’s an intellectual beverage. You learn about the culture of people, geology, and vineyard practices. Wine is one of those things you can never learn enough about it. And there’s a pleasure from drinking good wine. It evokes all the senses — your nose, mouth and brain.

Q: What made you decide to open a wine bar?

A: It’s the new watering hole or new Starbucks. Back in the day, people used to go to saloons to catch up at the end of a busy day. As we get busier and become a more sophisticated culture, we still need that watering hole.  I want to provide an environment for them where they don’t feel intimidated and can learn.

Organic, sustainability, and biodynamic is also very important to me. A grape skin is very permeable. Anytime you’re spraying with pesticides you digest that, and you erode the soil. It’s not good for the land and it’s not good for you. I’ve seen what it takes for growers to change their practices. It’s a lot of work. And I want to support that.

Q: How did working at Google prepare you to open a wine bar?

A: It taught me that it doesn’t matter if a ton of people are out there doing something. With Google, there was also Excite, and Lycos. But there’s always a better way to do things. Google taught me not to be deterred, that just because there are a lot of people out there already, that doesn’t mean you can’t go for your dream.

Q. What is a favorite, moderately priced wine that you wish more people would discover?
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Meet Ex-Google Chef Charlie Ayers

You may know him as the former executive chef of Google in Mountain View. You may also know him as the former private chef for the Grateful Dead.

Now, you can get to know Charlie Ayers even better by joining him on tour as he promotes his first cookbook, “Food 2.0, Secrets From the Chef Who Fed Google” (DK, $25).

Unlike so many chef cookbooks, this one is filled with dishes you can easily make at home, from ”Mexican Chicken and Caper Stew” to “Tofu Nicoise.” Of course, it’s also filled with fun tidbits about what it was like to feed 4,000 meals a day to hungry Googlers. Apparently, co-founder Sergey Brin has a thing for sushi, and co-founder Larry Page has a Subway sandwich habit. Ayers’ food was such a hit, though, that Google ended up having to hire boot camp instructors for the employees, who were getting too pudgy on all those good eats.

As Google employee #53, Ayers probably never has to work another day in his life. But the Johnson & Wales University culinary graduate has far too much energy, and far too much passion about food to stop. He will be opening his own restaurant, Calafia Cafe & Market A Go Go, later this year in Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village. It will serve up fast, casual, healthful, and sustainable cuisine.

May 9 from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., join him at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park for a talk and a book-signing. May 11 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., he’ll be at Book Passage in San Francisco’s Ferry Building doing the same. And May 19 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., he’ll do that routine at the Commonwealth Club in Palo Alto (price is $10 for members, $15 for non-members).

Meantime, enjoy this recipe from his new book.

Silicon Valley Split Pea Soup

(serves 6)

1 smoked ham hock, about 2 1/4 pounds

2 cups yellow split peas, soaked in plenty of cold water for several hours or overnight

2 carrots, cut in small dice

2 celery ribs, cut in small dice

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 large fresh thyme sprig

1 fresh oregano sprig

1 bay leaf

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 large russet (or other floury) potato, cut in small dice

14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put ham hock in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then throw away the water (this is to make sure the finished soup isn’t too salty). Put hock back in the pot and add 5 pints water along with drained split peas, carrots, celery, and onion. Add tomato paste, herb sprigs, bay leaf, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer for 2 hours.

Lift hock out of pot and set aside. Discard herb sprigs and bay leaf. Add potato and tomatoes to pot. Bring back to a boil and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour longer.

Meanwhile, when hock is cool enough to handle, pull all the meat off the bones, discarding fat, skin, and tendons. Dice the meat and return to the soup. Stir in chopped thyme and season to taste.

Serve hot, with crusty sourdough bread.

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