Adventures in the culinary arts

Thursday, October 11, 2007 at 6:14 PM

Posted by Dave MacLachlan, Mac Software Engineer

How often do you get to cook fine cuisine for 800 people -- especially while learning from some of the finest chefs in the business? Our Google chefs offer a limited number of culinary internships, and I was lucky enough to win one. So one fine Thursday morning I got to spend 4 hours in the Google kitchens working with, and learning from, our amazing culinary engineers.

I arrived slightly late (stupid Bay Area traffic!) at 08:35 at Café 7 and Head Chef Eric grabbed me a hat and sent me over to Kelly to learn the ropes. The menu for the day was East Indian-inspired, and I was assigned to the vegetarian dishes. One was zucchini sautéed with some turmeric, and the other was a cauliflower-tomato curry. Sounds incredibly simple, but I had never really considered the scale that Google cooks for. A few hundred people can eat a lot of vegetables, and Cafe 7 is one of our smaller cafés.

Kelly started me on my first of three trays of tomatoes, coring out the tops, and dicing them into cubes. All the ingredients were amazingly fresh, many of them having been delivered from the farm first thing that morning. Each of the Google cafés runs almost completely independently from the others, and each one has a different style and ambiance. The chefs even get to choose where their produce comes from.

Being a rookie, I had to wear a knife guard on my left hand to make sure the vegetarian dish stayed vegetarian. Kelly was flying through vegetables, cutting 4 tomatoes into perfect 1 cm cubes faster than I could cut 1 into randomly diced sizes. She told me all about being a chef at Google, and compared it to her several years working in high-end restaurants. We managed to get through all the tomatoes, and then started in on the onions. Kelly had lent me some of her knives, which were razor-sharp, so I was actually glad that I was wearing the knife guard. I didn't realize that the chefs at Google all have their own private knife set. Most of the tools are shared, but knives are all owned personally.

After all the vegetables were chopped up, we moved over to the massive steam ovens and steamed the vegetables. To keep them looking fresh, we steamed them and then immediately dropped them in sinks full of ice water to blanch them. At this point I moved over to sandwich duty, and we put together 15 or so large turkey, avocado and aioli sandwiches.

It was getting to be mid-morning, so it was time to cook up the vegetables. We headed over to the stoves where we sautéed the cauliflower and tomatoes in one pan and the zucchini and onions in another. For some reason, I was expecting Kelly to have an exact recipe, but she did pretty much everything off the top of her head, with a quick taste here and there to verify that things were going as planned.

Finally, once things were all cooked up, it was time to start serving. I was put on the line and started serving all the hungry Googlers who came in. Interestingly, it was a bit of a slow day, so I actually had a chance to chat with some of the folks as they went through. It's interesting how you become a different person standing behind the counter in the chef's jacket. I ended up serving two people that I know quite well, and they didn't recognize me at all.

After an hour behind the counter, it was time to head back to the office and get some of MY work done.

I'd like to thank Eric, Kelly, and all the chefs at Cafe 7 for being so great. I'd also like to thank Emily for arranging it all. It was a wonderful experience that once again puts me in awe of our incredible cooking staff.