Off the Menu
Staff Meals from America's Top Restaurants
By Marissa Guggiana
(Welcome Books, Hardcover, 9781599621029, 288pp.)
Publication Date: October 11, 2011
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Marissa Guggiana spent months on the road, interviewing, travelling, photographing, and sharing staff (or family) meals at more than fifty of America’s top sustainable restaurants from coast to coast.
For every lunch or dinner service, there is a staff meal. The best chefs in the best restaurants take their limitations—affordability, ingredients, and time—and create meals worthy of their compatriots. Ranging from small plates to multi course extravaganzas, the concept is simple: A well-fed staff is a happy one.
Guggiana looked for chefs that sourced locally, thoughtfully, with a big eco-picture in mind and a well-fed staff at their heart. The result is simply unprecedented: a no-holds-barred trip behind the kitchen door, introducing you to every chef, sous-chef, line cook, server, bus boy, bartender, hostess, sommelier, dishwasher, and manager—all of whom you will come to adore. Off the Menu, an homage to cooking with love and leftovers, makes accessibility a delight. Lush, colorful, homegrown, and delicious, it is packed with lessons, tips, substitutes, anecdotes, and American wine and beer suggestions.
At Vetri in Philadelphia, we get a family recipe from Chef Marc Vetri’s father and at Anne Quatrano’s Bacchanalia, we are whisked into the adjoining Star Provisions, described as a “culinary dream shop,” for bahn mi sandwiches. We go from gumbo to hot dogs, chicken and biscuits to duck and lettuce wraps, Tuscan kale salad to Chile Verde. It’s all here.
The icing on the cake is the chef’s profile: Guggiana’s own Escoffier Questionnaire, is a playful epicurean take on the Proust questionnaire. Who better to recommend the best coffee shop or the perfect restaurant for a splurge, than the top chefs in the country? Find out where Paul Liebrandt of Corton goes for an after-work meal and the go-to-guilty-pleasure treat of Chef Michael White of Marea. The restaurants included vary from vegetarian to rustic, old-world Italian cuisine, from Asian-fusion to contemporary Mexican, from Scandinavian to Oyster bar. These are the meals that make a staff a family and family part of the staff.
Inside Off the Menu you will find 100 recipes from more than 50 of the nation's top restaurants. Each entry includes profiles of the restaurants, Q&As with the chefs, behind-the-scenes trips to the kitchens, and dining out tips, restaurant tricks, and cooking techniques from the cream of the culinary crop. Pull back the curtain on the staff meal, and find new, exciting ways to feed your family from the best in the business.
• More than 50 Profiles of America’s Top Restaurants.
• "Escoffier Questionnaires": Interviews with America’s Best Chefs.
• Behind-the-scenes at America's best restaurants, featuring tips and tricks from the nation's best chefs.
• More than 150 delicious, affordable, family-style recipes refined for the home cook.
• More than 150 photos.
A selection of the Good Cook Book Club.
MARISSA GUGGIANA is the author of Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers, which profiles fifty of the most innovative whole-animal butchers and chefs in America and shares their most impressive recipes. In 2011, she co-founded The Butcher's Guild, a national organization promoting and supporting artisanal butchery. Marissa is an editor and contributor to Meatpaper magazine and a board member of Ag Innovations Network. She lives in Berkeley, California.
“Marissa Guggiana takes the question, “What’s for dinner?” to America’s best restaurants. In a fresh, entertaining twist, she doesn’t offer the restaurant’s specialities. This is a treasure trove of creative recipes for staff meals, complete with mouthwatering food photos, casual snapshots of the back-of-the-house and interviews with the chefs. For all of us who’d love to peek into restaruant kitchens and make off with their tricks and best recipes, OFF THE MENU is perfection.”
-- BETH GOEHRING, Editor-in-Chief, The Good Cook Book Club
" For Marissa Guggiana, destination trumps any issues of distance if it means camaraderie and good food. In researching Off The Menu, she visited fifty-one of the nation’s best restaurants, sharing staff meals with the owners, chefs, waiters, and bussers. Her inventive book presents one hundred recipes for those dishes, grouped by restaurant—Seattle’s Lark, Aquavit, in Manhattan, and Bluestem, in Kansas City, among them. Clearly, this is more than just another cookbook.
Guggiana’s introduction to each section conveys the quality of the experience and the character of the places and people she met. This is enhanced by profiles of owners and chefs, revealed through the classic Escoffier Questionnaire, a series of queries regarding favorite foods, kitchen equipment, ingredient sources, etc. Who knew that so many leading tastemakers would choose a cheeseburger over foie gras? As with all enticing cookbooks, there are sumptuous photographs of food. But the lens here is also trained on “families” of workers sharing an amazing meal either before or after the dinner service. These behind-the scenes additions make this book entertaining for even wannabe cooks.
Of the recipes that form the heart of the book, Guggiana hopes that they will encourage her audience “not to cook longer, but to cook smarter,” to try the recipes, and to adopt this mantra: local, organic, fresh, and seasonal. Unless you’re Mario Batali, none are menus to throw together before running off to a child’s ball practice; but the novice with a grasp of techniques and vocabulary will find dishes to try immediately (buttermilk fried chicken, meatloaf, oatmeal cookies) and ones to grow with (wild boar ragout or Banh Mi sandwiches). Those who know their way around the kitchen intimately will relish the rediscovery of “down home meals,” whether home is New Orleans or New Delhi. Each recipe is preceded by a brief introduction that reveals Guggiana’s personal connection to the dish, hints at what makes this dish extraordinary, and occasionally gives advice: What is a good substitute if wild boar is unavailable?
As a third generation butcher, author of Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers, and president of Sonoma Direct, a purveyor of sustainably raised meat, Guggiana knows great food. She likens eating in a great restaurant to a museum-going experience, saying it “. . . seeds inspiration and shifts in perspective.” Her enthusiasm spills onto each page with prose as evocative as freshly picked basil.
-- GERALDINE RICHARDS, ForeWord Magazine, Sept/October 2011