Stepping off the menu at a renowned or cult restaurant offers the ultimate culinary bragging rights. Just being a regular isn’t enough – you also need the indoor track to know what specific unlisted dish to order with a carefree nod to the waiter.
In reality, this does not happen very often. And more recently, the underground menu has become a bit of a marketing tool, a “secret garnish” on pizza, or a slice of foie gras that is not on the menu but still appears to be a surprise dish.
There is, however, one dish that is served daily that never makes it to the dining room no matter how well connected the restaurant is. This is the family meal, made famous by Ferran Adrià in his cookbook of the same name, the dinner served to chefs and restaurant staff before or after their service.
Here’s how it works at five of Ireland’s best restaurants.
There are two family meals every day at Aimsir, in Co Kildare. The first, at noon, is a late breakfast / brunch; the second family meal is before the service, at 4.30 p.m. The whole team sits together for about 30 minutes.
“We have a rotation where one person takes care of the meals for the week and delegates some work to the other chefs, then it passes to another person the following week”, explains Jordan Bailey, the chef of the two Michelin stars. -starred restaurant.
“But the chef responsible for the meals that week will still do most of the meal while the others will take care of the sides. When the designated chef plans his meal for the week, we use a template to create the meals for the week. For example, one day is devoted to meat, one day to fish, and two days are devoted to vegetables. It provides a more balanced week and gets them thinking a little bit outside the box instead of using ground meat and chicken every time.
The dishes change daily and weekly, so there isn’t a lot of repetition. It’s very motivated by the chef responsible for this week, so there aren’t really any specific preferences. “I know it’s going to sound very cliché to say that because the restaurant is called Aimsir, but it really depends on the weather,” says Bailey. “On colder days a warming chili or curry would be preferred, but on hotter days you really can’t beat a chicken Caesar salad. But if I had to pick one, it must be a lasagna with a bucket of crispy cheese on top. “
Back after a long closure, the family meal at the Kai, in Galway, takes place day and night. It’s not in the kitchen.
“The first team sits at 3:30 pm and the second team, which arrives later, sits at 4:30 pm,” says Jess Murphy, chef and co-owner of Kai with her husband, David Murphy. “As we have lunch late at night, everyone sits down after the service together, around 10:30 or 11 pm. And we have a glass of wine or whatever. The clients’ last table will be there, and we just ask them if they mind if we have our staff meal. And they’re like, ‘No, work away.’ And a lot of people complimented us on that and said, “It’s really great that you all sit down together.” It’s all of us, from kitchen porters to chefs to reception.
Murphy says they usually eat whatever is on the menu, although not everyone eats lobster. They have a zero waste approach, so between the toppings and the menu, they eat well. “We have a lot of vegetarians and vegans working at Kai, so that’s just what’s left of lunch. And, on the meat side, it will be trimmed with rack of beef or pork, which are divine, ”she says. “We basically eat what everyone else eats. I think it’s like the house wine. You have to give your staff what you are selling, otherwise how can they sell it? “
Bastible and Clanbrassil House
At 3:45 p.m., just before the restaurant and kitchen teams set up for service, all the staff sit together for the family meal for about 30 minutes. “As we have two restaurants right next to each other, normally one restaurant will cook a family meal and invite the other team when they are ready. It makes sense that way, ”says Barry FitzGerald, chef and co-owner of Bastible and Clanbrassil House, in Dublin, his wife, Claire-Marie Thomas. “There’s no real rotation, but normally we take turns leading, and others step in to help put the finishing touches.”
FitzGerald says there are no specific dishes: the only requirement is that it be smart use of what’s around and should be used. “I don’t mind ordering vegetables or dry items for family meals, but there is always some really good protein scraps to use,” he says. “We often buy flatbreads from the Halal store across the road and cook a Middle Eastern style meal with kebabs and lots of grilled vegetables and salads.”
And the best family meal he’s ever had? “I worked at St-Jean, about 10 years ago. They would sit together twice a day for a family meal, ”he says. “On Monday the staff breakfast was always full English which was a good remedy after Sunday evening.
Chapter one with Mickael Viljanen
The family meal has definitely become a more common tradition in Ireland, according to Mickael Viljanen, the chef-patron of Chapter One, at Dublin. “Most of the cuisines of continental Europe would have had the tradition for years, and it has evolved here to be the same,” he says. “For large hotels, it’s difficult to coordinate a large number of staff for a single meal, but most restaurants would. “
Their family meal is at 4 p.m. and usually lasts 30-45 minutes. There is a rotation in the kitchen detailing who cooks on which day. “It’s taken seriously enough,” he said. “As the saying goes, ‘An army marches on its stomach.’ There are no specific dishes, but the guys will always try to balance the meal. Salad and greens are essential.
As for favorites, Viljanen says the fish pie definitely lives up to the task, as does the Thai green curry and good lasagna, all hearty dishes that put the team in place for service. “My favorite one-mile staff meals were prepared by Ahmet Dede from Baltimore when I worked with him, and he always cooks them in Dede. Magic! ”He says.
TO Spitalfields in Dublin, the family meal is normally served just before 4 p.m., when reception staff arrive for their shift. They all sit together and chat over the food.
“Everyone in the kitchen contributes to the family meal,” explains chef-boss Stephen McAllister. “Colin Brogan will be making the main course, Lee Harris could arrange the side and the salad, and Romix Buneng Iu will always have something sweet to keep everyone happy.”
McAllister says family meals are usually made from whatever is available and convenient. “We all love veg, and a good side of honey roasted carrots with dukkah is a real favorite. This could be accompanied by a rich meat bolognese dish with a nice light salad, ”he says. “The service starts at 5:30 p.m., so we have about a good hour to enjoy and digest our food before serving.”
One of his most memorable family meals dates back to his training days many years ago. “It was a very simple dish of spaghetti with garlic, lemon and olive oil. Four ingredients, ”he says. “I was so disappointed that the chef who prepared it made no effort for his staff meal and called him about it. That was until I dipped my fork into the pot. It was nothing short of spectacular. I cook this regularly now.
They have a family meal that is a little different from the others. “Colin loves making breaded sausages at the end of the shift on a Saturday night for the staff, with a hard-earned pint. And sometimes customers join us, no kidding, ”he says.