Off the Menu: Deserves to be on Your Menu

A cookbook to consider adding to your kitchen is Marissa Guggiana’s new “Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America’s Top Restaurants.”

The dishes featured aren’t the food the restaurant serves its patrons, instead, it’s the food made for the wait and kitchen staff, and served as the “family meal,” usually just before dinner service begins.

According to Guggiana, in the late afternoon, the professional kitchen is a lot like a home kitchen: short on time, resources and space. So while a cookbook of menu dishes might be overly complicated (and require ingredients not easily found in the grocery store) the staff meals are the opposite. Homey and fast.

I also love that this cookbook provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at chefs and kitchens around the country. If you travel, it’s a bucket list of interesting restaurants. In Chicago, she features Blackbird, The Butcher & Larder, and Urban Belly. She interviews the chefs at each restaurant, and the best question she asks: Cheeseburger or foie gras?

The interviews give you the sense of who is behind the food, but so do the recipes. It’s what they make—not to impress guests—but for people they like and work with every day.

“It was interesting that the places I had the warmest feelings about, were the ones that made the best food,” she says. “Valuing the staff gets them really excited about the food, and you can see that pride as part of the restaurant.”

The recipe I tested is from Siren Hall in Elk Rapids, Mich. It’s a simple stir-fry, but the marinade gives it an extra layer of flavor. It was easy to pull off between driving after-school car pools and answering the last of my work emails. Noticeably better than my usual stir-fry—and no more work—that’s what makes a family meal worth cooking.

“Off the Menu: Staff Meals from America’s Top Restaurants,”
by Marissa Guggiana (Welcome Books, October 2011)

Pork and Vegetable Stir-Fry with Scallion Basmati Rice from “Off the Menu.

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