At many restaurants, the staff meal is sometimes more important than the dinner service. During this quiet time before a restaurant throws open its doors and welcomes in hungry and demanding diners, the staff can commune, catch up, and share a meal together. In this, the first in a series about the family meal, we go behind closed doors at Volver, Jose Garces' newest restaurant.
Family Meal: Jose Garces and Staff at Volver
Date: June 11, 2014
Meal: Shepherd’s pie, salad with red ranch dressing
“Staff meal is a really important part of the day’s work at a restaurant,” says Jose Garces, Iron Chef and partner in 17 eateries across the nation. “We train our cooks to believe that no matter what you cook, it has to be your best work, and that is the case in particular for staff meal. Everyone on staff will notice if you are not putting in your best effort.”
Jose Garces has held this philosophy ever since opening his first restaurant, Amada, in Philadelphia, in 2005. His empire now includes Rosa Blanca in Philly; Distrito Cantina and Yuboka Noodle Bar in Atlantic City; El Jefe in Palm Springs; and Mercat in Chicago, his hometown.
His newest Philadelphia restaurant, Volver, opened in the city’s Kimmel Center in April 2014. A high-end, intimate dining experience, the restaurant only has 34 seats, which must be pre-purchased via a ticketing system. And while patrons may enjoy experimental, globally-inspired small plates, such as carnitas popcorn or live sea scallops with ham broth and razor clam croquette, the staff meal last week at Volver was a hearty, straightforward shepherd’s pie. “It’s something that's delicious, filling, and pretty quick to make,” Garces points out. “While we like to spend a lot of time on staff meal, it has to be time-conscious, too, because we’re getting ready for dinner.”
Garces’s preparation was made from high-end Wagyu beef. The flavorful excess from whole cuts served in the restaurant were ground and seasoned with onions, garlic, salt, and pepper. A little Sriracha sauce punched up the heat in the meat, and after combining onion, carrot, peas and corn, the whole mix was braised within a stock reduction. After braising, the meat was placed in a hotel pan, topped with rich, riced Yukon beef fat potatoes, and then baked.
Garces served the pie with a salad comprised of a veggies from his own Luna Farm, 40 acres that supplies his restaurants in Philadelphia and Atlantic City with all-organic fruit, vegetables, eggs and honey. In the mix at staff meal: “live” lettuces, freshly clipped from their roots; asparagus; scallions and tomatoes. The salad is tossed in a “red” ranch, so-called because of the color his peppery-spice blend turns the dressing. “The salad component is key,” Garces says. “You also want to offer something healthy and a bit on the lighter side.”
How did the meal go over? “Great!” Garces says, adding that though the shepherd’s pie is well liked, he always strives to mix family meal up at all of his restaurants. “We’ve made paella; we’ll do our own version of ramen. With all of the different concepts we have in the restaurant group, we have tons of recipes to choose from for inspiration.”