I met Matt in a fine dining kitchen that got clobbered by the recession and bad management but in it's nascent stages it was the darling of the press and not without good reason. The Italian food played on classics with dishes I still dream about. It was not straightforward, it was inventive and undisputedly spectacular.
So I never understood why the family meals there were so incongruent. The same care and pride seen during service was nowhere to be found when it was time to feed staff. Scraps were thrown together into a rondo and heated up without any thought, save for the chopped parsley to finish which undoubtedly was used to conceal the mish-mash that was being served. Irene Virbilia would never make it to the restaurant before service so why exert any special effort?
At some point Matt volunteered to take over the family meal detail with the same scraps and in the same amount of time as others had been given. His dishes were all simple, things like shepherd's pie, tacos, and the best mac n cheese I had ever tasted, all from leftovers that couldn't be sold for the prices on the menu. It was so touching to see the difference of what a little love can make and how quickly Matt became everyone's favorite co-worker, including mine.
We've been hiring a few new kitchen people here at Heirloom LA as of late. Each of them has impressive resumes, kitchens they've spent time at, chefs they've cooked for, but the true test of talent is family meal. With the pressures of getting through an extensive prep list, how much care do you put into a meal that you make for your peers? I have known dishwashers to make more impressive family meals than celebrated chefs. Pomp doesn't serve memorable food to just anyone.
Lately we've been having outside visitors stop by and spend some time with us. Matt invites everyone for our noon-time family meals which has prompted one of our prep cooks, Paco, who was our first hire, to set a table outside, complete with linens and umbrellas and a centerpiece (a handled sponge placed face up in an empty bottle). It's this kind of attention that speaks volumes because there's no credit you are sure to receive except on this blog. It's this kind of care and love of the job that is valued because it translates to all of our food and has helped us to grow at an accelerated speed right in the middle of a historical economic slump. The buck pauses at Family Meal, and then it dashes on to a tasting, drop-off, catering party or food truck stop near you.