Unless you are a particularly empathetic sort, you have probably never thought too hard about what chefs eat for dinner. Who cares as long as the food they serve is delicious?

But you should care. “There is a direct connection between the food a chef eats and food for a customer,” says Nathan Outlaw, the chef patron of his eponymous, two-Michelin-star restaurant in Rock, Cornwall. “If the staff food is good, you can see morale improve. It’s simple: if you eat well, you cook well.”

Here we feature four head chefs who take feeding their staff as seriously as they do feeding their diners.

Nathan Outlaw

Chef patron of Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Cornwall

On the menu Fish and chips, with mushy peas and tartare sauce

We always have fish for staff tea on a Friday, but we always make an extra effort with it. Fishcakes, for example, are usually potato with a load of wet fish whacked in it – we cook the potatoes in a vac-pack bag, so we don’t lose any flavour in the water. Then we will get the fish trimmings and pan-fry them off and then flake them in, so you have that roasted flavour.

Staff tea is 5pm every day and whoever fancies it can make it. I’ve done it – I’m quite into doing fish pie and curries. I’ve got the excuse that I can concentrate completely on it – I say, “You can do my work and I’ll do this,” whereas they have to do their work and do the staff tea as well. But if someone makes a crap staff tea, no one’s happy. The troops definitely get a bit upset.

We are like a family in the kitchen. We’re here for 16 hours a day sometimes, so it’s got to be fun. And I try to make sure my guys have everything they need. If they need to borrow a tenner they can borrow a tenner. If they need time off because they’ve been pulled over by the Old Bill and have to produce their documents – which happens – that all creates a team that gives a shit about what you’re trying to do.

It’s pretty simple: if you wouldn’t serve it to a customer, don’t serve it to your staff. I’m not going to say it – but I’ll say it anyway – they are more important than your customers. It’s quite a bold statement but it’s true, because you can’t serve the customers without a good staff. And you can definitely taste happiness and confidence in the food. Someone once told me that they knew I was happy because the food had improved.

Yotam Ottolenghi

Yotam Ottollenghi, third left, and the team from NOPI Photograph: Pal Hansen for The Observer

Chef patron of Ottolenghi and NOPI, London

On the menu Chilli con carne with tacos and a corn and bean salsa

The other day I went into Ottolenghi in Islington and staff were eating hot dogs. Someone walked in the restaurant and I thought, “Oh no!” The last thing I want my customers to see is the chefs eating hot dogs, but the staff like them. The days when they have hot dogs, burgers or pizzas are the happiest. The last thing you want after a long service is the food you’ve been cooking all day.

The most important thing about staff food is the team spirit it creates. At NOPI we have a big, communal table downstairs where the staff can sit together before service and joke around. It’s the one time when the floor staff and the chefs mingle. Good things come out of it: the chefs get feedback and the floor staff understand more about the dynamics of the kitchen.

It would be a lie to say that I thought about staff food when I was setting up Ottolenghi. But when you have people to feed, it focuses your mind. Before we opened NOPI, we had two weeks of staff training before we had a kitchen. The first day we went to Pret A Manger on Piccadilly and bought all the sandwiches they had. It was hundreds and hundreds of pounds, so you start to take it more seriously then.

I worked in kitchens for more than five years. It’s only in the last three or four years that I’ve not worked hands-on. My first experiences of staff food were these really top-end, Michelin-standard restaurants – I found the better the food the customer got the worse the food the staff had. The food in those places is so clinical, you can’t just convert it to staff food, it’s completely different.

Sat Bains

Sat Bains, centre, with his team Photograph: Suki Dhanda for The Observer

Chef patron of Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham

On the menu Roast chicken with an avocado and tomato salad

I was brought up in a Punjabi household, so every night at 6pm we would all sit down to eat. At weekends there was always a house full of people: the family table was the action-packed area where everything happened. Now I’ve got my own restaurant, I’ve tried to recreate that feeling of everyone sitting down.

It’s not staff food, we call it the family meal – and it’s about everyone getting together and not having a hierarchy. Everyone has to sit down at 5pm. If they haven’t finished their prep list, tough shit – get in earlier. You make time and you eat. It’s the law.

The food for the family meal is wholesome, healthy and nourishing. It’s things like lamb curry with brown rice, moussaka with new potatoes and rocket. But whatever it is should be well seasoned and flavoured. We do a menu at the beginning of the week, so everyone can look forward to it. It’s psychological: “Oh my god, on Wednesday we’ve got chilli or fajitas.”

I’ve worked in restaurants – we all have – where the staff food is the dog end of shit. Some places would give you the trimmings from the bones roasted for stock. Some places don’t give you anything. Whereas here, we buy in produce and make it with love. It’s as important to me that the staff eat as well as any guest we have – it’s the same. I don’t differentiate between the two.

When it’s someone’s birthday, they can ask for whatever they want, within reason, mind. We’re not doing lobster or foie gras.

Anna Hansen

Anna Hansen, third right, and the staff of The Modern Pantry Photograph: Pal Hansen for The Observer

Chef patron, the Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell, London

On the menu Poached eggs, bacon, salad,toast and granola

My first job was pot washing at The French House Dining Room, the restaurant that Fergus Henderson and his wife Margot ran before he opened St John. It was the early 1990s and there was a small staff – just two chefs, two waiters and me, the kitchen porter – and every day after lunch we would sit down to eat proper food.

The menu of the restaurant would change every day, sometimes twice a day, so if you ordered 20 chops and didn’t sell them all, you’d have those for lunch. It was like a family, very relaxed and social. Because it was my first job, I thought everywhere must be like that. How wrong I was!

Now I have my own restaurant, I’ve tried to recreate some of that spirit here. It’s not always easy. At the French House, the room could fit maybe 26 diners. I remember one service we did 50 covers and everyone was like, “Yeah!”

At the Modern Pantry we had 300 people in for brunch last Sunday. We have 12 or 13 people working each shift, so it’s a bit of a change. But the important thing is that there is no us-and-them divide between the front of house and the kitchen. And in the kitchen, there’s no shouting, no swearing, no obvious aggression. I’m a sensitive wee flower.

The advantage of a big restaurant that’s open all day is that there’s always plenty of good food around. The staff have breakfast at 11.15am and dinner at 5.15pm and at weekends breakfast is a bit earlier.

Sunday is always a good day for staff food because we don’t open till 10am and everyone sits down to have eggs, toast and salad. In the evenings, it is usually leftovers from what we didn’t sell in the shop during the day. Yesterday, it was five-spice pork with shredded cabbage and pasta.

As a chef, you tend to do a lot of eating standing up in the kitchen. Creating new dishes is really important at the Modern Pantry, so those will get passed around for everyone to have a taste.

Last night, I had an idea for mussels and coriander fritters with a seaweed and sea purslane salad, so we will try that out this afternoon and it could go on the menu this evening. Sometimes you have an idea and you’re convinced it will be amazing and it doesn’t work at all. But that’s the fun of it – you just have to do something else.

Surprising Things Chefs Cook (or Don’t) at Home

The lives of the world’s greatest chefs must be glamorous, right? Sometimes, yes—but day to day, chefs are actually more down to earth than you may think. Check out what these top chefs (all of whom will wow foodies at the 13th annual New York magazine Taste a World of Flavors culinary event next week) really cook after a long day over a hot grill.

1. Pasta
“I love to cook pasta. It’s an easy thing to make when you don’t want to spend all night in the kitchen—whether it be a garlic and olive oil sauce or a quick tomato sauce with basil, it’s always easy and delicious.” –Alain Allegretti, La Promenade des Anglais

“Depends on the time of year. In July I’m dreaming about pasta and tomato sauce. There isn’t anything much better than that in the middle of the summer.” –Dan Barber, Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns

“I like making pasta and salads. You can use simple and fresh ingredients to create dishes with amazing flavors. You can do so many things with them. You can create a new pasta dish just by incorporating different ingredients. There is always a new combination to try.” –François Payard, François Payard Bakery

“Simple udon noodles.” –Masaharu Morimoto, Morimoto

What Chefs Really Eat at the End of the Day

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It’s common knowledge that chefs work long hours and are busy preparing food for others. There’s a ton of articles and TV shows telling us what chefs like to cook.

But are these meals that they “like” to prepare what they actually eat themselves?

At the end of a 12-16 hour day or a 70-80 hour work week, do they head into their kitchen at home and start making these meals they’ve told us about on TV and in magazines?

I wonder…

I am personally not a chef but am married to one. Obviously I can’t speak for all chefs in the world as I haven’t met them all. However, having been married to a chef for 18 years and having interacted with quite a few chefs and their wives/husbands and significant others, I think it’s time to be truthful about this topic and put an end to this myth about how chefs eat at home.

When my chef/husband comes home after a 12-16 hour day, he’s usually pretty hungry, thirsty and exhausted. He might have had something to eat before the dinner rush during the family meal at the restaurant, or he might have stopped at one of his favorite taco trucks on the way home. But if not, he’s starving!

So what does he grab when he walks in the door?

It’s probably not what you think.

No that picture is not a mistake. It’s Top Ramen (or Ramen Noodle Soup depending on the brand you buy.)

Yes, my husband is an Executive Chef of a large fine dining restaurant and the #1 food he eats after working a crazy amount of hours in a professional kitchen is Top Ramen.

(And yes, I realize I have no life… I just took a picture of the Top Ramen in my pantry. It’s late, the kids are asleep, my chef/husband is still at work. Why not?)

Now, I should be honest. It’s not JUST Top Ramen. He throws whatever else he can find in the fridge into it as well and it’s always topped with Sriracha. But still, it’s Top Ramen.

Glamorous, isn’t it?

Now I know what some of you are thinking.

“Maybe it’s just your husband. Why in the world would a chef of a fine dining restaurant eat Top Ramen at the end of the day? I’m sure not all chefs do that.”

You’re right. Not all chefs do.

Some eat frozen pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese and Triscuits, Campbells soup, lunch meat and cheese, mac and cheese, spaghetti and meatballs, leftovers, ham sandwiches, black beans and tortillas smothered in Sriracha, graham crackers, chocolate milk, Vienna sausage and rice… the list could go on and on, but you get the picture.

It’s true.

When I asked my fellow chef wives and significant others, this is what they said. Each one of their spouses has their own “comfort” food, the food they go to when they are exhausted.

Now in all fairness, chefs do not eat like this all the time. When my chef/husband has a day off, we do eat well. Nothing fancy (usually), but he somehow makes whatever I had planned for dinner taste amazing. I look in the refrigerator and think we have nothing to eat. He looks in the refrigerator and creates dinner. The times he plans AND prepares the meal, it’s perfect and I eat way too much. That just doesn’t happen very often.

So just to set the record straight, most chefs, after a crazy long day in the kitchen are not going home and preparing these amazing meals for themselves. They are eating to survive after working hard to prepare great food for the rest of us.

So if you are a chef, or know someone who is, what do you eat after working a 12-16 hour day? Did your comfort food make the list above? We want to know! Feel free to add your favorite go-to food in the comments below.

From one chef wife to another,

Follow Jennifer @ Emulsified Family’s board Chef Life on Pinterest.

This post was also published on The Huffington Post.

Here’s what 3 different chefs at high-end restaurants eat in a day

  • INSIDER spoke to chefs from three high-end restaurants about what they eat in a day.
  • All of the chefs said they eat simple breakfasts, such as granola or yogurt.
  • The chefs said the only official meal they eat at work is a family meal, a communal meal for their restaurant’s staff members.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.

When you imagine the daily habits of chefs from high-end restaurants, you might erroneously believe they eat fancy fare at all times.

In reality, many chefs eat a simple breakfast, sample what they’re cooking throughout the day, and join the staff for a communal meal in the late afternoon. In their off hours, it’s not unusual for them to cook simple meals, like breakfast tacos or grilled chicken, or for them to dine out and order pho or dumplings.

To learn more about the daily food habits of high-end chefs, INSIDER spoke to Kelly McCown, executive chef at The Kitchen, a seven-time AAA Five Diamond Award-winning restaurant in Sacramento, California; Chelsey Conrad, co-chef de cuisine at Zahav, a James Beard Foundation Award-winning Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Emma Bengtsson, executive chef at New York City’s Aquavit, a Nordic restaurant with two Michelin stars.

Here’s what chefs at three different high-end restaurants eat in a day.

For breakfast, each chef keeps their meals pretty simple

McCown said he sometimes eats granola for breakfast.

For McCown, eating well is one facet of his healthy lifestyle that also includes cycling and mountain biking.

“The old line cook ways of partying all night and eating crappy food and just going into work, I think those are going away,” he told INSIDER. He said on a typical day he’ll start his morning with a bowl of granola, dried fruit, and a banana.

Conrad also said she keeps her first meal of the day quite simple. “I generally just choose to caffeinate and go,” she explained. Once she’s at work, she said she sometimes eats a quick breakfast of yogurt, fruit, or nuts.

For Bengtsson, her breakfast is broken up into two parts. “Typically, in the morning, I have this shake that I do with all my vitamins and minerals and acidophilus,” she told INSIDER. She said although it doesn’t taste the best, it gives her the energy she needs for the day.

When she arrives at work at 9 a.m., Bengtsson said she’ll have the second part of her morning meal. “When I get to work, I try and eat yogurt with fresh berries over Swedish flatbread with either tomatoes or boiled eggs on it,” she said.

Each chef snacks a bit differently throughout the day

“I eat a lot of fruit. I’m also a sucker for salty, crunchy things,” McCown said, saying his restaurant’s house-made potato chips are one of his go-to snacks. He said some of his other favorite crunchy snacks include Cheez-Its and Cool Ranch Doritos.

“Usually during the work day I’m focused on what I can eat most quickly,” Conrad said. She’s a chef at Zahav, which is known for its hummus, so she said she tends to eat the chickpea spread throughout the day. Additionally, she said she snacks on items she brings from home, like Clif Bars.

Bengtsson said she snacks as she cooks, sampling the end pieces of meats, sauces, grains, and vegetables throughout the day. She called this her “very spread out lunch.”

Each chef said they eat a ‘family meal’ at their restaurant on most days

Bengtsson said her family meal might include salmon. iStock

Family meal, or the communal meal that a restaurant’s staff shares in the afternoon before dinner service starts, is the only official meal that McCown said he eats at work.

“It’s basically sort of the trim and the leftovers of what you’re prepping for your main menu, which is funny because we’ll have duck on the menu or something like that and then you get duck tacos, duck fried rice,” he explained.

Conrad said her restaurant’s family meal takes place at 4 p.m. The menu ranges from a large batch of shakshuka (poached eggs in tomato sauce) to Mexican food. And, if Conrad is in charge, she said the meal might consist of Southern cuisine because she’s a native of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Sometimes I’m actually able to enjoy , but sometimes I’m eating a plate of food in three minutes,” said Conrad, explaining that the meal oftentimes occurs during a hectic time for the kitchen.

Bengtsson said her family meal usually consists of a lot of meat. “We do utilize a lot of leftover trims and pieces but I always tend to tell everyone that they’re pretty lucky in what they get because we’re using pieces from salmon or cod or beef,” she told INSIDER.

When dining out, these chefs said they typically don’t go to high-end eateries

McCown said that when he’s not working, he and his girlfriend will go out for Korean food, Thai food, or tacos, noting that they avoid any sort of “highfalutin” (pretentious) eatery.

On average, Conrad said she eats out two or three times a week. When she does, she said she goes to Chinatown for dumplings or a late-night order of pho.

Bengtsson said she eats every kind of cuisine and type of food outside of work, but she particularly enjoys Mexican food and sushi.

When the chefs actually cook food at home, they said they keep their meals pretty simple

McCown said he sometimes cooks meals in a slow cooker. Lighttraveler/

McCown said that although some people think chefs cook all sorts of gourmet meals at home, most chefs are too busy to make elaborate food when they’re off the clock.

“I’m probably only home enough to cook two days a week essentially so, on the weekend, we’ll probably do one night out where we’ll go out and one night where I cook at home,” he explained. “When I cook at home, it’s über simple.”

He said a recent meal he made at home consisted of grilled chicken and California asparagus. McCown said he sometimes also makes one-pot or slow-cooker meals. In terms of ingredients, he said he gets them from farmers’ markets and Asian food markets.

If Conrad is preparing a late-night dinner, she said she’ll usually make traditional French omelets or breakfast tacos.

“It’s pretty much a safe bet that I have eggs, tortillas, and hot sauce,” said Conrad, who said she sometimes switches up her routine by making a roast chicken or a pot of beans, items that she could eat over the course of a few days.

Bengtsson said she tends to cook at home often when she has days off. “I like to keep it easy and I don’t want to stand at the stove for a couple hours when I’m home,” she told INSIDER.

She said a typical dinner she might make is steamed vegetables with fish or beef paired with a salad.

What do chefs actually eat at home?

Chefs are a proud bunch and most are happy to share with us their most triumphant, accomplished dishes. Such recipes need a degree of skill; all, a knowledge and understanding of ingredients and flavour beyond what most home cooks have in their armouries.

Even if the food imparted upon us from the country’s finest chefs has calmed down a bit (some of Gordon Ramsay’s early recipes were preposterous to mere mortals; we probably have Jamie Oliver to thank for a little simplicity and encouragement) much is still relatively high-brow, dinner-party fare. These days, recipe books are works of art and the food inside, too, is created to look beautiful. Their pages tantalise readers as guests have been tantalised in restaurants. The new Dishoom cookbook is a prime example of thoughtful effervescence: it is stunning, though most will have to wait for a free Saturday to whip up an Indian feast.

On the flip side, we have been told countless times of chefs’ love for so-called junk food. After all that pie carving and time-consuming sugar work, some might yearn for the practicality and ease of a Big Mac, or an early-morning kebab drenched in hot sauce and garlic yoghurt.

What, then, about those rare occasions where neither will satisfy; when the most enticing prospect is cooking something rewarding at home that doesn’t require too much planning and process? We’re talking about a Tuesday night, say, and by some inconceivable scenario the chef has the night off. These are the dishes that would never make it into a recipe book but which might be made for a loved one on a rainy day, a close friend on holiday by the coast; quick, efficient cooking, ideally nothing taxing but something that needs effort beyond filling a Pot Noodle with hot water or cooking a portion of chicken dippers.

I’m no chef, but I like softening up onions, carrots, celery, and coarsely chopped pancetta. After that, a few cloves of finely chopped garlic and a tin of haricot beans, drained. I leave it to cook down for a while, a beef stock is added (probably one of those Knorr jelly things), as is a splash of white wine, and soon my house smells the way I want it to. A dollop of crème fraîche and parsley lobbed in at the end elevates it all.

Lately, Tom Aikens, who became the youngest British chef to win two Michelin stars when he was just 26, has been turning to albacore tuna as his go-to. He starts by lightly pan-searing the fish before adding plenty of finely chopped ginger and garlic. Everything is fried quickly, and then cooked lentils are added, before spinach. Aikens deglazes with a little soy sauce, adds lime zest and toasted sesame seeds, and there we have it: dinner in less than 20 minutes.

Chantelle Nicholson, chef patron at Tredwells, has a quick pasta dish she favours, where she renders a handful of lardons (from Waitrose, she says) in a pan on a low heat. Shredded hispi cabbage follows, and then a few spoonfuls of boiled pasta water. Nicholson adds a spoonful of mustard and “loads of black pepper”. The dish is finished with a bit of comté or gruyère.

In fact pretty much every chef has their own quick dish. It might be a phase or it might be a recurrent theme, such is its reliability and force. All across London, some of the city’s best get home, put one pan on the hob and make something quick and easy, but wonderful in its way.

What do chefs actually eat?

Brindisa

As chef and founder of Spanish importer Brindisa – which also operates a group of excellent tapas restaurants around the capital – it’s no surprise that Monika Linton’s quick meals revolve around great ingredients, cooked simply. “Chickpeas with chorizo are a staple,” she says. “The combination of good jarred chickpeas that can be heated and sautéed or poached chorizo is something that I love for a quick, satisfying, tasty meal.

“The point of this dish is the ease of putting it together, so I use beautifully creamy Navarrico chickpeas, panceta adobada (cured pork coated with paprika), plus jarred fritada (a tomato and pepper base, which can also be made at home).”

Richard H Turner

Gridiron

As the founding chef of the Hawksmoor group and co-founder of Gridiron, Richard H Turner has a typically meaty way of dealing with cooking on forgotten weeknights: “I often turn leftover roasts – or any leftover meat I have – into potted meat, which can then just sit in the fridge for a few days to be used later as a snack or go in another dish.

“It’s the perfect way to use up leftover birds, sausages, gammon; anything. Just chop up your leftover meat, place in a casserole or roasting tray, cover with a generous amount of goose or duck fat and leave in the oven at 120°C overnight. In the morning check the seasoning and place in jars in the fridge, with a good covering of fat on the top.”

Masha Rener

Lina Stores

It’s no surprise Masha Rener, who oversees pasta restaurant and Soho institution Lina Stores, keeps her dish limited, shining a light on just a few ingredients as is customary in Italian cookery. But that’s certainly not to say it isn’t adventurous.

“I like to do fried veal brain with breadcrumbs, garlic and butter. It’s easy to make but also kind of gourmet. I always make it for me and my kids – they will probably remember me and my cooking by this one dish – also because very few people like brain, so I make it for the people who do. I always serve it with a fennel salad and seeds.”

Ben the Illustrator

Ben Tish

Norma

In addition to his role as culinary director of The Stafford Hotel, Ben Tish also opened restaurant Norma nearby earlier this year. There, his food is inspired by Sicily, as well as the island’s Moorish influences. While many chefs reflect their restaurant styles at home, Tish does the opposite, instead gravitating towards one of the world’s most famous foods.

“I love crispy chicken strips and can eat them by the bucketload,” Tish says. “One of my favourite things to do is get good chicken breasts, slice them into strips and then season, coat them in Dijon mustard and then panko breadcrumbs. I fry them until crisp and cooked in lovely olive oil. What these get served with depends – but usually a mayonnaise of some description, either shop-bought or homemade, and watercress, baby gem lettuce and red onion salad and either crispy potatoes cooked on a high heat in the oven, or in a sandwich.”

Ben the Illustrator

Margot Henderson

Rochelle Canteen

Margot Henderson, who, with fellow chef Melanie Arnold, oversees the acclaimed Rochelle Canteen, as well as its second iteration at the ICA, also deviates from the classic, flair-free, beautifully comforting British cuisine she’s known for.

“I make aubergine mapo tofu,” Henderson says. “You need to head to your local Asian supermarket to get all the delicious potions that go into this dish; the flavours are intense and layered. But it’s simple to make once you understand the different elements, which together add to something quite complex.

It is my new go-to dish and I always have what I need… well, unless maybe I have to pop out for aubergine or two. Otherwise, I do chicken thighs in ginger, garlic, and soy, simply baked after searing. It’s a dish I learnt in the Philippines that I have ‘Margot’d’. I always keep chicken thighs in the freezer and my kids think it’s a winner. I serve with rice and greens.”

Ali Borer

Smoking Goat

Ali Borer from Smoking Goat doesn’t seem to want to follow any particular style at all. At Smoking Goat, the East London Thai restaurant inspired by the late-night canteens of Bangkok, his food is playful but true to form. Not so much at home: “I make cheesy broccoli and scotch bonnet pasta – lots of garlic, a good glug of olive oil, one scotch bonnet head and the stem of the broccoli, cooked. I finish with lots of black pepper and loads of pecorino cheese. My favourite pasta for this dish is pappardelle.”

What do chefs eat?

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