Changes at the World’s Top Company Cafeteria

March 31, 2008

Yes, that would be at Google in Mountain View.

Rumor has it that there are quite a few departures upcoming at the search engine behemoth’s much touted employee cafes.

Executive Chef Josef Desimone is jumping ship to become Facebook‘s very first executive chef.

Another executive chef, Sean Thomas, is East Coast-bound to work at WD-50 in Manhattan, alongside molecular gastronomy wizard Wylie Dufresne.

Yet another executive chef, Nate Keller, has moved to the Google facility in San Francisco to oversee its Bridges cafe near the Embarcadero with its amazing view of the Bay.

And John Dickman, the global food services director, has just plain left the building.

Something tells me, though, that we won’t have to worry about Google employees starving. Or being long for their sustainable and organic gourmet fare. Ahhh, we should all be so lucky, shouldn’t we?

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How Food Gal Got Her Name

March 30, 2008

Why “Food Gal’’?

Why not Food Girl? Food Goddess? Food Fanatic?

Eleven years ago at my former newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, I was anointed with the title of  “food editor.’’ Back then, I felt a little unworthy of such an esteemed handle.

 Sure, I grew up in San Francisco, so a love for good food and fine dining was steeped in my blood. Even as a teen-ager, I baked almost every weekend (after finishing my homework, of course!). My high school friends and I didn’t give each other “normal’’ gifts for birthdays and Christmases. Instead, we’d save up our money to treat each other to dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley and Masa’s in San Francisco, even if we were too young to drink wine, and we didn’t always recognize every ingredient on the plates.

Certainly, I have always been rather obsessed with food, but I didn’t know absolutely postively everything about cooking or wine; nor was I an authority on every single restaurant or chef in the world. As a result, I felt a little undeserving at the time.

Back in the day, when readers would ring me up to ask about recipes or restaurant recommendations, I’d humbly answer the phone, “Mercury News food section. Can I help you?’’

One day when I was still fairly new to the job, an elderly woman with a frail, creaky voice called to ask a cooking question. When I answered the phone in my usual way, she slowly, but pointedly, asked: “Is….this…. the…. fooood gahhl?’’  It was the first time anyone had called me that, and something about it just made me smile.

My sarcastic newspaper colleagues liked to rib that I was the Food Goddess. But that name was pure jest. Food Editor still seemed a bit daunting. And Food Girl sounded too young and goofy,  as if I was decked out in a caped crusader’s outfit emblazoned with a pink-frosted cupcake on my chest.

But Food Gal — now, that was endearing. It sounded so down-to-earth, which I am. It sounded so spunky, which I like to think I am. And it sounded comfortable, like someone you could have a chat with about anything, anytime.

Indeed, Food Gal was like a great pair of jeans or a beautifully cut dress. When I tried it on, it just fit.

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Pebble Beach Food & Wine Extravaganza

March 30, 2008

There are top toques, and there are “Top Chefs.”

And all of them, and just about everyone else in-between, were at this past weekend’s first annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine spectacle, where foodies and vino lovers forked over hundreds to thousands of dollars to sip rare wines and to mingle with today’s hottest celebrities: chefs, of course.

Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Yountville? Check. David Kinch of Manresa in Los Gatos? Check. Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass.? Check. The legendary Jacques Pepin? Bien sur.


Masaharu Morimoto (below) of “Iron Chef America” fame delighted a lunch crowd with his sophisticated rendition of a classic Asian comfort dish: grilled Kobe beef atop congee. He was so pleased with the results, he couldn’t resist scarfing down a bowl of it, himself.


If at times it seemed like a reunion of Bravo TV’s popular “Top Chef” program, that was only natural since American Express Publishing, which oversees Food & Wine magazine (a sponsor of the TV show), was also one of the biggest sponsors of the Pebble Beach event.

“Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons, who is also in charge of special projects for Food & Wine magazine, was there to moderate a couple cooking demos. She is much prettier in person, by the way.


Lead judge Tom Colicchio  (left) sliced slivers of hamachi crudo as he chatted up Joey Altman (right), host of KRON’s “Bay Cafe.” Colicchio, more standoffish in person, said he never expected the show to take off the way it has. With filming for the show taking only one month a year, Colicchio says it hasn’t changed his life much, except that he’s now more recognizable.

Altman was excited that his new cookbook, “Without Reservations: How to Make Bold, Creative, Flavorful Food At Home” (Wiley, $35) will be coming out April 21.


Tre Wilcox (below), a crowd favorite from “Top Chef” Season 3, cooked seared diver scallops with black truffle potato sauce, gold chanterelles, and spinach, before walking over to help Morimoto plate his dishes. Shy and soft-spoken but with the buffest biceps around, Wilcox left Abacus restaurant in Dallas. He now teaches cooking classes, and hopes to open his own restaurant in the near future.


One of this season’s “Top Chef” contestants, Ryan Scott, formerly of Myth Cafe in San Francisco, also made the rounds. Tall and charming as can be (yes, ladies, he’s over 6-feet, and quite dishy), Scott was mum on how well he did in the competition. He’s now scouting Bay Area locations for his own restaurant. And joked that he’d put chicken piccata on the menu as a first course. Fans of the show will remember that dish was nearly his downfall, and almost sent him packing his knives in the very first episode.

In all, more than 50 chefs and more than 200 wineries were on hand at the Pebble Beach extravaganza, which attracted about 3,000 attendees. Not bad for a first-time event. And not bad at all, considering its predecessor, the Masters of Food & Wine in Carmel, boasted a mere 20 chefs, 60 winemakers, and 1,200 attendees.

Rob Weakley, co-founder of the event at the Pebble Beach Resorts, had organized the Carmel one for the last six of its 21years until it outgrew its venue, the Highlands Inn. As a bagpiper played at sunset each night, resounding melodically with the ocean’s crashing waves, it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque adult playground for gourmets to romp in.

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