Review: Food 2.0: Secrets from the Chef Who Fed Google

May 27, 2008 at 12:28 am

Originally published at Paper Palate (paperpalate.net) on May 22, 2008.

For most Americans the cubical is little more than a prison with bi-monthly paychecks and a nice 401K. They are shabby ersatz rooms of false walls covered in non-descript synthetic fabric with little to differentiate one from the other. Any given cubical could belong to a paralegal, claims adjustor, or travel agent. Not so for the folks at Google, the world’s number one web site.

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin decided way back that their company would redefine the office environment for the 21st Century. Google employees enjoy a very loose (i.e. comfortable) dress code, amazing benefits, and they can even bring their pooches to work. Page and Brin are full of outside the cubicle thinking.

Take lunch for instance. The chief Googlers decided that the common model, half an hour to gorge on processed foods, was bad for productivity. The partially hydrogenated, high fructose diet of the average American is the root of our societal obesity crisis. Fast food drive-thru’s, all-you-can-eat buffets, and chain restaurants are the leading culprits in this epidemic. Again Google would be different.

Page and Brin sought out a chef to custom design the menu at the Google commissary so that workers would not be sluggish. The menu had to be healthy for sure, but it also needed to be more than that, it needed to be empowering. Chef Charlie Ayers’ brain food was considered a secret to the early success of Google. And everything that came rolling out of “Charlie’s Café” was free to every employee.  Those years spent feeding the brains of Google have now manifested themselves into Food 2.0: Secrets from the Chef Who Fed Google.

Ayers’ innovative concept for food that not only serves the body but fuels the mind begins with what he calls the “Big O.”

No, not her, “Organics are not the only path to clean, smart food. But the Big O still reigns supreme,” he writes. A devotion to organic, locally sourced (150 mile radius) foods was but one of the values employed in the Google kitchens. Chef Charlie also incorporated elements of the raw food craze as well. His philosophy is not a strict raw food diet, which is a good thing.

According to Elizabeth Brown, a Dietitian, Holistic Chef, and Sports Nutrition Specialist who hosts Eat 2 Liv, a purely raw food diet is not necessarily a healthy diet. She recited a case she recently ran across of a young lady who had contracted candida, a rare thing for a raw foodist. When Brown asked the subject how she developed a condition that usually only stems from overconsumption of processed starches she informed her that she had recently cleansed her system. “By cleansing she got rid of good bacteria and reduced her defenses,” states Brown, “I like that people may be motivated to eat more raw foods but there is no ‘one way’ to eat.”

Ayers, too, is aware that raw food alone cannot suffice. Another big element of Food 2.0 is the use of fermented foods. He says yogurt, cheese, tea, pickles, and even beer are good for the gastrointestinal track by fighting microorganisms in food. One particular favorite was the recipe for kimchi that he received ironically enough from a friend named Nina Kim. Since I love this pungent Korean condiment I had to give it a try. It was perfectly bright and tart and zingy just the way it should be and it gets better everyday.

Nina’s Kimchi

Toss a large head of napa cabbage, cut in bite-size pieces, with 2 tbsp kosher salt, then drain in a colander for 3 hours. Rinse well, drain, and dry. Mix with 4 sliced green onions (scallions), and a handful of chopped cilantro, 1 tbsp each black and white sesame seeds, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, the juice of a lime, 1 tbsp sesame oil, and a tbsp (or more) sambal oelek (a condiment used in the Far East) in a nonreactive bowl. Cover and let marinate at least overnight (it gets better over a week’s time). This makes about 1½lb (675g).

Other notable staples include Chinese black vinegar, cheese-flavored oils, toasted hemp seeds, “uncured” deli meats, chutneys, and Ayers’ custom made elixir known as special red sauce #2Special red sauce #1 is ketchup, organic of course. Another favorite on the Google campus is wheatgrass . . . as a shot. In fact they had to hire someone just to trim and grind 20 flats a day.

Ayers has moved on from Google as he is preparing to open his new 4900-square-foot healthy, fast-food restaurant in Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village called Calafia Café & Market a Go Go where he will continue to produce his smart food for the masses.

Ayers’ new book is revolutionary in its creativity and subject matter. It is more than just a cookbook; it is a guide to a new way of living. With 256 pages and full color throughout the hardcover will retail for $25 (American) and is published by DK Publishing (New York, NY).

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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