Lessons from ex-Google chef


July 23, 2008|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun reporter

Food 2.0: Secrets From the Chef Who Fed Google By Charlie Ayers DK Publishing / $25 / 2008

Along with the many perks offered employees of the juggernaut that is Google, you've probably heard about the fantastic food - healthful, plentiful and free - that's offered at the search engine's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters. The theory: Engineers will be less likely to take time to leave campus for lunch and more full of brain power to boost Google's billions.

Charlie Ayers was the chef who started it all, signing on when Google had fewer than 100 employees. (His online bio says he won the job in a cook-off.) He's since left the company, cashed in some stock and made plans to open a restaurant. Meanwhile, he's written his first cookbook of "smart recipes."

The first part of the book is wildly impressionistic; too bad there's no Google search to help you find what you want quickly, though the index can help. Ayers begins with his three-word food philosophy - "fast, raw and organic" - then spends about 100 pages expanding on his mantra, with some casual recipes for raw juice snacks, "flavor cubes," vinaigrettes and sauces sprinkled in.

Ayers dishes a bit about Google's early days: His panini bar was so popular it had employees gaining too much weight, he says, and co-founder Sergey Brin loves sushi. There are useful cooking tidbits here as well - you'll learn how to handle raw tuna at home ("fish is brain food, period") and to leave salt out when you're cooking mushrooms and beans.

The second part of the book has more formal recipes divided into chapters such as "Start My Day" and "Take a Break." (Curiously, "Winding Down," the dinner chapter, comes before "Pick Me Up," with workday snacks.) Most of it's designed to be high-energy food, with lots of smoothies, salads and wraps.

Ayers clearly loves beets. They show up with wild salmon, spiked with cheese and, heretically, in a caprese salad with mozzarella, tomatoes and arugula. I couldn't bring myself to try that, but I did enjoy his Beets With Bacon and Crumbled Blue Cheese, which tempered the beets' sweetness with a mildly spicy sauce. The recipe needed more guidance on how to cook the beets, however. I roasted them.

The Washington Nutty-Blue Smoothie, which fortified summer fruit and yogurt with a bit of peanut butter, was a quick, filling breakfast that sustained me through a busy morning at work and past my normal lunchtime.

The Mint-Chocolate Brownies, one of the book's few desserts, were delicious, but so rich and chocolaty that they might cause a sugar crash during a long day. I'd save them for weekend indulgence.


Beets With Bacon and Crumbled Blue Cheese

Serves 2

3 large, fresh beets

4 slices "uncured" applewood-smoked bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 red onion, halved and sliced

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika

4 tablespoons Banyuls or sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon unrefined granulated sugar

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap beets in foil and bake for about 45 minutes, until a knife easily pierces the beets. Cool and rub off peels; cut in wedges and set aside.

Cook the bacon in a nonstick saute pan until crisp. Remove from the pan, drain on paper towels and roughly break up. Set aside.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat from the pan, then add the olive oil and heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring, until lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the spices and vinegar, and then the beets. Toss gently until they are hot, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and season to taste.

Spoon the beets onto 2 plates. Sprinkle the bacon on top, followed by the blue cheese and parsley. Serve with whole-grain bread.

Adapted from "Food 2.0"

Per serving: 349 calories, 15 grams protein, 23 grams fat, 9 grams saturated fat, 21 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 39 milligrams cholesterol, 871 milligrams sodium


Find recipes for Washington Nutty-Blue Smoothie and Mint-Chocolate Brownies at baltimoresun.com/taste

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