In 2005, after graduating from Manhattan’s Institute of Culinary Education, Jody Eddy’s cooking career followed an atypical trajectory for a budding apprentice. “I bounced around doing stages at places such as Fat Duck, Jean Georges and Tabla,” she says, “but soon realized I was not up to the pace. It’s a gruelling profession.”
So, Eddy shifted gears to become a food writer, eventually becoming executive editor of the highly regarded food magazine, Art Culinaire. “For my writing career, I’m so glad I had that experience in those kitchens, working in the trenches,” she says. Now, along with co-author Christine Carroll, Eddy has published her first cookbook, Come In We’re Closed: An Invitation To Staff Meals At The World’s Best Restaurants (Running Press), collecting more than 100 surprising and delicious recipes being served before the doors are unlocked at such haunts as Mugaritz in Spain, wd-50 in New York, Au Pied de Cochon in Quebec and some 22 others. We talked to Eddy about her trip back into the trenches to eat with staffers and learn their secret recipes.
Why was it important to do this book?
Great staff meals are a common thread in many top restaurants. This book gives us a glimpse inside those restaurants to see something we don’t normally see. In the best cases, staff meals are an incredible venue for cooks to exchange ideas and a laboratory for experimentation.
How did you choose the restaurants in the book?
We did our due diligence, finding restaurants that had incredible staff meals daily and weren’t just putting on a show. We used a lot of social media to reach out to cooks. When you serve great daily staff meals, those cooks are very proud and like to talk about them. That enthusiasm is hard to fake.
While writing this book, did you learn anything new about restaurants?
The urgency of each day never stops. I knew it when I worked in kitchens, but I’d forgotten. The chefs would say, ‘You can come and photograph and interview us, but we don’t have time to stop working for you.’ Dinner service waits for no one.
Were there any special moments while writing this book?
We love John Currence, owner of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss. He is such an incredible chef, but he was reluctant when we approached him. Then he admitted it: he didn’t have a staff meal. ‘Screw it,’ he said, ‘I’m going to start the tradition.’ We visited three months later and enjoyed the chicken-and-dumplings recipe that’s in the book. I’ve checked back, and the cooks say the tradition is still going strong.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned about writing a cookbook?
When you get the finished book, it’s an incredibly nerve-wracking moment. You’ve poured years of your life into it, and nothing can be undone at that point.
What do you hope a chef or restaurateur takes away from this book?
I hope restaurants that don’t serve staff meals will be inspired to start the tradition. It engenders such incredible loyalty from staff.
What was your favourite staff meal?
It’s hard to pick just one, but it certainly was fun to go back years later to Fat Duck after having done a stage there. Many of the same cooks were in place, so we had a great laugh. They served a straight-up French bistro meal with white-bean salad and ratatouille.