When the question, 'What are your worst staff food experiences?' was posed to members of Facebook group The London Bartenders' Association (The LBA), the answers were too good not to publish. Julian de Feral gives us his hot take on some of the best (or worst)
I recall a sublime pairing of tournedos rossini and a bottle of Petrus, and that time we refused to put on our arm garters and get on the floor until we had finished our petit fours.
Sadly, the exuberant staff lunches all hospitality workers have famously been served for centuries have taken a beating with Covid-cut budgets, and we have been collecting horror stories from across the UK of some inspired takes on classic dishes in order to frighten and fend off the armies of enthusiastic office managers who are all vying for our excellently paid and secure hospitality jobs.
Jamie from Jersey tells us: 'When we were first served cucumber omelettes we figured the chef was just trying to be avant garde, but when we started getting cold chip salad four days a week we realised this was no experiment.' Unusual flavour pairings are one thing, but things get really interesting when the kitchen doubles down on ingredients, such as the south-London modern classic Undercooked Cold Rice Served With a Side of Overcooked Hot Rice, or Blackpool’s Four Carb Pie.
After spending her gap year mastering cacio e pepe in Tivoli, Lucy from Lancashire found it hard to swallow when her chef tried to convince her that spaghetti and ketchup was in fact the OG recipe from Bologna.
Marcus in Manchester reports another fascinating twist on an Italian classic: re-purposed-rice-pudding risotto. 'I somehow always assumed that risotto should have a central ingredient like, you know, chicken or mushroom or something. I guess a minimalist approach to ingredients is on trend?'
Not just less-is-more Marcus, but why should a creative approach to #sustainability via repurposing stop with bar stools? Big Dave from Dundee, whilst still very hungry, had something of a secret admiration for the chef’s brazen conviction serving leftover pizza crusts for staff dinner on a busy Bank Holiday weekend whilst charging staff £1.50 for the pleasure.
Adversity stimulates creativity in more ways than one, and from Knightsbridge to Nottingham the Mystery Meat Challenge has become a happily convivial moment in the hard-working hospitality soldier’s day:
Perhaps the luckiest staff to benefit from staff chefs pushing the boundaries of cooking, biology and physics are the vegetarians. Although vegetarianism is clearly a micro-trend we are all sure to forget next year, it has somehow inspired chefs to go to extraordinary measures to redefine the meaning of nourishment, with Carol from Cardiff recently being served a bowl of pure air and a side of 'fuck off' when she happened to mention her aversion to eating animals.
Ultimately though, it doesn’t matter what you eat – whether a ramekin of deep-fried olives, microwaved lettuce, battered crab sticks with the wrappers still on or a cornflake sandwich – it's how you eat it: above the bin, within 40 seconds, and with a wide smile. Hospitality innit?
Thank you to Abby Goodhall for originally posing the question on LBA that inspired this article, and thank you to LBA in general for being a constant source of inspiration and resource for my work with Imbibe.