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Outtakes From a Maenam-aLena Staff Meal

We love a good in-house, family-style “staff meal” (a meal that goes down pre-shift, giving both front and back-of-house team members time to connect while also fuelling up for the service ahead). Last month we caught wind of a variation on this theme: a staff meal exchange between neighbourhood restaurants, Maenam and AnnaLena.

It all started with a missing issue of Lucky Peach. Kurtis Kolt (Director of Full House Hospitality) explains: “Chef Mikey Robbins [AnnaLena] had posted a little social media outreach; he was missing two key issues of his Lucky Peach magazine collection and was asking for leads. I happened to have one he was looking for, so we got to texting. There was a general catch-up about how things were going at AnnaLena and Maenam, and with us only being a few blocks from one another, I pitched the idea of us swapping staff meals one day. He immediately shot back, ‘How about next Wednesday?'”  The wheels were suddenly turning.

The day of, I showed up at Maenam just as Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Tan and Sous Chef Jonas Korys were packing up their staff meal to be sent to AnnaLena: Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Young Lemongrass, Toasted Chili and Lime; Stir-Fried Beef with Thai Garlic, Long Bean, Holy Basil; Green Curry with Japanese Eggplant, Baby Corn, and Thai Basil; and loads of steamed jasmine rice. Both restaurants included a menu for the staff on the receiving end.

When Maenam’s staff meal was ready to go, AnnaLena co-owner Jeff Parr pulled up in the alley with a trunk loaded with AnnaLena’s contribution to the exchange, and boxes, containers, and trays were swapped – landing both teams with a nice feast.

See above for Maenam’s menu and below for AnnaLena’s clever smartassery (well played, Robbins) which reads: rusted Abbotsford endives, compost XO, bacon lardon trim, waxy parm, and bread crust crumbs; sample albacore smoked with old-as-fuck hickory wood, kewpie stolen from the cafe, dill stems; alkaline noodles from freezer-burn squid ink, king oyster scraps, Vitamix-smooth Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with duck consommé; charcoal-grilled bullseye basted 30-day dry-aged (and 6 days unintentionally aged) ribeye spinalis; freshly reheated 3-day-old torn bread leftovers).

Once food was exchanged everyone sat down for a meal at their respective restaurants….

AnnaLena eats Maenam Staff Meal
Maenam eats AnnaLena staff meal

Staff meals are a restaurant crew’s breather, an important pause in the day’s madness where everyone, from the front to the back of the house, comes together as a kind of makeshift family. Precision and presentation of the dishes aren’t requirements. These meals often veer away from the restaurant’s usual style of cooking, giving a staff member who feels inspired to get creative with a spread that speaks to the cuisine of their heritage, a nostalgic meal from their childhood, or a style/dish that they are either experimenting with or simply satisfy a craving and/or transform leftovers and less-than-perfect ingredients into something unexpectedly great.

Both Jeff Parr (AnnaLena) and Kurtis Kolt (Maenam) agree: Eating as team is important. Staff meals strengthen bonds, diffuse tensions, and offer a slice of peace as a counter to the fast-pace of service. But, as Maenam GM Kurtis Kolt wisely points out, “it also ensures everyone is eating well. Too often over the years, we’ve all seen those times and places where it’s way too hectic, the day gets away from you, a chance to eat doesn’t happen, and you’re running on fumes for much of the shift.” In short: a staff meal is about nourishing the team on every level.

Take a look at the photos below for a sense of the day. Thanks to Maenam and AnnaLena for letting me tag along on the journey.

  • Maenam staff fill their plates with AnnaLena staff meal
    Maenam staff fill their plates with AnnaLena staff meal
  • Maenam Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Tan preps staff meal
    Maenam Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Tan preps staff meal
  • Perfectly cooked from AnnaLena
    Perfectly cooked from AnnaLena
  • Saucing up
    Saucing up
  • Endive salad from AnnaLena to Maenam
    Endive salad from AnnaLena to Maenam
  • Maenam Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Tan holds AnnaLena's staff meal menu
    Maenam Chef de Cuisine Jeremy Tan holds AnnaLena's staff meal menu
  • Ready to eat staff meal at Maenam
    Ready to eat staff meal at Maenam
  • Jeff and Kurtis
    Jeff and Kurtis
  • Maenam Sous Chef Jonas Korys filling trays to go to AnnaLena
    Maenam Sous Chef Jonas Korys filling trays to go to AnnaLena
  • Kurtis Kolt setting the table for staff meal at Maenam
    Kurtis Kolt setting the table for staff meal at Maenam
  • Hungry chefs getting fed
    Hungry chefs getting fed
  • Full plate
    Full plate
  • Maenam staff meal
    Maenam staff meal
  • AnnaLena staff digging into Maenam meal
    AnnaLena staff digging into Maenam meal
  • Jeff Parr
    Jeff Parr
  • Green Curry
    Green Curry
  • Squid ink pasta
    Squid ink pasta
  • Maenam staff meal at AL
    Maenam staff meal at AL
  • Brussels Sprouts
    Brussels Sprouts
  • Torn Bread
    Torn Bread
  • Tuna
  • Delivery

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