When internet giant Google, Inc., opened its New York City operation, it wanted to make sure Big Apple Googlers had access to the same kind of great food choices as those at the Mountain View, CA, headquarters complex did. The responsibility for making sure that happens has been put in the capable hands of Gary Gibson, who couldn't be happier to accept it.
Gibson is executive chef for the Restaurant Associates managed dining operation at Google-New York, where several thousand gourmet-quality meals are served each day—free, as at other Google sites. Gibson is responsible for planning the menu and overseeing the production and service performed by a dining staff of around 30 individuals.
It is an assignment that thrills the veteran New York chef, who has worked in fine dining landmarks like Harry Cipriani's, Dean & DeLuca, the Park Bistro and Drew Nieporent's Icon restaurant in the W Court Hotel. In the onsite dining phase of his career, his stops have included Bear Stearns, American Express/Shearson Lehman Brothers ("where we fed about 6,000 people a day," he says), the City University of New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Ernst & Young.
The menu must consume a lot of your time.
My main focus is devising menus that reflect Google's philosophy and approach to food. We don't have a cycle menu here, but we prepare all food fresh on a daily basis. As much as possible we use organic, sustainable, cruelty-free products. We cook local, seasonal foods and seek out artisan vendors who take pride in their products. Every day the whole menu changes, which is difficult to get your arms around, a challenging task, but in the end it's really worth it. We have Googlers come up and say the food they had in the cafe for lunch is better than they've had in restaurants at night...
In New York, that's pretty high praise!
Absolutely. It's great to work here because you can get so many wonderful products.
Do you try to push the envelope with the menu?
Sure. For example, not long ago we did a spin on vitello tonnato, an Italian dish made of thinly shaved veal with a tuna sauce. Instead of veal, we made a smoked turkey sandwich with seared tuna and aioli on grilled bread.
How did you get interested in cooking?
I think there are decisions you make in life that turn out to be turning points. For me, it was when I was about 15 and a local restaurant owner I knew had just had an argument with a dishwasher before the night service. The guy quit, and the owner asked me if I wanted to fill in. I did and ended up being the dishwasher. Later I became a line cook, bus boy and product receiver—pretty much a jack of all trades—and I fell in love with the business.
Is that when you decided on a culinary career?
Well, I continued to work in restaurants when I went to college. Afterwards I got a full-time job cooking with Harry Cipriani and opened his restaurant in the Sherry Netherland Hotel. Cooking-wise, it was horrible at the time. I was their prep guy, so I cleaned all their fish and all their meat. I was in a basement knee-deep all day long, but it was probably one of the best things that could have happened as I got a cooking education like none other. From there I went to Dean & DeLuca as a cook and eventually became the chef there.
Any particularly memorable dinners?
I did a special at the James Beard House for David Rosengarten, who wrote the cookbook for Dean & DeLuca. He was putting on a book signing and dinner at the James Beard House.
What other big events have you done?
While I worked at Ernst & Young, I met Mayor Giuliani, who had a business in the building and I did all his catering. The building is on 42nd Street near Times Square, right across from where they drop the ball, so he'd have his New Year's Eve party there and I threw that for him one year.
Why did you go into onsite dining?
My daughter was young and I wanted to see her more often. While corporate is no piece of cake, the hours and weekends are more forgiving, though it doesn't always turn out that way. At the Metropolitan Museum, for example, you had three days off a year—Christmas, New Year's and Thanksgiving. Other than that it was open and you're talking about nearly around-theclock: dinners, brunches, weekends...a very busy place! American Express was basically a Monday to Friday operation but at CUNY there was catering constantly on weekends.
What was your perception of corporate foodservice before you came over?
I thought that it would be less creative but that turned out not to be the case, especially here at Google.
What are some of the current food trends that interest you?
I've got to believe that eating properly and responsibly will become more mainstream. Also the raw cooking movement where nothing is cooked over 118 degrees is going to become very big, I think.
What ethnic cuisine trends are you bringing to Google?
I've been working on a plan to put together healthy versions of street foods of the world.
| Favorite Dishes: Cassoulet; long-braised foods like lamb or veal shanks; perfectly prepared aged steak with classically made french fries and a glass of wine. |
Favorite Restaurant: Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center
Hobby: Antiquing for old and rare kitchen appliances.
Favorite Cuisine: French
Chef Hero: Jaques Pepin
Book Recommendation: Hooked: Pirates, Poaching and the Perfect Fish, by Bruce Knecht