Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Google's Big Table Cafe

One of the well-known perks of working at Google is free lunch served at a variety of cafes on campus. My husband Brad, the Gmail Spam Czar, sometimes takes this benefit for granted, but every time I join him for lunch there I remind him how very fortunate he is to be so well fed at work.

Eating at a Google Cafe is not like eating at an ordinary company cafeteria.  From the start, Google has taken its food seriously, and hired skilled chefs who have created food not only big in quantity but also big in flavor, variety, and nutrition. Over the years, I've tried about ten of Google's cafes. This month I joined him at the Big Table Cafe at a new office building he recently moved into near Shoreline Park in Mountain View. Surprisingly, there is no actual big table at Big Table. Rather, the cafe's moniker refers to the codename of some technical project that I'm not privy to. As Brad says, 'It's too hard to explain,' but Googlers are in on the secret and to them it makes perfect sense.

I greatly enjoyed my Asian-inspired meal, just one of the many meal options offered that day at the cafe:

- Baby bok choy and pickled red cabbage
- Ginger garlic noodles
- Ginger sesame asparagus
- Onion pancake with spicy Szechuan peanut sauce
- Grilled corn on the cob with butter and lime juice
- Hint water flavored with pomegranate and tangerine
- Pineapple
- Rum ball

It's truly a delight to eat excellently cooked vegetables, and the bok choy delivered.  It had a firm yet delicate texture, and its simple sauteed preparation allowed the fresh flavor to express itself. Even with its small size, the baby bok choy varied as I ate starting with the light green, mild, crunchy bottom up to the richly dark green and slightly bitter leaves. It oozed not only with flavor but with nutrients and cruciferous crunch. I know a vegetable has been perfectly prepared when eating it is as enjoyable as eating dessert. Knowing how good it is for me only increases the pleasure.

I also loved the ginger garlic noodles, thin and cooked al dente, delicately coated with a sparkling touch of ginger garlic sauce. The combination of those two Asian ingredients creates a well known combustion of fiery flavors that have been enjoyed for centuries. The delicate noodles provided just the right amount of bite and sustenance to carry the flavors forward all the way from tongue to stomach.

The grilled corn on the cob also started a flavor party in my mouth with its sweet, rich and sour combination of caramelized corn, butter, and lime juice. I've always loved corn on the cob, best hot off the coals and dripping with butter. Sweet and crunchy, corn on the cob is the taste of summer, eaten in rows like keys on a keyboard, and bringing back memories of 4th of July picnics.

To make this meal even more memorable, we sighted both Larry Page and Sergey Brin. I admit I'm a groupie when it comes to Silicon Valley movers and shakers, and felt a little thrill spotting the two Google guys. It was all very ordinary for Brad, but for me it was a treat. Enjoying lunch with Googlers talking and eating animatedly all around us, I felt a palpable energy, a kind of social vibration that emerges when I'm around engaged and enthusiastic people. That kind of energy is contagious, and I want more.  I'm convinced the food at Google is an integral driver of this vitality, not only delighting and nourishing employees, but also instilling a creative energy that fuels their ideas just as much as their work. It's part of the secret sauce that propels innovative thinking and helps the company stand out from the rest. It's no wonder why Googlers are feeling lucky. 

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