Chef Hayan Yi weighs in.
Staff meal food costs:
There is no set budget, but I try to keep it relatively low. It’s usually around $2 a person, sometimes lower.
Size of staff meal:
15 to 25 people
Time of staff meal:
Worst staff meal:
I worked at a restaurant that would save the scraps from catering and banquets for family meal. It was always overcooked, and prep was always crazy, they never had time for staff meal. I generally don’t like leftovers.
Laura Maniec says Corkbuzz, her new Union Square wine bar, has the best staff meal in town, and it's hard to argue with her. It doesn't hurt that the meal combines ethnic comfort favorites from Chef Hayan Yi (think empanadas and scallion pancakes) with a blind tasting that allows both front- and back-of-the-house staff to brush up on (or learn) wine essentials.
Allowing staff to sip vino during family meal is enough to earn Corkbuzz some pretty major points, but Chef Yi's meals are also to blame for Maniec's boast. "We like to do fun stuff," says the Daniel- and Le Bernardin-trained chef. She'll cook everything from guilty pleasure fried favorites like chicken fingers and jalapeño poppers (for those late-night, end-of-shift cravings) to more composed dishes such as tender Braised Pork Belly, paired with vegetable fried rice and scallion pancakes. And while it's not exactly competitive in the Corkbuzz kitchen (the heavily female kitchen and front-of-house seem to teem with support), Yi says there is a certain sense of staff pride that goes into making their family meal more than ordinary fare. "Every single person wants to outdo each other; there is a little vanity to it," she says.
Once the food is served, Maniec reaches for one of the 200-plus wines from their collection, covering the label in aluminum foil for a blind tasting during the meal. Then it's all hands on deck, as the somms, wait staff, managers, and cooks try to uncover the wine's background through flavor nuance and viscosity while Maniec teases information from her team, giving clues and notes along the way.
"If you blind taste, you can make some sort of evaluation," says Corkbuzz Manager and Sommelier Morgan Harris. "It's all about curation, about how we find a really great wine at a really great price point." Looking to this union of price and quality, Maniec chose the 2009 Domaine Kreydenweiss Kritt Pinot Blanc ($48 on the wine list), to pair with the rich pork belly. Yi's reduced rice wine vinegar glaze—lightly peppered with ginger and ramps—matched the subtle ginger notes of the wine (common to all Alsatian wines, according to Maniec), which the staff further described with Granny Smith apple, slate, and distinct mineral notes and light acidity. "How psyched are you as a guest if someone is super excited about this wine and it's only $48?" says Maniec of the wine. "It's a steal."Starting the shift with a taste of wine, a deliciously paired staff meal, and a little vino education? We'll take that combination any day.