Family dining is the Louisville restaurant’s secret tradition

Have you ever stopped and thought about what the people who cook or serve your restaurant meals have for their own dinner? They work all dinner hour after all.

Not surprisingly, at many Louisville-area restaurants, it’s a long-standing tradition for staff to eat together, often before their shifts. Known as the family meal, this can be the time when some of the most interesting home-style dishes are prepared. It’s also a time for people to gather outside the hustle and bustle and enjoy a meal together, as anyone about to walk through the door will do.

And there is no shortage of approaches, types of meals or traditions in local places.

“Our family meal is served every night before our dinner service. It can be something as simple as a burger and fries, an Asian stir-fry, a meatloaf, a mac and cheese, a casserole, pizza or pasta. Sometimes our kitchen staff prepares meals individually for the entire restaurant staff and other times it is executed by my sous chefs,” said chef John Plymale of Ceps Restaurant2730 Frankfurt Ave.

Family Meal was “first started to create camaraderie among all of our team members. Our conversations can be something as simple as what you did last night or as complex as life in love with someone; what’s happening in the near future for restaurants; or just a few quiet minutes before moving on to our nightly duty sequence,” he added.

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Often on special holidays, like Christmas, New Years or the Kentucky Derby, the Porcini team “will also do after-service meals just as a way to say thank you for all your hard work and to have a little something special.” in your stomach before you have to come back the next shift for another busy night on duty,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s nice, because with all the hustle and bustle, we also often forget to take the time to enjoy the company and just spend some time with each other during one of our only quiet moments. We’ll also talk about our specials for the evening, any wines we might miss, drink specials, pasta specials and just expectations for that night.”

Chef John Plymale at Porcini on Frankfort Ave.  January 23, 2018

What the kitchen prepares, however, often changes depending on the season. In the summer, “it can be something as simple as a dessert from our pastry chef or produce from our own garden or just grilling pork chops with barbecue sauce,” Plymale said. “We keep it simple, tasty and with the aim of relieving our hungry staff and telling them: we’re doing it because we appreciate you.”

To Brooklyn and the Butcher, 148 E Market St., New Albany, Chef Ming Pu says the family meal is an “everyday” event. For his team, a must-have is the 5 Spice Beef Stew, which consists of leftover beef the kitchen has made from rotting ribeyes and strips, soy sauce, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes as well as whole five-spice spices such as cloves, cinnamon, star anise, peppercorns and fennel.

"We cook family meals every day at Brooklyn and The Butcher for all staff.  One of my favorite dishes is the 5 spice beef stew," Chief Ming Pu said.  It consists of leftover beef from breaking down ribeye and strips, soy sauce, carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes, and whole five-spice spices like cloves cloves, cinnamon, star anise, peppercorns and fennel.

“I like to make family one-pot meals like this because you can feed the masses and incorporate protein and veggies so staff can have a healthy meal that isn’t chicken tenders and fries” , Pu told the Courier Journal. “We usually serve this with a side of nishiki rice.”

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Pu brought a bit of her family’s heritage and tradition to this special dish. It’s related “to a dish of braised beef with five spices that my mother made when I was a child. … I want to introduce my staff to the flavors of my childhood but also to make them something affordable, c That’s how this dish became a traditional family meal dish in our restaurant.”

To Mayan coffee, a farm-to-table Mexican and pan-Latin restaurant at NuLu at 813 E. Market St., the family-friendly front-of-house meal takes place in the late evening. The kitchen team takes turns preparing it, “although it’s usually Esli, our sous chef, who prepares it,” co-owner Anne Shadle said.

Employees of the Mayan Cafe restaurant in Louisville share a "family dinners" at the restaurant.

“He uses this meal as a chance to try new ideas, use little bits of leftover produce from the day, or do something totally off the menu. Bruce [Ucán], our owner, is usually in the galley on Monday nights and loves making pasta for the crew. Or egg sandwiches — it goes in phases,” Shadle said.

Sometimes the kitchen team pairs their family meal with wine,” with each server choosing a different wine and describing the pairing. It’s a time for us to let loose and breathe together, let off steam on the night, to get to know each other on a deeper level,” she said. “It’s a great time that we share. Food brings our guests together and it also brings our staff together.”

Staff meals are just as important in historic hotel restaurants, such as those at The Brown Hotel335 W. Broadway.

“The staff meal is a big part of the day for our crew. Usually the meal consists of comfort food where one of our cooks grew up,” said chef Dustin Williett. “Any additional product is incorporated to make a delicious meal. We always make sure there is a protein, starch and vegetable.”

According to chef Dustin Willett, the staff meal is an important part of the kitchen team's day at the Brown Hotel.  Usually the meal consists of comfort foods where one of our cooks grew up.

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And like any good meal, there are always “bonuses”, such as salad or dessert. Everything goes well when the team is well fed so whether it’s beef stroganoff or chicken adobo with rice, we make sure the team is well fed and ready to go.”

For Zack Wolfe, with Olé Hospitality Groupthat turn Modern Mexican Guaca Mole, El Taco Luchador, Mima’s Bodeguita, Steak & Bourbonand Madam Arepafamily meal” is a time when we can pause and come together. Stay hydrated and nourished for the upcoming shift. For us, we focus on family recipes. With Venezuelan, Mexican concepts and Cubans, we’re lucky to have a lot of staff from all over Latin America, so there’s always variety,” he told the Courier Journal.

Cuban cuisine at La Bodeguita De Mima

But when Wolfe prepares the meal, he ventures into a more “traditional” cuisine.

“If I’m in charge, I like to go with meatloaf. It’s a dish you can throw in the oven and forget about. It’s always satisfying and you can include lots of different ingredients from the kitchen,” did he declare.

Tell it to Dana! Send your restaurant “dish” to Dana McMahan at [email protected] and follow @bourbonbarbarella on Instagram.

Freeda S. Scott