Photography by David Kiang
It was a bright Friday morning when the fortress gates of Gehry’s Binoculars Building opened up to us. Our names were verified, our nametags printed and stamped on our shirts. Down the Google Doodle hall, we walked, until the room opened up to a sparsely decorated dining hall. Copper walls gleamed as the atrium windows let in the day’s light.
The interview required a trip to Kirkland, Washington, where he was up against five other candidates. His life had been the restaurant industry for so long that this diversion felt slightly out of character. But, upon arrival at Google HQ, Michael’s thoughts of remaining strictly in fine dining quickly washed away.
“The interview process alone was a blast, and I knew from the people employed there and their chef in Kirkland [James Beard Award winner Jason Wilson] that Google was the place for me,” he recalled.
As we walked through the hall, Googlers sat, casually dressed, with laptops handy. Receptacles are marked appropriately, on par with their zero-waste policy. Passing the stacked food trays, there is a framed key informing the diners what dishes are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, dairy-free and so on. It is the kind of buffet that makes one realize how dangerous the concept is. I admit that I stopped listening to Michael for a moment while passing by the wood-fired pizza. Even the asparagus taunted me to get up for seconds.
The menu changes daily, focusing on regional cuisines. We pass the “Hawker’s Corner,” a street food station, with tastes from Bangladesh to Singapore to Mexico. Again, the global theme continues at their “World Buffet,” as well as the “Spa Bar,” bringing in the lighter, healthier dishes. Quinoa, whole grains, various legumes and fresh, seasonally inspired salads seem at home in this environment, even obvious. It’s true: I was beginning to see the “brain food.”
Having spent much of his childhood with his grandmother, Michael laid his cooking foundation with the Chinese recipes that she taught him. He would spend hours in the kitchen with her, watching, helping and, of course, making dumplings. “That’s where I realized that food made people happy,” Michael fondly remembered. I looked around the room; the Google employees seemed pretty damn happy as they ate.
Michael went on to explain the range of his training, from classical French and Italian, to Asian, Latin and Middle Eastern cuisine: “I think later they saw and appreciated my ability to take those regional dishes and make them healthier for the Googlers without sacrificing taste or quality. More times than not, I could make the classical dishes taste even better using organic, sustainable and local ingredients.”
On the far left wall—behind the pizza that I was avoiding eye contact with—they have their local farmers board. Familiar names from our region’s farmers markets are scratched out in chalk: Windrose Farms, McGrath Farms, Beylick Farms, Coleman Farms, Polito Farms, Weiser Farms, Kenter Canyon and Thorne Farm, to name a few that grace the board. The combination of a thoughtful, healthy and varied menu seems to do the employees justice—as it would for any workforce.
“With a brand new, state of the art kitchen and eager guests, I knew I would have to pull out all the stops to make an impression with the Googlers,” Michael said.
Fortunately, as he quickly discovered, his diners seemed well versed in food, interested and grateful, giving him consistent feedback while remaining gracious. He readily admits that the interaction with his guests was an enormous draw to the job— in addition to Google’s “Don’t be evil,” motto, of course. How could he ever leave?
As we walked out of the building, I admit that I didn’t quite want to leave either. After all, I hadn’t seen what they serve for the most important meal of the day. I can almost taste the breakfast brain fuel now.