At around 3 p.m. each day, the staff at PiDGiN (350 Carrall Street) sits down for a family-style meal in the dining room. Executive chef Makoto Ono is usually at the table, and today, he’s joined by two members of his kitchen brigade, as well as pastry chef Amanda Cheng and assistant general manager Hao-Yang Wang. As front-of-house staff arrive for their shifts, they take a seat and scoop up a bowl of warm kimchi fried rice from the large pot sitting on the table before preparing for that evening’s service.
“We try to take time out of our day to sit down and relax,” Ono tells the Georgia Straight. “We all start pretty early, and a staff meal gives us an opportunity to relax before dinner service actually starts.”
Not all restaurants offer their staff prepared meals during work hours, and Ono notes that even at restaurants that do, the style and quality of meals can vary. When he was growing up in Winnipeg, Ono’s family owned the city’s first sushi bar, where he helped out first as a dishwasher and then as a cook. Watching how his parents treated the staff made quite an impression on him.
“It was important for my parents to provide staff meals,” he recalls. “Usually, my mom made most of the staff meals, or they would rotate between cooks at the restaurant.”
After training at Vancouver’s Dubrulle culinary school, Ono moved to London, England, to cook at the now-closed Mirabelle restaurant. While he was required to work long hours at the fine-dining establishment, the staff meals provided were some of his least favourite out of all the places he’s worked.
“It was a Michelin-rated restaurant, so you would think that a staff meal would be really good, but it was actually the opposite,” Ono recalls. “I don’t know if it was because there wasn’t enough time to spend on staff meals, but it was just always an afterthought.”
When Ono opened Makoto in Beijing and two other restaurants in Hong Kong about five years ago, the type of staff meal was, again, different each time. He says that three cooks were hired for the sole purpose of making meals for employees at his Beijing restaurant, whereas in Hong Kong, a catering service delivered staff meals each day.
“It’s different depending on every style of restaurant—even in Vancouver,” Ono adds. “A lot of restaurants, they have staff meals but they’re eating as they’re working because there’s so much that needs to be done or not enough time.”
At PiDGiN, the meal is often based on whatever ingredients remain after prepping menu items. On the day the Straight stopped by, there was leftover pork, extra kimchi, and day-old rice.
“Because of the leftover rice, we make fried rice a lot. Everything is always really good because it has that comfort kind of feel,” Ono says. “I think when you’re working in restaurants, at the end of the day, you just want to eat something that reminds you of a home-cooked meal.”
Makoto Ono’s kimchi fried rice
¼ cup (60 mL) vegetable oil, or 2 Tbsp (30 mL) if adding bacon
4 slices thick-cut bacon (optional), roughly chopped
½ large onion, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 cup (250 mL) kimchi, chopped (see recipe below)
2 cups (500 mL) day-old cooked rice
2 tsp (10 mL) soy sauce
1 green onion, thinly sliced
- In a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and fry bacon, if using.
- When bacon is cooked but not crispy, stir in diced onion and garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.
- Add kimchi and cook for 2 minutes. Add rice. Using a wooden spoon, break down any hard lumps of rice and mix well. Cook for 5 minutes until rice is hot throughout.
- Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Remove from heat and keep warm.
- In a separate pan, fry two eggs sunny side up.
- Divide the rice between two bowls, garnish with green onion and extra kimchi to taste, and top each bowl with a fried egg.
2.2 lb (1 kg) napa cabbage
¼ cup (60 mL) sea salt
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 green apple, peeled and grated
3 stalks green onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp (15 mL) gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
- Cut cabbage in half, remove core, and cut each half into 2 wedges. Divide each wedge into 2-inch-wide pieces. Transfer into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Place a heavy plate on top of cabbage to weigh it down. Leave at room temperature for 8 to 10 hours.
- Squeeze excess water from cabbage and drain bowl. Add all other ingredients and mix well.
- Transfer into a plastic container with an airtight lid. Store in a cool place, such as a garage or basement, for a minimum of 3 days, or in the refrigerator for at least 5 days, before consuming.
Yield: 2 main-course-sized servings with extra kimchi.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.