G-noshing at Google

So, I did make it out to Google for the company’s food fest.

The idea was for Googlers to sample snacks and vote thumbs up or thumbs down to help determine what G-rub will be stocked in the company’s bountiful corporate kitchens. It was a fun time — lot of music, lot of people, lot of food, real lot of energy. (They might want to ease up on the Red Bull.)

My column is here.

But one of the interesting things about the day, that I wasn’t able to get into much in my column, was a conversation I had with Charlie Ayers, Google’s first corporate chef, before I went over to the Googleplex. Charlie was hired a couple of months after I wrote this column, when Google was still in the early days. Sure, Ayers says, part of the idea of having really good food on campus was to keep Googlers working away, morning, noon and night.

He told me he brought that up when he first talked to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page about the job.

“I said to them, ‘That’s so Machiavellian of you,’ and they just grinned from ear to ear.”

But there was more to it, too. Obviously, there’s the whole healthy thing. Nutritious food is better for you and Ayers offered healthy fare (and not healthy fare, but at least the option was there). Not so when he arrived and looked around at Google’s snack stations.

When I first looked at what they were eating, it was like going into a 7-Eleven,” he says.  He added organic fruit and nuts, grains and dried fruit.

And he encouraged a food culture, which seemed genuinely appreciated. Ayers says he’d stage food events and invite Googlers to participate. He told me about an early example — a Chinese New Year celebration.

“One of the engineers’ moms  came up from L.A. to make pot stickers,” Ayers says. She asked Ayers if there were any Asian women at the company. “E-mail all of them,” she told Ayers, “and tell them to come down right now. We’re making pot stickers.”

And about 18, men and women, did.

“They all started pinging each other in their cubicles,” Ayers says. “Each one had a different way to make them. The enthusiasm was just so fantastic.”

It’s a reminder of how central food is to socializing and bonding. Food floods our memories and brings us together. Ayers — and Google, among others — get that.

In fact, Ayers, the owner of Calafia in Palo Alto, is working with a number of Silicon Valley companies, including Facebook, which has exhibited a healthy appetite of its own. Another recent job involved DropBox, which Ayers says illustrate how seriously companies do, and should, take the quality of the fare they serve (for free) to their employees.

“We did a nationwide search in every city in the United States and ran ads for a chef. And then screened hundreds of candidates and narrowed it down to two,” he says. “This is a thing that engineers now ask, ‘Who is cooking in your kitchen? What kind of food do you have to offer me now?”

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Filed under Silicon Valley Business, Silicon Valley History, Silicon Valley Life

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