Long Island City
For people who work in restaurants, family meal — that one part of the day where the entire staff comes together to share a meal, usually before dinner service — holds so much meaning, even more so during a pandemic.
Chez Nick chef and co-owner Bobby Little said the importance of family meal can’t be underestimated. “That time really sets the tone for service because a great family meal puts you in a great mood and inspires you to cook better.”
And that feeling is echoed by Lauren Miller, the general manager at Pasquale Jones. “Some of my all-time favorite restaurant memories have taken place during family meal.”
After the pandemic shut down restaurants’ dining rooms, the family meal tradition has taken on much more meaning and importance.
“When the restaurants were closed during March and April, I found myself missing small rituals, like our daily 4 p.m. family meal, more than anything,” said Pasquale Jones’ Miller. “There’s always a bottle of Valentina hot sauce floating around, no matter what the theme of that day’s meal. I love how the front- and back-of-house sit down to share a meal together before the chaos of dinner service.”
For many, family meal is an opportunity for people to introduce their co-workers to the foods they grew up with.
At Rahi in New York’s West Village, both front-of-house and back-of-house employees can volunteer to cook family meal for the entire staff. “That way, we all learn and have fun together as a team,” Rahi chef de cuisine Eric Valdez said.
Family meals are truly global in their scope at Rahi’s sister restaurant, Adda, located in Long Island City. “We have staff from different parts of the world, and they cook homestyle food from their home regions for family meal,” said Adda chef Chintan Kiran Pandya. (His personal favorite? Biryani.)
“My favorite family meals are when someone cooks something they grew up eating and share it with us,” said Chad Urban, chef and co-owner of Chez Nick, which opened on the Upper East Side just a month before the pandemic shutdown.
Over at LaLou, in Prospect Heights, Gnagna Mbaye, a front-of-house server, said her favorite family meals featured either sous chef James Holland’s panzanella salad, made with crisp chunks of bread, or line cook Eduardo Castro’s feijoada, a Brazilian black bean stew.
“Naturally, it allows us to share stories of travel, where we’re from, and who we are as people,” Mbaye added. “It’s a dynamic moment before every service that strengthens us as colleagues and friends.”
LaLou’s maître d’, Fig Stallings, said that for him, the daily gathering is more than just about the food. “It’s when we check in on each other, share wild stories from the previous weekend or decade, dance to our own playlists, or simply relax together,” Stallings said. “Growing up in a family that rarely made time to sit and share a meal together, family meals at LaLou hold an incredibly special place in my heart, especially considering the fact that our family is comprised of the coolest, funniest, quirkiest humans around.”
Although new health and safety guidelines in some municipalities are suggesting that restaurants do away with family meal for the time being, the memories of those shared meals remain, as does the hope of returning to them once more.
“My favorite memory of a LaLou family meal was our last meal, the day we shut our doors due to COVID-19,” LaLou’s Mbaye said. “Our chefs prepared us a lavish meal, we had a few glasses of wine, and although we were facing uncertainty, we were still able to laugh and be scared together, which assured us that we were not in this alone.”
For the first week of our Resy At Home Specials in New York, each of the participating restaurants is doing its own special take on family meal. For a list of all the family meals you can have at home, click here.