Every day at about 4 pm, the chef deviates from the list of “projects” he needs to complete for service, and mixes ingredients that don’t belong together according to his menu. He scoops up the discards on the cutting boards before they get tossed into the bin, and what doesn’t end up as trash becomes food for his staff at the restaurant. These foods are called the “family meal,” or just “family” at Fung Tu, the Chinese American restaurant where I stage. One hour before service starts at 6pm, the front- and back-of-the-house help themselves to the food. For most of the cooks in the restaurant, including the chef Jonathan Wu, family is their first, and sometimes the only meal of the day. If they are not done prepping for service, they will eat while whipping mayonnaise, or wrapping egg rolls.
Not every ingredient for family comes from scraps. Chef stocks up bucatini pasta, chickpeas, and sweet Italian sausages specifically for family, because, he tells me matter-of-factly, they have longer shelf life. But his main aim is to minimise food waste, so he works mostly with the leftovers, the despised animal parts, and the sad-looking vegetables. Bak choy is ever present because only half the batch has the perfect curves to be customer-worthy. On Tuesdays, the first working day of the week, there is always leftover chicken from the Sunday-only menu. Since family corresponds to what the restaurant serves its customers, when a new season arrives, or on special days like the Jewish Passover, the members of the family find new foods in their plates too.