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For the Executive Chef of the Menlo Grill & Bar, Life After Google

Carolyn Jung | October 18, 2017 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

For Saul Romero, taking over this summer as executive chef of the Menlo Grill & Bar in the renovated Stanford Park Hotel was like coming home. Romero, 46, spent 14 years as chef at the Woodside Hotels’ sister property, Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa, before leaving to work at corporate cafes at Google, eBay and PayPal. He explains his unusual decision to give up that life with weekends and holidays off to return to the relentless demands of a hotel.

What was it like working at those tech giants for five years?
When I was with Google, there were 50 cafes, and we were doing 25,000 meals a day.

What did you learn there?
Google emphasizes sustainable and local foods. It shifted the emphasis on the plate away from the protein to a vegetable. It concentrates on allergens. It has an internal program to track food waste. It was fascinating.

Why return to the hotel world?
I like the 24-7 environment, where it’s new every day. In the corporate world, menus are set, and then rotate. Here, I can create a new dish every day.

What Google lessons are you applying?
I list the ingredients that could be potential allergens, so our servers can be better trained. The hotel used to serve farm-raised salmon, but I took it off. It also had Chilean sea bass. At one point, it was on the brink of extinction. Even though it’s coming back now, if it’s from Chile, the carbon footprint is too high.

How else are you refining the menu?
I added more whole grains, and a paleo breakfast item, a hash with eggs that has yams instead of white potatoes. I added a rack of lamb dish with lamb from Sonoma instead of Colorado or New Zealand. We also opened the courtyard this summer, 5 to 9pm, Wednesday through Friday, where we cook tacos, sliders and grilled oysters outside.

What led you to become a chef?
I came to California from Mexico when I was 19. I got a job as a dishwasher at a Carmel-by- the-Sea restaurant run by a Japanese chef who trained in France. I spoke little English then, and he spoke little English. But he would show me how to do things. Once, he asked me how to peel a baby carrot. I thought that should be really easy. I did it, but then he said that’s not right. After peeling it, he took a toothbrush to clean the top of the carrot where the greens meet it and dirt collects. I thought that was amazing. His passion transferred to me.

Originally published in the September/October issue of Silicon Valley

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