It took 60 lbs. of beef, 40 lbs. of beans, 20 lbs. of chorizo, and 18 lbs. of freshly roasted pumpkins – all locally sourced – to prepare the two batches of spicy autumnal chili (one with meat and one without) that was served with a dash of cheese on a recent Tuesday at Etsy headquarters in Brooklyn. The meal, which was prepared by three dedicated prep cooks from Radish, required nearly 30 hours of labor; eight of which were spent solely chopping ingredients for the soup. With all the careful sourcing and thoughtful preparation behind enough chili to serve 350, it would be easy to assume the office was breaking bread as part of a rare celebration or special occasion. But no, it was just another Tuesday lunch called Eatsy.
In fact, the locally-sourced meals known to Etsy Admin and their guests as “Eatsy” happen every Tuesday and Thursday, which means that as of this week, the company has lined up in the kitchen to serve themselves 98 meals in 2012. The meals are comprised of all sorts of cuisines – from five-spice pork belly sandwiches to chicken meatballs dripping in tomato sauce; roasted pineapple tamales; vegan sushi with miso soup; and dozens of zesty seasonal salads to boot.
The program – which serves to nourish the stomachs and energize the minds of those who keep Etsy up and running – has deep roots, much like the vegetables being served up on compostable bagasse plates. Eatsy has evolved over time, growing with the company and staying true to the philosophy on which it began, says Eatsy Coordinator and Office Manager Katie Rose Crosswhite.
“It had very modest beginnings – for a long time there was just someone cooking for everyone out of their own kitchen. There were a lot of hard-boiled eggs and beets when it started, but it laid the groundwork for something that was going to become really big,” she says. “You can still see the roots of the program in the way I try to run things. We’re supporting local restaurants and caterers who try to, as much as possible, whenever seasonally possible, source locally from New York state, New Jersey state, and Connecticut farms. That’s what Eatsy was built on, and it’s a legacy I’m proud to continue.”
In addition to supporting local restaurants and caterers like Ted & Honey, Num Pang, The Meatball Shop, Chavela’s and Mile End, Eatsy also aims to take the same handmade, know-your-maker approach to food that it cultivates within the community.
“I think that the really great thing about Eatsy is that, at its core, it reflects what Etsy stands for,” Katie Rose says. “Supporting small businesses; allowing people to be self-sustaining as business owners. Also it’s handmade – all of our food is handmade, and I feel like that really rings true with what Etsy does. It’s really special. We talk about Code as Craft, and I think that Eatsy is its own craft; Food as Craft.“
Keeping track of where each and every ingredient comes from is very much a part of the process, as is making sure the plates and napkins are torn up and composted at the end of the meal. Trying to minimize the carbon footprint is huge for Katie Rose when she plans the meals with caterers, and it also reflects Etsy’s commitment to use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems as a certified B Corporation. In the interest of transparency – and to give Admin a head’s up about what’s for lunch – Katie Rose sends out an office-wide email outlining the menu, the caterer, and the farms where the ingredients were grown and sourced.
Oftentimes these emails contain facts about the dish itself or the ingredients as well, like the time Radish served a side comprised of watermelon, Shishito peppers, blackberries and feta. The fact? “Only one out of every 10 Shishito Peppers is spicy, so take a bite at your own risk!”
And that’s another part of the magic. With all the vastly different vendors and seasonal variations, the program undoubtedly fosters curiosity and openness – whether that means inquiring about an unknown dish, asking about where a head of lettuce was grown, or trying an entirely new vegetable for the first time. It’s also about diversity; having not just one type of cuisine regularly, but many, reflecting the community we serve but also the community we are as a company of 300 strong.
Designing a meal to suit the taste preferences and dietary needs of such a large group of people is a challenge, but it’s one that both Katie Rose and the caterers she works with are eager to tackle head-on – sending out surveys after meals, conducting extensive research, and learning through trial and error how to push the creative boundaries of the kitchen in a way everyone can eat right up. With a staff that’s nearly 1/3 vegetarian (with some vegan, gluten-free and Paleo also in the mix) that task is no small feat.
“I feel like it is my goal to work with each caterer individually to allow them to shine – to do what they do best and then basically work within those parameters to make it right for Eatsy,” Katie Rose says. “There are no hard and fast rules, as long as everyone eats. I’m always very grateful to my caterers because they walk that flexible line with me.”
For Amy Marks, co-owner of Radish, creating meals for Eatsy since 2011 has been instrumental to expanding her business.
“The company has been great to work with – they recognize that we need to flex our creative muscles as long as we align our meals with their values,” she says. “This has allowed us to experiment with a lot of new recipes, and it’s paved the way for growth amongst, really, our entire staff. Another incredibly valuable part of the relationship is all the feedback we get from our meals. The (sometimes very!) vocal staff tell us what’s worked, what hasn’t, what we can do better. Every producer ultimately wants, and needs this feedback to get stronger at what they do, and we don’t always get it.”
And then there’s the math. For caterer Nahvae Frost, taking the leap to serve at Eatsy was about embracing the sheer challenge of feeding so many people. Before coming in to cater Eatsy last year, the largest group she’d ever served was 70. Suddenly thinking about portions and recipes was about more than just cooking.
“Never before have I done so much math,” Nahvae says. “Determining quantity for an event before Eatsy had always been an unwelcome challenge. I’m able now to see with confidence what it takes to cook for two to three hundred people outside Etsy’s walls, and have done so far more adeptly than I might have otherwise, on multiple occasions. It’s helped me to realize what it is I’m capable of, and for that, I am eternally grateful.”
At the end of the day, supporting real people making real food and coming together as a community of engineers and support staff, designers and analysts over a plate of locally-sourced fare is what it’s all about.
“There’s nothing about this program that’s faceless – whether it’s me, or the people who make this food,” Katie Rose says. “There’s not some giant looming corporation behind it all – it’s intimate. It’s nice. There’s something really cool about that.”
Eatsy is about knowing who’s behind your food; empowering your local farmers; trying new things; gathering as a community; consuming responsibly with meaning and conviction.
“Throughout all of history, there is a powerful magic behind getting together with people over food,” Katie Rose says. “While I feel super lucky that we’re here in Brooklyn, this program grows itself anywhere. There are amazing things happening in food around the world right now, and I’m excited that Etsy is part of that.”
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