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In Conversation with the Percolate Chefs: Thoughtfulness in Food and Work
From Percolate’s very beginning, we’ve made having quality, healthy, and tasty food a priority. It has helped us build an incredible culture with a group of people who consistently deliver on our ambitious goals. Like everything we do here, our values guide how we plan the food in the office—from the snacks in the kitchen to the breakfasts and lunches we eat together. By providing us with the most basic, but highest-quality input, we are able to create revolutionary outputs everyday.
To finish out an exciting month of wellness in our office, I sat down with two of Percolate’s most influential people Percolate: Kate Whitlow, chef and owner of Bear and Poppy and original chef of Percolate NYC now current chef of Percolate San Francisco, and Jesse Gould, owner of Ox Verte and current chef at Percolate NYC. Here’s what they had to say about eating for your best life—in and outside of the office.
1. Percolate believes that if we provide the best inputs for our employees we will receive the best outputs. How does Bear and Poppy and Ox Verte help us achieve this?
Kate: Anyone who has ever had a job that involves sitting down for a major chunk of the day knows that what you eat and when you eat can have a major impact on how you feel and therefore how you work. Often what a person eats at work is based simply on what is available.
Percolate was, from the very start, extremely focused on the inputs they could offer their employees. In the early days, even before I was part of the team, there were employees who organized together to make big, vegetable-filled salads to share for lunch and a shelf (yes, at the time they only needed one) of nuts, fruit, and bars. It was with this important part of culture already in place that I began cooking for Percolate with the intention of expanding on that idea and making it an even bigger, inclusive aspect of the office.
By creating, and hopefully demystifying, how to make great food, my goal is to help Percolate realize their vision of providing amazing inputs for people that hopefully lead to better outputs in both their work and their broader lives.
Jesse: Food is our fuel and perhaps our most important daily input. To optimize performance, we must provide ourselves with the highest-quality fuel, which are nutrient dense whole foods. At Ox, we love Michael Pollan’s quote, “eat real food, not too much, mostly plants.” If employees are following Pollan’s quote on a daily basis, they are far more likely to reach their highest potential individually and as a team.
2. How do you think about values in the workplace and how do they align with our values at Percolate?
Kate: The people of Percolate have always been an inspiring crew to work with. I am lucky to be able to do something that I feel is creative, challenging, and impactful as my job. Everyday I get to brainstorm, plan, organize, work hard and ultimately make a product to (hopefully!) bring joy and inspiration to others. Delivering food to Percolate benefits me in getting to see and be a part of their levels of excitement, inquiry and drive. There is nothing like getting a question from an engineer about the recipe I used and realizing how intently she or he is listening to my response.
Closest to my heart, in the wise words of the Percolate Values is: “run fast, be fearless, and work hard.” Cooking is a fast-paced, physically demanding job. There are long hours, heavy loads, and thousands of vegetables to peel and chop. There are crazy grocery stores, refrigerators filled to the brim and turkeys that won’t fit in your 22-inch New York City oven. There are demanding people and there are traffic patterns at delivery times that can lead a person to have heart palpitations. But the show goes on and when you look at it through the right lens, it’s FUN. Turns out I like running around and being on my feet 8 hours a day. I don’t like sitting still. Heavy loads are a free arm workout. I can always find a way to fit that turkey into the fridge, cook it and deliver it. The demands can be fulfilled and the traffic will eventually pass – and if it doesn’t you may find yourself running down Canal Street with two huge bags filled with lunch for 30 people.
Jesse: As a start-up, all of our values are very much in sync, perhaps one of the reasons we’ve forged such a strong partnership! The Percolate value that particularly resonates with me is “shipping > not shipping.” When I was first starting Ox, one of my guiding principles is that projects will almost always take as long as you give them. As such, we got the first iteration of our product to market in just a few weeks, but it could have taken a few months. My parents thought I was crazy. Sure, the menu would have been a little more refined, but the outcome would have been similar and in the end getting quicker feedback from real customers benefitted everyone!
3. What was the inspiration for Bear and Poppy and Ox Verte?
Kate: Bear and Poppy happened pretty organically. When I moved back to New York in the beginning of 2013, I’d left a job as a chef at The Elmwood Café and was ready for the next step. At the cafe I ran the kitchen and had the freedom of creating recipes and virtually being my own boss. As much as a part of me has always wanted the grueling experience of working in a crazy NYC restaurant kitchen, a bigger part of me wanted to work for myself and have the ability to be true to my own vision.
I started cooking a meal here and therefore Percolate and then one day it turned into a regular gig – breakfast and lunch a few days a week for, at the time, 30 people. Along with delivering healthy, mostly gluten free meals with meat and vegetarian options, I also started helping to fill out the Percolate pantry. I wanted to make granola and muesli for the office with just a few ingredients and without added fuss like sugared fruit or butter. You would think in New York City, the land where you can get anything and everything basically any time of the day, there would be a plethora of tasty food delivery services – but it turns out it’s harder to come by.
Jesse: Personally, my inspiration is the strongly held belief that food can be the strongest form of medicine. Once I started learning more about how our diet and food system have created our country’s most difficult health challenge in history, it became impossible for me to turn away from the problem!
Our mission is to make real food an everyday occurrence, and offer wholesome meals that can nourish our bodies and nurture our communities. To tread lightly, but eat like an ox.
4. How does eating together impact culture in the workplace and beyond?
Kate: There are so many benefits to eating together! First off, the ritual of getting up from your desk, getting your plate of food, and sitting down with your coworkers breaks up the day and ensures that you don’t just eat at your desk. Eating at your desk while looking at the computer (or eating on the couch while watching TV) tends to lead to mindless eating and doesn’t let our brains signal to our stomachs the sense of being full.
Also, eating together allows for a mixing of people and therefore ideas and conversation. There is often not enough time in the day to stop and have a genuine conversation with a coworker when you are cranking at 100%. Sitting for lunch, talking about life outside of the office, and giving yourself that genuine break can really serve as a reboot for the rest of your day.
Furthermore, eating together creates a sense of comradery and in the case of Percolate, a sense of wonder.
Jesse: Food is not a transaction, it’s a full sensory experience—from what it looks like visually, to how it tastes, t0 who cooks it and with whom you eat. By partnering with Ox, offices create experiences that enhance the workplace environment, thereby providing potential for great things to happen! Think of how many studies show that a family that eats together stays together—why wouldn’t this be true for workplaces? Of course it is!
5. Any other tips for healthy eating at work?
Kate: Our bodies will tell us all sorts of things if we’re paying attention. Sometimes your mind may be thinking, “ugh, I’m so hungry! I need more coffee!” when what you really need is just a BIG glass of water and a piece of fruit. Or you might feel yourself lurching towards something sweet in the office kitchen in a moment of stress around an email you haven’t returned or small client emergency that needs fixing. And sometimes something sweet will help, but more often than not putting your head down and solving the issue will help a lot more. Then afterwards you can have that snack in peace.
I do believe strongly in eating breakfast and lunch. Personally if I skip breakfast, my lunch has the tendency to turn into crazy breakfast/brunch/lunch and I’m left uncomfortably full, which leads to bad outputs for the rest of my day. I’m also leery of the witching hours at the office—it’s like your bodies response to the end of day coming. Avoid ruining your dinner by having a few carrots and hummus or a handful of granola. This will get you through the end of the day and even fuel you to perhaps motivate for an evening workout (hello Percolate pilates, running and boxing clubs).
Jesse: Unfortunately, I think the workplace is super conducive to mindless eating. Back in my finance days, I would often snack while staring at my computer screen working on an excel model or powerpoint presentation. I wasn’t really hungry—I was usually tired or bored. To combat mindless eating, some people find it useful to ask themselves if they are hungry enough to eat an apple. If not, then don’t eat. Also, SLEEP! The quickest way to crave bad foods when you aren’t hungry is sleep deprivation.