This post is co-authored by Lee Glenn
"We must learn to balance the material wonders of technology with the spiritual demands of our human nature." -- John Naisbitt
At least that is how he phrased the concept of High Tech/High Touch as a minor thought in his 1982 futurist manifesto Megatrends. By 1999, the idea had blossomed into a complete book, High Tech/High Touch, Technology and Our Search for Meaning, elaborating on the growing distinction between the two and its importance to our emotional well being.
By 2014 we found the concept real and present at Adobe and Google on Seattle's Lake Union.
We were there to meet to Buzz Hofford, District Manager for Bon Appétit Management Company (BAMCO) and Chef Seth Caswell, Executive Chef for Google's Kirkland Campus.
The rain was incessant, drumming on the window panes, as we sat first with Buzz in Adobe's employee cafeteria. Bamco has been the manager of Adobe's food services since 2012. Setting them apart is a commitment to fresh and seasonal ingredients and the belief that fresh and local equal's better taste.. .and better taste will be appreciated by their diners and clients alike. The recipe seems to be working as they service 500 accounts nationwide, with over $800 million in annual sales.
"Our clients have to share our values," Buzz explains, "...especially with regard to sourcing and serving the highest quality foods."
Inherent in their approach is an ingrained farm to fork mentality. By policy, chefs do their own ordering from an approved vendor's list and are required to buy 20 percent locally, to buy anti-biotic-free poultry and to purchase progressive foods such as cage-free eggs. "The farm to fork program encourages chefs to partner with local food sheds," Buzz notes. "For example, Charlie's Produce sends a weekly list of what's available, along with its specific characteristics. That way, seasonality comes automatically. Also, our produce has to come from North America, nothing from overseas."
"10 years ago this idea was virtually unknown. Five years ago, it was a niche market. Now it's mainstream."
BAMCO's approach to menu planning and their chef employees is just as exciting. Chefs are not allowed to buy pre-made menu items such as soups. All are made from scratch in each cafeteria's kitchen. Corporate recipes do not exist.
"We hire chefs and compete with the local restaurants for the best talent," is Buzz's take. "Chefs care about food and you have to let them create. What we offer differently is a civilized schedule."
With a Georgetown University degree in Foreign Service, Buzz's path to BAMCO came via the hotel/restaurant business, including opening and running Coastal Kitchen, a Seattle landmark restaurant for five years. His commitment to the company was sealed when it rebranded itself around sustainability. He has also founded the Sustainable Foods Network on LinkedIn.
"The purpose of the LinkedIn group is to spread the word about where our food comes from and to generate excitement around key food sustainability issues. Now we are adding 150 members a week, with over 8500 people across the globe already following the message."
With Buzz leading the way, we dashed across a rainy plaza to adjacent Google and their employee cafeteria... or more appropriately, employee restaurant. Meals are a perk of working at Google and Executive Chef Seth Caswell has 1200 mouths to feed for breakfast, lunch and dinner, seven days a week, minus dinner on Thursdays and Fridays. Google has plans to double its staff by 2015, doubling the task.
BAMCO also manages Google food services and chefs are BAMCO employees. Seth came to Google and BAMCO through a shared set of values:
"I started cooking 22 years ago with a farm to table profile. I opened my own restaurant but my sustainable goals didn't match profitability. Ultimately, the food was the only thing that meant sustainability to me."
He learned of BAMCO and their approach through the local Chef's Collaborative chapter. "The chapter here is loaded with Bon Appétit folks," he notes.
Seth plans and prepares over 120 menu items each week, with wide culinary variety, catering to wide range of tastes.
"Google's broad international talent base makes for more adventurous diners. They are a fun audience to cook for, especially for an ingredient driven chef like myself. I also like to give them the back story on what they're eating."
Food education is a core part of Seth's success at Google. Every morning at 10:00, he holds a staff meeting to discuss the day's menu and its ingredients so that the staff is able to communicate with diners. He sponsors farmer's market tours and conducts intimate monthly cooking classes with guest chefs. Topics have included Indian spices, knife skills and sushi rolling. Seth is planning a teaching kitchen with home kitchen equipment, in the new campus.
"I want my diners to make the same decisions about food purchases at home."
Was John Naisbitt ahead of his time in predicting the importance of High Tech balanced by High Touch... in the case of the locavore, sustainable foods movement and its incarnation at Adobe and Google, clearly he was. Working to balance the two, these tech companies, Buzz and Seth are connecting an entirely new generation of people to their food supply, to the value of fresh ingredients and to the joy of a fine meal, well prepared, well communicated... an experience they may have never had.
"The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of the expanding concept of what it means to be human." -- John Naisbitt
Photography by Julie Ann Fineman