The memory of the lunch makes my stomach growl: smoked-salmon cheesecake with horseradish; mushrooms pickled in vinegar infused with coriander, jalapeño, bay leaves and mustard seeds; honey-brined chicken with lemon and sage; and Gruyere mac-and-cheese.
That it was served in an office cafeteria where such meals are the norm makes me contemplate offers I would make to work there. Roasted lamb, stuffed quail, foie gras — all have been menu items at Google's Pittsburgh campus café in Larimer. The meals, served three times a day (except for dinner on Fridays), are free for its 300 employees.
"My favorite meal was for Leap Year," says Cathy Serventi, executive assistant for the office, where she has worked for the past seven years. "They served frog legs and rabbit and other ‘leaping food.'"
Food is also available 24/7 in five micro-kitchens spread throughout the office building. Each is stocked with cereal, hard-boiled eggs, fruits, yogurt and other snacks. "You can always get a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich," Serventi says.
The philosophy behind the free meals is to provide both a communal respite from the computer screen and easy, quick access to healthful food.
"Free, healthy and delicious food options make for happier Googlers, and happier Googlers are more productive," says Becca Ginsberg, a spokeswoman for the company.
But, "it's not ‘get your food and get back to work,'" says Serventi. Google employees are welcome to bring family members and friends as guests during meal times, and a variety of activities are offered during those hours, including cooking classes and lectures.
The benefits, at least anecdotally, can't be denied.
Serventi, who worked at a university before joining Google, says she no longer spends half a morning thinking about where she's going to eat lunch or worrying about skipping a meal or settling for a fast-food sandwich when time is short.
"It has freed me up to think more about the health and pleasure of food than the logistics of it," she says.