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2Profile: Charlie Ayersa.k.a. the chef who fed Google

Photograph of chef Charlie Ayers.

Looking at the baby-faced food guru now, it’s hard to imagine that Charlie Ayers has clocked in enough kitchen time to climb the ranks from New Jersey dishwasher to Grateful Dead caterer to “the chef who fed Google.” But as his new book, Food 2.0 (DK Publishing, 2008), suggests, this is indeed the guy who fuelled Googlers on their journey to world domination.

“Around 1998, I heard of this thing called a search engine and a company called Google that needed a chef,” says Ayers. “They offered weekends off, and my girlfriend at the time wanted a family, so I started sending them food baskets.” That eventually led to a meeting with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who talked about the company’s needs—namely a menu that would keep employees productive. So Ayers did his research, learned what the kids at the company loved (Indian, sushi), and created an eclectic menu to suit their tastes.

When he left in 2005, his staff were preparing meals at 10 restaurants for about 5,000 people, which the company had grown to from about 50 when he first joined the team in 1999. “I wasn’t cooking anymore at that point,” says Ayers of his departure. “I was going from restaurant to restaurant, meeting to meeting. It was no longer fun for me. I wanted a new challenge.”

And so Ayers cooked up his tome on healthy eating, Food 2.0. “I call it a user’s guide for today’s generation,” he says of the book, whose advice comes across like tips from a knowledgeable friend, and whose fun yet healthy recipes like seared southwestern ahi tuna tornadoes bring play and practicality to the kitchen.

The book is also packed with time-saving suggestions for busy families, such as eating more raw food (it’s fast!), keeping a well-stocked pantry (with inspired and inspiring homemade condiments like roasted jalapeno ketchup) and getting lots of mileage out of your freezer. Throughout the book, Ayers, who is in the process of launching his own chain of restaurants, promotes local and organic.

For couples wary of the price of organic, Ayers recommends blending what you can afford in small increments and making friends with the providers at farmers’ markets, who may throw in a free sample or be more generous with the scale.

“I’m more likely to buy local and pesticide-free over organic,” Ayers says. He also suggests buying frozen organic. “It’s great and half the price of fresh.” When it comes to novice cooks, Ayers recommends taking some of the pressure off by involving family and friends in the process. “It becomes fun when everyone has a task,” he says. “It’s like anything; you have to practise. I’m confident a lot of my early food sucked, but my parents encouraged me.”

Just Google him now!