LIANE HANSEN, host:
The dot-com bubble has long since burst, but one Silicon Valley perk is alive and well: free lunch. Rori Gallagher takes us behind the scenes of one well known company's kitchen.
Mr. JOSEF DESIMONE (Executive Chef, Facebook): Vichyssoise.
RORI GALLAGHER: One of the most popular cooks in Silicon Valley is Facebook's executive chef and self-designated culinary overlord, Josef Desimone. His bustling kitchen serves 1,300 lunches a day more than some restaurants serve over the course of a week.
Mr. DESIMONE: Chicken. We got 12 lasagnas in house all day.
Unidentified Man: Then we go to scampi?
Mr. DESIMONE: Then we go to scampi.
Unidentified Man: Okay.
GALLAGHER: Desimone was on track for a successful career in San Francisco's competitive restaurant world but then Google came calling. At first, he wouldn't even consider a job as a corporate chef. To him, that was the easy way out with weekends off, repeating menus and canned ingredients. But he changed his mind in 2003.
Mr. DESIMONE: And when I went to Google, it was nothing like that. It was completely the opposite. It was all free-range, it was all organic. It was everything that the restaurant I was working at couldn't afford to be.
GALLAGHER: Five years later, he started the Facebook culinary program from scratch.
Mr. DESIMONE: We do a brand new menu every single day, every single meal period from a different region of the world, which, you know, I don't know any restaurant that does that.
GALLAGHER: The fare ranges from Italian to Korean to Scandinavian to Northern Indian. He says that variety is essential for Facebook employees.
Mr. DESIMONE: Changing the menu and being so diverse with it is great, because we got people here from all over the world, you know, and I'm sure a lot of them are homesick. They're from Sweden, he's from India, he's from - but what I can do is bring a little slice of what you're used to here.
GALLAGHER: Facebook employees Sara Brooks and Joanna Lee are chowing down on wasabi mashed potatoes and tofu steak today.
Ms. SARA BROOKS (Facebook Employee): I've always found something that I can eat every day really safely, and that makes me really happy.
Ms. JOANNA LEE (Facebook Employee): It also makes for a healthier environment. So, you know you have healthy options in the workplace instead of, you know, grabbing a bag of chips or grabbing fast food.
GALLAGHER: But health and happiness are not the only things high-tech companies care about when they start an in-house meal program. It also helps with looking for new talent, as we Lee has seen firsthand.
Ms. LEE: I definitely think it's a perk that's difficult to compete with and almost like a standard now in Silicon Valley.
Mr. DESIMONE: You know, Google offered food all of a sudden, they were the engineering mecca. Facebook offered food and all of a sudden, same thing. You know, they become the engineering mecca. There's a reason for that. It's a great recruiting tool.
GALLAGHER: And with breakfast, lunch and dinner offered, in addition to perks like free dry cleaning, free transportation and even free gyms at some companies, it's easier to get employees to put in the long hours demanded by the high-tech industry.
For NPR News, I'm Rori Gallagher in Palo Alto, California.
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