Day of Cru dinner
Jerry, 11 a.m.
The kitchen is bustling and the work has invaded the dining area.
I find Andrew, still slicing vegetables (it’s cucumbers this time). In front of him, “Big Boy,” a contraption of two sous vide machines in tandem, slow cooks pork. Andrew said he went grocery shopping from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. yesterday, and then started prepping work with Nate until midnight last night. Then he woke up at 6 a.m. to start cooking.
Nate stayed even later than Andrew last night to finish up the cookies, which are baked up and stacked in mounds on trays in a rolling shelf. He’s currently inventing some sort of dry rub or spice mix that smells of cumin and ground black sesame. I ask him what it is and he says, “I don’t know yet.”
Jeffrey is making a kombu stock for the tteokbokki, a spicy Korean rice cake stew. I help him remove the innards of some dried anchovies and Nate excitedly yells, “Sam’s helping prep!”
Vanna and Andrew Beckman ’17 (the group calls him “Beckman” to differentiate) are shaping fluffy beige mounds of dough into steam buns, which Jeffrey pops into giant steamers. The wooden tables of Jerry’s dining room are laden with trays and trays of small buns.
Cedric offers me a slice of delightfully gooey and molasses-y Momofuku Milk Bar “crack pie” that he made last weekend and brought to share. They haven’t decided yet whether to add it to the dessert course with the cookies.
Miller is exiled to Jerry’s back patio where he’s spent the last 45 minutes waiting for the oil to heat up enough to deep fry cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
Finally, Benedict and Colin are carefully picking through sprigs of cilantro.
Everyone has a job and is moving efficiently, yet there’s no sense of stress. Still, the day is young and dinner service is still seven hours away.
Jerry, 5:30 p.m.
I get to Jerry half an hour before the first service begins. The team is meeting at a bench outside, Nate speaking urgently, while the sounds of a KA day-ger next door percolate into the conversation. Given the limitations of two ovens, six burners and a flat top, they are formulating a plan of action—what needs to be toasted, reheated, seared and in what order. With a plan in mind, everyone breaks at once into action.
For the next hour, the kitchen is a blur. Thankfully, the guests trickle in slowly and almost nobody is punctual.
Ingenuity and improvisation come into play in the last stretch — the bain-marie in the kitchen are repurposed into giant steamers to reheat the buns. The deep fryer outside was given up as a lost cause, and a giant vat of oil takes up four burners instead. The fried Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are stuck in a dehydrator to crisp—they come out salty and crisp like more flavorful versions of potato chips. Tofu is fried as a vegetarian option for banh mi before chicken wings go in the oil. In the dining room, Raleigh Browne ’19 and Colin set tables with centerpieces of wildflowers in beer bottles.
In the kitchen, Jeffrey gets a call as he’s tossing wings in a spicy Szechuan chili sauce. “No dude, I’m at Cru. Have fun at Blackfest.”
Vanna laughs and jokes: “The sacrifices we make.”
As the clock hits five minutes to six, Nate gives his version of a motivational speech: “We’re just making whatever happens. These are our friends and we’re going to try to get food out on time, but the priority is just getting the first wave out. And the 8 o’clock [seating] is whatever the fuck happens.”
The first wave of food consists of an arugula salad, tossed with a maple-yogurt dressing and topped with kimchi-marinated Fuji apple slices. The tteokbokki and the wings go out as well in massive silver platters. Finally, twelve loaves of French baguettes turn into crunchy banh mi with a savory chicken and squid ink pate, house-made pickled vegetables and perfectly seasoned chicken, pork or tofu.
As Vanna and Andrew speed through banh mi assembly, she quips, “I feel like I’m at Subway.”
Beckman laughs and says, “I don’t think they serve pate at Subway.”
The next course is a three-part pork extravaganza. The fluffy handmade bao get transformed into pork belly buns. The pickled cucumbers and scallions cut through the richness of the crispy and tender pork belly, which contrasts amazingly with the softness of the buns and the sweetness of hoisin sauce. Nate declares it pretty close to the real thing at Momofuku.
Three roasted pork shoulders are loaded onto a platter with in-house kimchi, pickled onions, cucumbers and a whole head of butter lettuce for a Cru take on bo ssam. In the dining room, Beckman demonstrates how to shred the pork with forks to build a perfectly succulent lettuce wrap.
Finally, the cumin spice that Nate was toying with earlier in the day manifested as the dry rub on fall-off-the-bone ribs.
Diners are raving about the food. Beckman tells the kitchen how they’ve hit the mark on authenticity: “One Korean girl was super impressed and thought I came up with the recipes, and I was like no, no it’s not me.” While in line for seconds, I hear another diner bemoan, “I can’t believe my whole life I’ve been eating kimchi that was not this kimchi.”
Finally, the team rolls out the trays of cookies and bite size crack pie to everyone’s delight. Nate snuck me a piece of the best chocolate chip cookie dough I’ve ever had earlier in the evening, but I try a dense chocolate cookie that’s delightfully salty-sweet and fudgy.
As the momentum of the meal picks up, the team relaxes a bit, weaving in and out of the kitchen to eat with and entertain friends. Nate checks in with everyone throughout the evening, asking, “How are you holding up?” The camaraderie, great playlist and tasty food create the most enjoyable ambience—high-end food without the stuffiness.
Content and full, diners disappear into the literal sunset, while Andrew starts washing the mound of cookware and dishes. The next service starts in half an hour and the team has to do it all over again. They’ll be there cleaning until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m., and finally the marathon weekend will be over for good.
But for a brief shining moment, a group of food lovers came together to put on one of the best meals to be had on Stanford’s campus, one that myself and other diners won’t soon forget.