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Photos: Charlie Ayers' search for brain food

This early googler changed corporate cooking. After a few years of travel, he has returned to Silicon Valley to open his own gourmet cafes.

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Ten years ago, Charlie Ayers met Google co-founder Larry Page at a bike shop in Palo Alto, Calif., to interview for a chef position at an Internet search start-up called Google. He was hired soon after, as employee No. 53.

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Ayers spent the next seven years redefining the idea of the corporate food environment, growing the Google cafe from a kitchen that served 50 people a day into a legendary network of cafeterias inside the Googleplex that serves thousands of meals daily, with organic ingredients sourced largely from local farmers.

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Ayers left Google in 2006. After spending a few years traveling the world, exploring how other cultures eat, Ayers has returned to Silicon Valley to open Calafia Cafe and Market a Go Go in the Town and Country Village of Palo Alto.

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Ayers says that although Larry Page and Sergey Brin have yet to visit Cafe Calafia, which opened last month, approximately 60 percent of his customers have been current or former Google staffers.

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With a philosophy of serving "good food fast" with healthy, organic ingredients, Ayers hopes to open more restaurants throughout the Bay Area in coming years.
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Servers at Calafia Cafe enter orders into a digital notebook, which transmits directly to the cooks in the kitchen.
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By sourcing ingredients for his meals from small, local farms, usually located within 100 miles of Palo Alto, Ayers became widely known for shifting the ideas behind corporate cooking.

Instead of serving cafeteria-quality food, the cafeterias at Google soon became famous for their dedication to serving restaurant-quality meals.

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Items on the menu today at Calafia Cafe include lamb meatballs, eggplant, mushroom panini, and Calafia Pizza, but Ayers still remembers the pivotal meal he cooked for the early Google employees.

During his third and final interview at Google's first headquarters, Charlie cooked Sri Lankan chicken curry with brown rice and roasted pumpkin, five-spice tofu cashew lettuce cup, steak and mushroom quesadillas, a roasted beet field green salad with goat cheese croutons, and a flourless chocolate almond torte.

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Ayers' cutting-edge cookbook, Food 2.0: Secrets from the Chef Who Fed Google, explores some of the innovative recipes Ayers used to nurture the brains at Google.
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With a visit to Cafe Calafia and the adjacent Market a Go Go, set to open soon, you're sure to get the freshest ingredients and the most exciting menu options, along with a little taste of the history of the Google empire.

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