It's the Food, Mars

Whither the bakers who lead Pittsburgh's Cupcake Class? My occasional interest in food as a barometer of economic development is validated, in part, by this recent note in The Economist:
The most telling indicator of the prospects of Silicon Valley's technology firms is now clear. It is the cooks. The insightful few on Wall Street who understood this in 1999 are now rich. That year, Google, which had just 40 employees at the time, held a cook-off to anoint its “chief food officer”. Charlie Ayers, who had once fed the Grateful Dead, won. Over the next six years, he led Google, which was also dabbling in web searches and online advertising, to dominance in its core competency: ample, free, organic and exotic food.

Mr Ayers eventually left to write a book, “Food 2.0”. But his replacements kept serving burgers made from grass-fed beef, clams sautéed with discs of handmade Chinese sausage, crispy tofu slaw and shots of emerald-green wheat grass. Being not only Californian but Googley, which is to say world-saving, the firm claims to source the overwhelming majority of its ingredients from local farmers. Genetically modified food, needless to say, is out the question.

Despite this nourishing regime, Google has recently experienced a few setbacks. At a virile 23, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, makes Google's co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both in their thirties, look almost decrepit. The young and hip social network has trounced Google twice on the ultimate-frisbee pitch. Google's archenemy, Microsoft, has invested in Facebook, and Google's executives have started defecting to it.

But by all measures gastronomic, Google was still the dominant firm—until now. One of Google's current chefs is Josef Desimone, who is admired chiefly for the kombucha tea that he ferments from scratch and that gets the employees' creative juices flowing. Now however, Mr Desimone is smelling the coffee. He has given notice to Google, and will soon start work at Facebook. On Wall Street, no doubt, the short sellers have taken note.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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