Office Lunch: A Secret Condiments Stash

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Office Lunch: A Secret Condiments Stash

Erin Hartigan has a spicy secret she doesn’t tell her colleagues: she keeps a mini-fridge full of condiments hidden in her office.

In it, she stores all manner of spirited treasures, from garden variety sriracha and sambal (store-bought and homemade), to tamarind tomato relish and Brooklyn Deli tomato achar. Each one is intended to satiate boredom with different elements of vinegar, spice and earthiness. “It’s a little spice smorgasboard,” says Hartigan, the programming manager at FoodNetwork.com.

The contents liven up meals and foster relationships between coworkers, and Hartigan has handpicked a chosen three, individuals at the top of her own personal favor system who are allowed to share in the riches. The fridge and its precious spices became a sort of glue for office workers beaten down by long days spent under the ceaseless buzz and harsh light of fluorescent tubes.

“I’m the horrible Manhattan desk luncher who never gets up to eat,” says Hartigan. “I never create an occasion. It’s so terrible.”

Every day, Hartigan brings a hodgepodge of leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, tied together with brown rice. These “manager special combos,” as she calls them (which sit on her desk throughout the morning) are often flavorless bowls of individual constituents bound together by no common thread.

The epicurean condiments she adds to these meals create continuity, but they also create a singular moment and a special occasion.

Hartigan and her chosen trio are not alone. For many Americans, a Lean Cuisine or simple Cup-O-Noodles will no longer satisfy midday hunger pangs. Every meal has to be an event — even if it’s wolfed down while staring at a computer screen.

Michelle Alandete, the senior coordinator in global design and innovation for Starbucks, does not keep fridges in her New York City or Seattle offices, but she, too, keeps her favorite condiments close at hand. For the past five years, she’s been bringing sauces to the workplace to brighten her day and her deskside lunch breaks. It started with mustard while working for Subway’s building team; however, when she discovered sriracha two and a half years ago, her world, and workday, were forever changed.

A bottle of rooster sauce is now prominently displayed on both of Alandete’s desks. The mere sight of that cartoon fowl releases stress and tension, reassuring her that she has everything she needs during the course of her 10-hour days. “Being able to look at that bottle right next to me, it makes me feel comforted and at ease,” she says. “It makes me feel at home.”

In a world where so many working adults spend much of their waking life in the workplace, many have taken to recreating the essence of home in the business place. Dousing a dish with a favored condiment fosters a sense of individuality in the monotony of the corporate sphere.

Some office workers, however, don’t stop at flavor accoutrements. There are folks who have created entire pantries of foodstuffs.

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