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Originally published June 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 11, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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Google's avocados say it all

The chef-harvested wild watercress, goat cheese, strawberry and toasted almond salad at Google's Kirkland cafeteria was spectacular. I couldn't resist the...

Seattle Times technology columnist

The chef-harvested wild watercress, goat cheese, strawberry and toasted almond salad at Google's Kirkland cafeteria was spectacular.

I couldn't resist the roasted lamb with blackberry sauce or the "garlic lover's soup with Beecher's white cheddar."

Also impressive was the herb and vegetable garden that Chef Darin Leonardson started in the parking lot and nourishes with compost made from kitchen waste.

But what really struck me was the profusion of avocados he serves every day in the cafeteria dubbed Olympic Cafe for the mountains visible from its picture windows.

Forget the upbeat, distributed decision-making processes. What else says "outrageously prosperous California software company" like a cafeteria offering platters and bowls full of perfectly ripe peeled avocados?

There were slices at the salad bar and halves at the carving station — organic Hass halves warmed and slickened with a Tamari-ginger glaze.

Still, Olympic Cafe pales next to the 12 cafes on Google's headquarters campus in Mountain View, Calif., that were initially run by a former chef to the Grateful Dead. But it has to be the best cafeteria in the Northwest, especially considering that it's free for employees.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon sweets are served. If that's not enough, there's a "grab and go" selection of prepared foods and of course the racks of snacks on every floor.

It's a dream job for Leonardson, 31, who was formerly chef at the Bellevue Club and is now the envy of his food-service friends. "A lot of them just say they don't believe me. It's a chef's dream to be able to do that," he said.

Does Google give him a blank check?

"Basically," he said. "Google wants the premium products for employees. The whole point is to keep employees here, to keep them happy, so they don't have to go anywhere, so they can come up with the great things that Google does. So that's my job, to keep them happy."

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That also means barbecues on sunny afternoons, cocktail parties with garden-fresh mint mojitos and special touches such as a slab of organic chocolate with Google's logo, prepared for a recent visit of Chief Executive Eric Schmidt.

Food costs are still less than at Google's New York office. It's spending $20 to $25 per person per day in Kirkland versus about $30 in New York.

Spokeswoman Sunny Gettinger said perks like healthful food and gym memberships are a smart investment. They lower the company's insurance costs and increase productivity.

"Those types of things, what you put in you get back," she said.

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