“Serve him a little bit, guys!” Rep. Grace F. Napolitano tells the congressional staffers milling about her Longworth office as a visitor arrives.
Napolitano is bent over a hot plate that’s set up on a newspaper-covered table in a corner of her office, stirring a mixture of chorizo and eggs.
The dish is just one part of the traditional Tex-Mex breakfast the California Democrat is sharing with her staff and others lucky enough to stop by 1610 Longworth on an otherwise quiet Wednesday morning on the House side of Capitol Hill.
Already prepared are migas — a mixture of scrambled eggs, vegetables and strips of corn tortillas — as well as a homemade batch of salsa and a bowl of pinto beans cooked with bacon. In another nook of the office, staffers are flipping freshly cooked tortillas on a griddle to hold all of the aforementioned ingredients for chorizo-and-egg burritos.
It’s a cooking day in Napolitano’s office — an approximately monthly event where staffers buzz about, helping Napolitano prepare the type of traditional Tex-Mex meals she has been preparing for her friends and family for years.
The eight-term member brings back fresh ingredients, such as chorizo and the ingredients for fresh corn tortillas, from her trips to her Southern California district to share with her staff. It’s her way of showing her appreciation.
“It’s keeping them happy,” Napolitano says with a laugh about why she cooks for her employees.
Staffers say the cooking days, which they unanimously dubbed “great days,” help break up the fast-paced, high-stress environment of Capitol Hill and bring the staff closer together, helping Napolitano’s office run more smoothly.
Napolitano’s chief of staff, Daniel Chao, who has been working with Napolitano since 1999, is originally from Texas and says he appreciates not only the authentic Tex-Mex food Napolitano makes but also her generosity.
“It’s refreshing,” Chao said. “Not every member brings in fresh produce from California. And when she first started doing it, I was thinking how unusual it was. But then when she takes the actual produce out and you see it’s nothing that we get here in Washington, D.C., it really makes it really fresh and unique.”
He added that the cooking days offer an often necessary reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the Capitol Hill culture.
“It’s a nice break of the stress of the workday,” Chao said, “to take a moment, enjoy food, enjoy company and then get back to work.”
Napolitano Press Secretary Jerry O’Donnell said the adventures in cooking are a good team-building exercise as well.