Simply ordinary observations from an ordinary person - sometimes having to do with health care issues, sometimes not. Topics will change as my attention wanders. Yours probably will too....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Order Up!

I suppose not too many people think cooking for 100 guests would be considered a vacation activity. But I had the opportunity to do that on my recent trip and I loved it! Wait, I should clarify something - I was a volunteer prep person in the kitchen, I wasn't cooking for 100 by myself!

By accident, my vacation coincided with a wine & food conference at my friend's Northwest Country Inn. Approximately 100 registrants were expected and they, in turn, were expecting to be fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the space of 3 days. I knew I wouldn't be seeing much of my friend unless I joined her in the kitchen, so off we went. (Because of the remote location of the inn, her labor pool is not huge. Even my rusty kitchen skills were accepted, with the promise that I would cut vegetables and not body parts. Promise kept!)

The inn has a dual personality. Daytime fare consists of burgers & beer while the nightime fare is fine dining and wine. The two personalities often overlap in the kitchen, when the nightime crew needs to start prepping but the daytime grill is still sizzling. That was the case on the Sunday when I tied on an apron. Tables were full of guests eating late weekend breakfast, chomping on hot burgers, and ordering Sunday afternoon pie and coffee. The two kitchen crews divide up the space, manuevering around each other, and produce amazing amounts of work in a short period of time.

I was put to work cleaning, slicing, and sauteeing 10 lbs of mushrooms. While I did that, everyone else completed 2 or 3 projects, but I was making sure there would be no Wendy's-fingertip-in-the-chili style lawsuits to be filed. After successfully mastering mushrooms, I was handed a whisk and asked to tenderly care for the gallon of bechamel sauce. It needed to be thick, creamy, and pure white without lumps or scorched flecks. My forehead broke into a light sweat and not just because I was standing over a commercial range. Bechamel is just a French name for very simple white sauce - any cook with a saucepan and spoon can make it, but it can go wrong in a hurry. Too thick, too thin, too floury, too salty, too burnt, too lumpy - but this batch turned out fine and made a beautiful finish to the fresh vegetable pastas.

While I was gently tending the bechamel, standing to one side of the range, I had a great view of the two grill cooks. They were a study in opposites. Cook A: Short, rotund, plain faced, middle aged female plodding slowly and methodically thru the line up; Cook B: Tall, thin, pierced and tattooed, hyperactive young male working in a blur of activity with exasperated outbursts and dramatic spatula flourishing. They seemed to have informally divided up the tasks and each monitored a separate section of the grill. At one time I counted 6 pancakes, 2 cheeseburgers, 4 plain burgers, 6 buns (top & bottom), 6 bacon slices, 2 mounds of ham, 1 mound of grilled omelette vegies, and 1 large mound of country hash browns on the grill. Two of the range burners held a soup order and some over-easy eggs. All the orders made it to the proper plate at the proper time! (Although I did surreptiously adjust the flame under the soup order when it was in danger of becoming stew as the stock boiled away.) It was like watching choreography, only with the smell of bacon and snap of grill grease. My task was to simply stay out of the way and keep the bechamel from burning.

At the end of the night, all was well. Cook A & B shut down the grill, cleaned off the grease, and headed home to cold beers or other organic relaxation products. The night crew finished off dinner and 100 wine loving locusts descended to devour every crumb and then some. We turned off the kitchen lights and headed down river, while discussing the menu plans for the next night. As a post note: I apologize profusely to the teen age dishwasher who is still probably trying to scrape burnt blackberry sugar syrup off the stock pot bottom. It wasn't my fault - it's not easy to stir the bottom of 48 cups of berries!

1 comment:

noble pig said...

What a great experience, I would love to help cook for a crowd like that!