[Sca-cooks] Feast Dissection

Volker Bach carlton_bach at yahoo.de
Mon Jul 20 13:59:05 PDT 2009


as I promised, here is my feast dissection as an example for others to learn thereby:

First of all, what I did right:

1) I left plenty of air in the planning. I intended this to be a leisurely experience for my kitchen crew with hours of time to go off and watch the fighting or play games. We ended up needing every last second of that time, of course, but I always make a habit of leaving plenty of disposable time in case things go wrong.

2) I planned for limited facilities on the assumption that something would go wrong. 

3) I wrote a flowchart that the crew could work alongside.

Then, what I did wrong:

1) I did not write up full redactions and instructions. I thought that the translated period recipes would be enough since I had forwardeed them to both my deputy and my laurel. It turns out that when the going gets tough (my laurel could not attend due to health issues, my deputy had to jump back and forth between lunch and feast, and Oi was on vigil), you need recipes that the uninitiated kitchen helper can follow without further instructions. 

2) I did not fully test the kitchen on first inspection. When i was at the site a few months before, I took pictures of the facilitiues and looked at their equipment, but i never actually turned on the oven or tried to plug in a large appliance. I was content to believe what I was told - that everything was in working order. 

3) I did too many last-minute revisions (mostly due to shopping constraints) that i did not properly communicate to my crew. E.g. I bought both whoilemeal and white bread crumbs, and noth got dumped into the pudding so there were no more left to thicken the sauces later. I should have labelled the packages clearly to avoid that.

4) I did not do the shopping early enough. Most egregiously, I checked the local supermarket every second day to see that there was horseradish, but I didn't buy it until Friday, by which time naturally there was no more horseradish. I also had to use frozen cherries because too few fresh ones were available on the day (holiday weekend shoppers beat me to them). 

5) I really should have figured out what was going on when I saw the guest list. I mean, come on, royal presence and a load of peers helicoptered in for a local fun-and-games gatherum in the sticks? Vigil should not have come as a surprise.

6) No vegetarians registered. Therefore, vegetable and starch dishes were cooked in broth. I should have known there are always last-minute vegetarians. there duly were, and their pudding was not finished in time for feast.

7) Always check deliveries. We had a box of chickens brought in and I assumed they were the ones we had ordered, so I did not count them. If I had been there later, things might have passed without incident, but my crew assumed I had counted them. There were, in fact, several more than had been ordered, and we were obliged to pay for them and ended up with lots of leftover chicken meat.

8) Always give instructions in writing. I gave last-second instructions for fresh fruit shopping saturday as 'cherries, pears, no apples, no plums, enough for sixty'. I got apples, plums, cherries and pears, and far more than was needed. Now, this is me, I always make the tables groan under the weight of food, and I thought it was too much. 

9) Separate instructions for servers. Even with a dedicated serving area, it is impossible for kitchen staff toi instruct the servers while also working kitchen. Stuff gets forgotten or misallocated.

Well, that's what I could have realistically done. There was no way I could have headed off some of the more interesting aspects of the story:

When the advance crew arrived on site, the place was a dump- It had looked all right, if a bit used, when we inspected, but it had gotten a lot worse. That meant we had to carry extra furniture (a folding table two field beds and a lot of bedding) in the car that was supposed to carry the shopping. We managed to get a friend to divert and meet us to carry some of the groceries in her car, I made my co-cook buy and transport the foodstuff for lunch, and we were, fortunately, not stopped by police checking for overloaded vehicles. Meanwhile, the advance crew had cleaned the kitchen and beaten off most of the roaches. I was so glad I had had a hunch and brought shower caps to cover dishes. Between the flies and the other creepy-crawlies, it wasn't easy avoiding protein surprises for diners. Shower caps and aluminiumum foil are our friends.

The fun that was had with the fuses wonce dusk fell was nothing short of high camp. Almost every second time we plugged in anything or turned any knob, the lights went out. It was completely random, and a lot of experimenting eventually found that 

- the downstairs ovwen made the fuse pop after about 15 minutes of continuous use

- no more than two electric pots worked at a time during the day, but none at night

- the stick blender and toaster only worked safely upstairs

- the upstairs kitchen only had enough juice for one pot at a time, but a good oven.

We managed to redistribute the cooking chores between kitchens, and with much carrying things and delays, we turned out an edible meat loaf by midnight. 

I restarted kitchen work by 7 the next morning. By that time one of my assistants had totalled his car trying to pick someone up from the train station. He is that kind of person - driving shuttle service after a day of kitchen slaving - and it just was that kind of day (it's a miracle he survived the crash unhurt, really). 

Over the course of the day, we used up all the air gaps. I was not there to prevent a number of minor problems (the chicken got cooked too long and fell apart rather than stay in nice chuncks, the meat loaf got reheated unsliced and uncovered, so it dried out quite badly, the breadcrumbs got used up too early and the reserved meat juice was dumped in the pudding rather than made into a pepper sauce), but even with the ridiculously bad situation, everything listed on the flowchart was done. When I returned from my ceremony, I had to cook the last dessert dish in the upstairs kitchen and thus was not there to ensure that the fruit purees were sent out with dessert - they were not. 

The good points? Well, we served feast and people liked it. Everybody managed to improvise things on the fly as plans collapsed. Nobody lost their tempers much even with clueless people wandering past the sign 'Kitchen - staff only' to ask where to wash their dishes or to order more coffee or more garbage bags. 

That is about all I can think of right now. My crew is a gift from heaven. The kitchen was from hell. Apparently, the steward and her boyfriend are negotiating for a hefty discount with the siteowners. We were promised next time everything would work, but I'm not sure about there being a next time. And if I wanted to anticipate everything that went wrong here as a serious possibility for my nect feast, I would have to develop clinical paranoia.  




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