Are You a Cook, or a Chef?
Preparing to Cook Your First Feast.
When the question of cooking for a feast comes up, there are a number of different concerns to be addressed by the potential cook.† Am I ready to take on a project this large?† Should I go with period recipes, or make food that Iím sure everyone will eat?† What do I do about vegetarians, and our new knight who is allergic to onions, salt and wheat?† Can I ask my friends to help me work, and still have them like me the next day?† Will I survive this experience with my sanity intact?† This article is an attempt to address these concerns, and to help feast cooks everywhere to have better organized, more enjoyable feasts - and feasts that they have fun cooking!
I personally feel that the amount of work that goes into cooking for 50 or more people is a great deal more than is reflected by the term ďHead Cook.Ē† Considering that the entire feast - from the menu planning to the shopping, the cooking to the presentation and cleanup - is the ultimate responsibility of one person, I truly feel that a more appropriate term for the job is ďChef.Ē† I will, therefore, use the term Chef throughout this article, not in the sense of a person who can cook special things that nobody else would try, but in the sense of a person with the vision to plan and implement the creation of a feast for a large group, with the help of a well-organized staff.
I. Making the leap from cook to Chef - are you ready to do a feast?† Necessary skills† include:
A. Basic cooking skills.
1. Do you know how to perform most basic kitchen procedures, such as roasting, baking, making a pie crust, etc.?
2. Are you familiar with enough recipes that you would feel comfortable adjusting recipes as necessary for different ingredients, as the season and availability demand?
B. Basic quantity cooking skills.
1. Cooking for 50 people is not the same as cooking for 10 people five times!† Cooking times, temperatures, etc. change for large quantities of food.
2. Not all recipes multiply in the same way.† Most recipes that involve cooking liquid will need to have the amount of liquid increased disproportionately to the other ingredients.† Also, spices may need to be reduced or increased beyond what your original calculations specify.
C. Intermediate to advanced organizational ability.
1. Can you make shopping and task lists, get staff commitments, make a budget and keep it all flowing smoothly without losing your mind?
2. After the event, can you provide all receipts and a detailed report to the Event Steward and Exchequer?
D. Good time management.
1. Before the event: can you make the planning, shopping, staff recruitment and preparation happen?
2. On site: can you track the progress of every single dish and time your cooking so that everything is ready at serving time?
E. Knowledge of food safety practices and applicable food service laws for your area.
1. Food service laws vary between states and provinces, and sometimes even between counties.
2. Food safety guidelines are available from the Department of Agriculture and from schools that teach food service.
F. Experience working in an event kitchen.
1. Every Chef needs help!† The best way to determine whether you are ready to be a Chef is to help one.
2. Every time you work in an event kitchen, you will learn something.† Let these experiences help you when planning and presenting your feast.
G. Excellent people skills.
1. When working with the Event Steward, Reservation Coordinator and other event staff, you are an equal.† Be prepared to work with them and make compromises where necessary - without going so far that you promise the impossible.† At the same time, ask for what you need.† Donít be afraid to stick up for your point of view.† You are the only one who knows what you can and cannot deliver.
2. When working with your Deputy Chef and other kitchen staff, you are the leader.† Yes, itís scary, but all of those people will be looking to you for guidance and directions.† They also look to you to provide guidance and directions in a calm, friendly manner.† If they donít enjoy working with you, they wonít be backÖ
II. Youíre pretty sure youíre ready to cook a feast.† An Event Steward has just asked you if you would consider cooking for your groupís next event.† Some points to consider before giving your answer:
A. When is the event?
1. Look at both the season (for food availability) and the actual date (for conflicts with your schedule, holidays, other events, etc.).
2. How many days is the event?
B. Where is the site?
1. How far is it from your house?
2. Is there a store nearby in case of emergencies?
C. What are the cooking and feasthall facilities?
1. You must visit the site!† Not only will everyoneís impressions differ from everyone elseís, but only you can tell whether you would be comfortable in a particular kitchen.
2. Sketch a plan or take notes of the kitchen and feasthall facilities.† Be specific!† Include the number of grounded, 220 volt and regular outlets; sinks, dish washers and garbage disposals; stoves (with number of burners), roasters, warmers and ovens; refrigerators and freezers; counter space, fuse boxes and trash dumpsters.
3. Make sure all appliances and outlets work!† Check that there will be space in all refrigerators and freezers for your food.
4. When can you get into the kitchen, and when do you have to leave?† Can† you get in the night before if necessary?
5. Can you use the siteís cooking and serving pieces?† If so, is there an extra fee?† How about their cleaning items, including mops, buckets and brooms?† What about ďdisposableĒ items, such as dish soap and trash bags?
6. Does the siteís trash service cover all the extra garbage the feast will generate?† If not, will there be an extra fee, or will you have to haul it away?
7. Where will you be able to park to unload all the food and equipment youíll be bringing?
8. If you want to serve alcohol, does the site have a license and insurance that will cover you?† If the site doesnít allow alcohol, do not cheat on their restrictions!† Ask if they allow alcohol in cooked dishes, and whether you can marinate things in alcohol offsite, then bring the food to the site to cook it.
9. Will there be a site representative available in case the fuses blow, the gas stoves go out, etc.?† If not, can you be shown in advance how to do everything?
D. How many meals are you expected to prepare?† Remember to include any snacks, bottomless mug, etc.
E. What exact meal(s) will you be expected to prepare?† Cooking lunch may sound easier than dinner, until you realize that you have 5-6 hours less in the kitchen than you would for an evening meal.
F. How many people is the Event Steward thinking of serving?
1. Be prepared to help the Event Steward determine a number to serve, if necessary.
2. After you see the site, you will know whether it is reasonable to attempt to serve the desired number of guests.† If the Event Stewardís plan is not reasonable, be prepared to state your case!† Offer suggestions on what you can do at the site; donít just say no.
G. Is it a kingdom-level event, or any event where royalty may be expected to attend?
1. Royalty attendance generally increases populace attendance.
2. Expectations are usually higher for royal-attended events.† Special dishes may be served to high table, the high table might be expected to seat more people than usual, entertainment may be scheduled between courses (which will impact your serving schedule), etc.
III. Great!† Youíve decided to cook your very first feast.† Now what?
A. From this point on, you will need to keep notes!† Everything from the budget to the menu to the serving plan is going to be your business, so help yourself by keeping track of everything.† Dedicate a binder or folder to your feast, and keep everything in it - including an envelope for all of your receipts.† Having everything in one place is a great help.
B. Do the math!† Get a rough budget number from the Event Steward, so that you know what you have to work with.
C. Decide what type of food and service you can reasonably expect to provide for the number of people being served, within the restraints of the site, your budget and your staff.
1. What level of formality, period-correctness and elaborateness is appropriate?
2. Determine whether your feast will be fully served, buffet or picnic style.† Even for buffet style, you will want to provide servers!† Portion control is much easier when your staff knows that one scoop is one serving; your guests wonít be likely to know this.
3. Do you have enough serving dishes and utensils?† If not, you must factor them into your budget or make arrangements to borrow them.
4. Determine what you will have your guests do with their dirty dishes.† Some sites lend themselves well to setting up a washing station; at others, the best you can do is to have your Servers give everyone plastic bags in which to take their dishes home.
D. Menu planning.
1. A Chefís primary goal is to provide hot, tasty food in the proper quantities and in a timely manner.† Everything else is just frosting on the cake.† Keep this in mind throughout your planning!
2. Select recipes that combine various ingredients, textures and temperatures.† A feast that is all the same (all roasts; all pies) or that over-uses an ingredient (cabbage, cloves and rosewater, in my experience) is exceedingly boring.† It is also much harder to eat than a balanced feast.† If you have a guest who is allergic to your ďfavoriteĒ ingredient, suddenly he canít eat any of the feast!
3. If you decide to do a period feast, try to select recipes from the same country and time period if at all possible.† A large cookbook (Pleyn Delight, Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks, etc.) should have enough variety that you may even be able to select all of your recipes from the same source, if you wish.† This will help your feast to maintain continuity, and will give your guests the illusion that they really are in the Middle Ages, even if only for an hour or two.† Some cookbooks have lists of menus that were served for special occasions.
4. Portion control can make or break your budget, as well as trying your guestsí patience.† The most common problem is serving too much of each dish, although occasionally the opposite happens.† Be aware that if you are serving a large number of dishes, you will need to decrease the portion sizes!† It may seem odd at first to think of serving only an ounce or two of a dish, but when you have 10 or more dishes, it is necessary.† Not only will serving reasonable portions keep your guests from becoming overwhelmed, it will help your budget tremendously and avoid an embarrassing amount of leftovers.† For some excellent information on portion control, consult Food for Fifty.
5. Should you plan to have a certain amount of food overage?† Many cooks make 10% more food than they expect to need.† Some cooks go as high as 25% extra.† This overage is used to feed servers and staff, to allow for guests who want extras of something and to cover the occasional disaster, such as the ďdisappearingĒ platter of whole chickens (a real life example).† This is a judgment call that each cook has to make for himself; personally, I like the idea of a small overage (5 - 10%).
6. Determine whether you will offer any special cooking considerations (vegetarian, accommodations for people with allergies), and what the cutoff date will be for people to notify you of their special requirements.
a) If you decide not to offer these considerations, that is perfectly acceptable.† Just make sure that, whatever your plan, you communicate it clearly and often to the Event Steward and Reservation Coordinator.
b) Consider using vegetable broth in some recipes instead of meat broth; this can greatly increase the number of dishes a vegetarian can eat without adding any extra work for your staff.
c) If you plan to cook for allergy sufferers or vegetarians, make sure your staff members - especially the Servers - know which dishes have what ingredients!
d) Whether you are cooking for special needs or not, be sure your staff knows how to avoid cross-contamination!† All knives, cutting boards, bowls, etc. must be washed between each ingredient, not just rinsed!† There will be allergy sufferers and vegetarians in your audience who plan not to bother you with their needs, but just to eat what is listed as safe for them.† If your mushroom chopper rinses his knife and goes on to prepare the salad, neither the mushroom dish nor the salad will be safe for someone allergic to mushrooms.
7. Be aware of foods that you can substitute for others, so that you can take advantage of sales when you shop.† The fruit pie A Flaune of Almayne, for example, works equally well with apples or pears; in fact, the fruits are listed in the recipe as possible substitutes for one another.
8. Donít forget drinks!† After all your hard work preparing the food, it would be a shame if your guests had to search for the drinking fountains, wouldnít it?
9. Taste test all of your dishes!† Even if the recipe you are using was given to you by a friend or fellow Chef, test it.
a) You may find that the amount of work involved in the dish is more than the recipe indicates, or you may just decide that the dish doesnít mesh well with the other things youíll be serving.
b) Making the entire feast as a test dinner is a great idea.† Try everything exactly as you mean to serve it to your guests.† Make sure you serve the portion sizes that you will be preparing for the feast.† In addition to deciding whether the recipes are tasty on an individual basis, decide whether the proposed feast as a whole is filling and satisfying.† A test dinner is also a good time to meet with your staff and ask for their ideas.† Take notes as you prepare and evaluate the food, recording the pre and cooking times and any changes you made to the recipes.
E. Budget & Pricing.
1. Your feast budget is just that - yours, and for the feast only.† Unless extra money was figured into the budget, you will not be providing flowers for the feast tables, snacks for the fighters, bottomless mug or any other non-feast expenses out of your budget.
2. Once you have a budget number, remember that things will change between the time you rough out your budget and the time when you buy your food and supplies.† A rise in gas prices, for example, can directly effect the costs of almost everything in your feast, since it will cost more to transport the foods from the producer to the store.† Experienced Chefs recommend that you plan your feast to come in at a total cost of 10% less than your actual budget.† This will give you the security of knowing that you can handle the results of that unexpected drought in California that makes walnuts all but unobtainable, etc.† If nothing happens to the prices between budgeting and buying, you can choose between two great options - turning in the feast as planned and saving your group money, or adding unexpected treats to the feast!
3. Test-price every single item you will need, including extras such as foil, paper towels, aluminum roasting pans, dish soap, etc.† Your test budget for the feast should be higher than your actual end cost, since you will be taking advantage of seasonal products and sales when you actually spend the money.
4. Give this budget to the Event Steward, and work with him, if necessary, to determine what price will be charged for the feast, for the following types of guests:
b) Children under (what age?).
c) Family cap (maximum charge for a family, no matter how many people actually attend the event).† Families will still need to make reservations for the exact number of people attending, so that the feast isnít accidentally oversold.
d) Kitchen staff & servers (often given free or discounted feast).
e) High table (often given free feast).
F. Work with the Reservation Coordinator to monitor feast sales.
1. Make sure everyone on staff knows that the number of feast tickets to be sold is a number written in stone!
2. Set a cutoff date for pre-registration discounts, if any.
3. Ask the Reservation Coordinator to reserve the appropriate number of tickets for high table, if necessary.
1. Determine what foods should be made in advance and what can be prepared on site.† Even if an entire dish canít be prepared in advance, sautťing 20 pounds of onions and peeling 50 pounds of turnips in advance can be a big help.
a) When planning to prepare foods in advance, keep food service laws in mind!† Some areas will only let you do prep work in a kitchen with a food service license.
b) Know how you will store and transport any prepare food.
2. Work up a schedule and recipe/cooking plan for all dishes.† Make at least two copies of the plans.† Keep the plans in plastic sleeves and have them available on site.† This will let your Deputy Chef and Kitchen Assistants take a dish from start to finish without needing to ask you questions every step of the way.
3. Make sure that none of your dishes will occupy the same space at the same time.† If you have two items that need to be roasted in the same oven from 3:00 - 5:00, one of them will have to be either replaced or reworked.
4. Determine how you can hold the feast at safe temperatures if it is delayed 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour.† This shouldnít happen very often, but itís best to be prepared.
5. If entertainment is scheduled between courses, figure this into your cooking and serving plans.
H. Recruit your help; both for pre-event and on-site activities.† In many areas, kitchen staff members get free or discounted feast; decide how you will handle this before recruiting your staff.† Also decide whether your staff will eat before, during or after the feast.† Remember: having staff members doesnít mean that you donít have to know how to do all of these jobs yourself!† If someone falls through, it is up to you to either pick up the slack yourself or arrange for someone else to do so.† Also, knowing how you want these jobs to be done will enable you to train your staff.† If you canít recruit enough staff to carry out your plans, consider changing the plans.
1. Deputy Chef.† Do yourself a kindness when recruiting staff - select an experienced Chef for this position.† This person is your good right hand, both for planning and on site.† When you take a break, he is in charge.† If you get hit by a bus, he should be able to put on the feast just as if you were there.† Do not be tempted to skip this position - the security of knowing your Deputy Chef is fully trained and able to handle emergencies with or without you is worth the Deputyís weight in gold.
2. Kitchen Assistants.† Whether these people schedule in advance or drop in on the day of the event, they are the backbone of your staff.† Be sure to ask them what experience they have; this will help you to assign tasks.† Donít, however, be afraid to ask experienced cooks to peel apples!† They know you need help with everything.
3. Cleanup Crew.† These wonderful people will make your feast possible.† Recruit people to do dishes and empty trash continuously throughout the day, as well as people to clean up after the feast is over.† If at all possible, do not make these people the same as your Kitchen Assistants!† By the time a 6:00 feast is over at 7:30 or 8:00, you and your key staff will probably have been in the kitchen for close to 12 hours, if not more.† This said, in most areas you and possibly your Deputy Chef will be expected to stay till the last dog is dead.† After all, you are ultimately responsible for the kitchen and feasthall being returned to good condition.
4. Feasthall Organizer.† This staff member is responsible for setting up and tearing down tables and chairs, tablecloths, candles and anything else you are providing for your guests.† Make sure she knows which feasthall lights to leave on!† People really do enjoy a feast more when they can see their food.† The Feasthall Organizer may also be responsible for putting out any foods that are supposed to be on the table when your guests arrive.
5. Hall Steward or Butler.† Staffing this position may seem a little overboard, but believe me, it is a great help.† Your Hall Steward will help to organize the servers, be available to help guests who want a drink, extra bread, etc., announce each dish and watch the timing and distribution of your food.† She can slow or speed the tempo of the feast, which will add to your guestsí enjoyment and make your Serversí jobs much easier.† She may also be responsible for helping to tray up the food in the proper portions per table.
6. Facilitator.† The Facilitator is responsible for actually traying up all of the food, making sure that the Servers bring back all the dishes and getting dirty dishes and leftovers to the proper places.† She may also be responsible for helping to train the Servers.
7. Head Server.† Whether or not the Head Server will serve high table is up to you.† In either case, he is responsible for educating the Servers on their tasks and about the food and drink they will serve.† He may also be responsible for helping to tray up the food in the proper portions per table.
8. Servers.† Your guests will judge your feast 70% based on the food.† Guess what they judge for the other 30%?† Try to sign up Servers before the event, but expect to still be looking for at least a few at the event.† Serving feast is a great way for new Society members to meet people and contribute to the event.† Make sure your Servers know what they are serving.† Servers also need to know where guests can find a list of ingredients for each dish, as well as recipes (if provided).† They will also need to inform guests of what to do with their dirty dishes and scraps.† Any Server who will be working your feast needs to be strong enough to handle a tray of food for 8 or more people!† This may seem like an obvious requirement, but I have worked with an adult Server who was simply not strong enough for the job and who dropped an entire tray of food on the floor.† If you have volunteers who are too young or not strong enough to serve hot food, consider having them serve drinks and bread only.†
a) Servers who are only providing liquids can be a big help; most tables of 8 guests will go through at least 3 pitchers of liquid.
b) A Server who does nothing but circulate the hall with a voider for guestsí bones and scraps is also an excellent idea.
c) If your Head Server isnít serving high table, remember to choose one or two of your Servers for this task.† Make sure that these Servers take up any extra dishes you have prepared just for high table!
IV. Your menuís set, your staff is recruitedÖ† Itís time to go shopping!
A. Before you start shopping, plan ahead!
1. Divide your list into items that can be purchased far ahead, items that can be purchased the week of the event and items that must be purchased the day before or day of.† If at all possible, purchase everything by the day before the event.† If there is something that must be purchased the day of, try to recruit someone else to buy it and bring it to the site.† Make sure any shoppers keep their receipts!
2. Know in advance where you will be storing everything.† If anyone in your group has freezer space, for example, you can get some terrific deals on meat by buying ahead.
3. The Society is a non-profit organization.† For groups in the United States, your Event Steward, Exchequer or Seneschal can provide you with the necessary information to prove we are tax-exempt.† For groups outside the United States, please ask your Exchequer or Seneschal what the tax regulations are for your area.
4. Some stores will donate a certain amount of cash, gift certificates or products to a non-profit group.† Why not try it and see?† If you do receive a donation, remember to write a thank-you note specifically mentioning the dollar amount or goods donated.† For some small stores, this is what they need for their tax returns.† In any case, making friends with people who can give you free stuff is a very good idea.
5. Be prepared to purchase non-food items, including any foil pans, plastic bags and aluminum foil needed for food preparation, storage and serving.† The following extras can make your life (and your staff membersí lives) much easier:
a) Disposable aprons.
b) Food service gloves (required in some areas).
c) Pony-tail holders or hair nets (also required in some areas).
d) Oven cleaner, scrubbing pads, dish soap and garbage bags.
6. Keep every single receipt!† Anyone who purchases things for the feast must do the same.
B. Know your shopping options:
1. The grocery store.† Reliable and familiar, this may sound like a great place to start.† For many items, however, it will be considerably more expensive than other shopping options.
2. The warehouse club.† This can be a good place to pick up items you may need in bulk, such as paper towels, garbage bags and spices.† Check their prices carefully, however; they can actually be more expensive than regular stores.† Also, you will need a membership card to shop at most† clubs.† If you do decide to shop at a club, ask around your group and find out if someone is already a member; many clubs allow members to bring one guest with them.
3. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.† All right, maybe not the candlestick maker!† Not only is meat from a butcher, fish shop or poultry monger often of better quality than available at other places, it can be cheaper and you will almost always get better service.† Many purveyors of meat will do special cuts for you, throw in soup bones for free, etc.† Bakeries that specialize in bread may be able to give you a price that will make it worthwhile not to make your own, especially when you consider the amount of time and labor involved in making 100 loaves of bread!
4. Farmerís markets and farm stands.† Itís worth the extra time to investigate these seasonal options.† Often the produce is much fresher and tastier than supermarket varieties; itís also cheaper most of the time.† Shopping for locally produced items is also very period.† Some farmerís markets will give you great discounts on cases - a good idea for onions, turnips and anything else you expect to use in quantity.
5. Bulk food and health food stores.† These stores often carry spices and grains in bulk, so you can purchase just what you need.† Bulk spices are cheaper than those in packages; however, check carefully to be sure the spices you are interested in are fresh.
6. Ethnic markets.† Chinese and Middle Eastern stores in particular are good for spices, grains and even produce.† Galingale, for example, can be found extremely cheaply at Chinese markets; ditto rosewater and orange flower water at Middle Eastern markets.
V. You have the menu, the plan, the staff and the food.† Now, to turn it all into a feast!
A. Advance Publicity and Publications.
1. Present the menu to the Event Steward far enough in advance that in can be listed in seneschalsí flyers, the event website, your kingdom newsletter event ad, etc.† Even if your menu isnít set in stone, provide some idea of whatís going on - ďRoast meat with sauces, vegetables, breads, fruit pieĒ is better than nothing.† If your menu is set in stone, this can be a great way to sell your feast (and the event)!† Menus that sounds tasty and well thought out encourage people to attend.
2. Have a full ingredient list ready for the reservation area, the kitchen and the Event Steward.† This is not the time to keep secrets!† People need to know whatís in a dish so that they can avoid triggering allergies, which can potentially be fatal.† If you donít wish to share the recipe, then donít; just provide an accurate and complete list of what is in each dish.
3. Recipe booklets.† Many Chefs like to share their work with others.† Itís a great way of disseminating your research, as well as helping timid cooks realize that cooking tasty period food is possible.† Some Chefs provide a set of recipes for every guest; others make a certain amount available on a first-come, first-served basis.† Some Chefs charge a nominal fee to offset photocopying costs.† Whatever option you select, let your servers know what is (or isnít) available; if you cook tasty food, guests will ask for your recipes!
1. Know how you will get everything to the site safely and in a timely fashion.† This may involve recruiting friends with vans or trucks to help you.
a) If you are borrowing anything, either pick it up well in advance of the event or arrange for the people loaning you the items to bring them to the site.† If you have the room, it is always better to bring these things yourself.† That way, youíre sure you have them when you need them.
b) Know how you will get everything back to the people or groups who loaned it to you.† Borrowed items must be returned clean and in good condition!
c) Consider marking borrowed items in some way, so that they may be returned to the proper people.† Permanent markers, china markers, colored tape and nail polish are some good ways to mark kitchen equipment and serving dishes.
2. Make sure that a vehicle is available to you during the event.† If someone has to run to the store, you donít want him to have to look for a ride.
3. Plan what you will do with any leftovers.† Small amounts of leftovers can be sent home with your staff; larger amounts could be frozen for later use at a party or donated to a local shelter.
a) Please check in advance regarding the shelter option.† Some shelters can take anything, while others can only accept unopened containers of food.
b) No matter what you plan to do with the leftovers, make sure you have containers appropriate to the task!† Freezer bags, shopping bags and foil pans are nice transportation options.†
C. Things to Bring from Home.
1. First aid kit just for the kitchen.† Concentrate on remedies for cuts and burns; aspirin and acetaminophen are also nice.† Make sure everyone on staff knows where it is!
2. An emergency food-fix bag.† If something goes wrong, from a missing pie crust to a stew that just wonít thicken, this will help.
a) 1 pound each (or more) flour, butter and sugar.
b) Container of dried plain bread crumbs.† Used extensively in period to thicken pie fillings and sauces.
c) Five pound bag of rice.† This may seem like a little much, but if something goes wrong with your noodles or other starch, you can have an instant replacement for the ruined item.† In addition, if you find out at the last minute that the King (a notoriously fussy eater) is coming to the event, you have something available that almost anyone will eat.
d) Favorite spices from your kitchen.
e) Salt and pepper.
3. A good basic cookbook, such as Joy of Cooking or Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.† These cookbooks have doneness charts for meat, instructions on basic techniques such as roasting and frying and helpful recipes for basic items such as pie crusts and sauces.
4. Meat thermometer, a candy thermometer (for liquids) and an oven thermometer.
5. Whisk, pastry brush, mortar and pestle.
6. Any small appliance you will need that the site doesnít have, such as a food processor, heavy-duty mixer, etc.
7. Good knives and cutting boards.† You can never have too many knives!
8. Sharpening stone and oil.
10. Aprons and hair ties.
11. Your garb!† Even if you donít cook in it, you may want to go out into the site for some reason during the day.† If you or any of your staff do cook in garb, make sure that all long sleeves are tied back and that no tippets or other clothing can land in the food or get caught in the mixer.
12. Kitchen timer.
13. Notepad, pencil and tape, for last-minute schedule or menu changes.
14. Snacks and drinks for you and your staff.† People will want to help you, and they may stay all day.† Itís only polite to feed them!
D. Timing and Organization.
1. Make sure your staff knows when to arrive at the site and what they are expected to bring, if anything.
2. When unpacking your food and gear, make sure that everything goes where it should as it is brought in!† Not only will this keep the eggs from accidentally being left out of the refrigerator, it will save lots of time later when you donít have to dig around looking for the pepper.
3. Post your recipes and schedules for the day immediately.
4. As your staff arrives, orient them on where they can find the first aid kit, a place to leave their cloaks and baskets, aprons, hair ties, a place to wash their hands, staff food and drink, the recipes and schedules, etc.
5. Once your staff is oriented, start them on something immediately.† A good way to do this is to ask who needs help and assign the new person there.† Getting staff members into the flow right away helps them to feel like part of the team.
E. Cooking and the Schedule.
1. As you and your staff cook each dish, make sure all staff members have the help they need.† As you need more people for certain tasks, ask who can leave what theyíre doing to help for a few minutes.
2. Every half-hour to an hour, check your master schedule.† It is just as important not to get everything done too early as it is not to be late.
3. Make sure that everyone eats lunch.† This means you!† Even a few crackers and some peanut butter will keep you going as the day gets longer and tempers shorter.
4. Encourage your staff to take breaks.† Again, this means you!† Your staff will want to attend classes, see the merchants or cheer on their friends on the list field - just like everyone else at the event.† You and your Deputy Chef may only get short breaks scattered throughout the day, but it is important that you take them.† A break can help you to gather your thoughts and make plans.
5. Taste the food!† Every dish must be tasted by someone who knows what it should taste like, before it is served!
6. Be prepared for something to go wrong, and at the worst possible time!
a) When something goes wrong (as it will sooner or later, large or small), donít panic.† Your staff will take their cue from you.
b) Do whatever is necessary to deal with the problem on an immediate basis (pull the burning roast out of the oven, etc.), then take a few minutes to think about what to do.† Donít be in a hurry for an instant solution; the best solution often just takes a little time and thought.
c) Remember your alternate ingredient planning.† Maybe you can turn the filling for the missing pie crusts into a pudding.† Perhaps the burned meat can be trimmed off the roasts and the good portions served in a stew.† Could someone can run to the store for an extra chicken or two, to replace the pheasant that went wrong for high table?
d) If it is necessary to change a dish at the last minute, make sure an updated ingredient list gets distributed immediately and instruct your servers appropriately.
e) Remember - you and your staff are the only ones who know that something went wrong!† If you can deal with the problem yourselves in a calm, rational manner, nobody else will know about it - including your guests.
1. Start cleaning up as soon as your first dish goes out (you were cleaning up as you went along, right?).
2. Many areas have a tradition of toasting the cooks toward the end of the feast.† You donít have to make a speech; just go out and wave to the appreciative crowd!† It is a nice touch to take your staff out with you; after all, without them, it wouldnít have happened.† If nobody toasts the Servers, itís a nice thing to do yourself.
3. Major cleanup.† The site must be returned to the state it was in when you arrived, or better.† Make sure you check the following before you go:
a) All serving dishes, pots, pans and utensils clean and in proper places.
b) All ovens, warmers and stoves cleaned inside and out.† Racks returned to ovens.
c) Dishwasher run for the final time, emptied and hosed out.
d) Sinks scrubbed and garbage disposals run for the final time.
e) All counter space wiped down and dried.
f) All dish towels, scrubbers, etc. rinsed, wrung out and laid out to dry.
g) All feast food removed from refrigerators, freezers, countertops and cabinets, and sent home or disposed of.
h) All garbage bagged and disposed of properly.
i) Floor swept and mopped.† Some sites will do this for you; make sure you know in advance.† When in doubt, sweep and mop!
j) All lights out; faucets, burners and ovens off; appliances off and unplugged, as required.
k) Your Feasthall Organizer should have all tables and chairs back to their proper places, and the hall restored to its pre-feast appearance.
l) Make sure nothing of yours is left behind!
4. Check out with the Event Steward before you leave, so he knows youíre going.
5. Thank your staff.† All of them!† Even the girl who spilled a pot of water† all over the placeÖshe did try to help, didnít she?† Thank people throughout the day as well, so you donít miss the people who helped early and had to leave.
1. No later than one week after the event, turn in your receipts and final report.† The report should include your budget, actual amount spent, amount received from feast tickets, profit or loss and any other details your Exchequer and Event Steward require.
2. Also no later than one week after the event, have a post-mortem with your staff.† Discuss and take notes on what went well, what didnít and what you would like to try next time.
3. Ask non-staff people you trust what they really thought of the feast.† Was the meat tough?† Were the pies tasty?† Were they satisfied with the amount and type of food?† Did they feel they received good value for their money?† Your staff may be too kind to tell you, but you need to know.† Include these comments in your post-mortem notes.
4. Assemble your post-mortem notes into a binder, and keep it handy for next time.† You do want to do it again, donít you?
5. A thank-you can go a long way, especially for that nice man who spent 12 hours washing dishes.† Notes make more of an impression than verbal thanks (although those are necessary, too) - itís nice for the staff to know that you took the time to write something just for them.
Best of luck with your feast!† I hope the above will prove helpful.† If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.
Yours in service and having fun!
Wulfwen atte Belle
223 Seneca Street, Apt. 4, Fulton, NY 13069
Permission granted to photocopy, as long as nothing is changed or deleted, including authorís name and contact information as above.