Oh you saints of the food service world… you are the gladiators of innumerable, daunting culinary battles. Meatloaf for seventy? That’s all? 18 enormous pizzas? With one oven? No problem! Home-made bread for 150 screaming kids? Honey, you look terrified - did someone start a fire?
This weekend, I cooked for 50 people, spanning 6 meals, Friday night to Sunday afternoon. To any camp chef or kitchen staffer, this probably wouldn’t be so alarming (or to one exceptional young woman who usually helps out on weekends like this). I’m not sure why my name was anywhere near the hat they chose from to fill the void this time around, other than, well... the fact that I’m not doing much else these days. But seriously, someone should have “accidentally” slipped and dropped my name out of the running.
The source of my culinary inspiration.
Here are a few lessons I learned this weekend while I was messing around with sharp knives and hotel pans:
1. Always cook more bacon than seems appropriate. What you don't realize is that people have a special, very-expandable pit in their bodies, solely for stashing fried pork. As C said on Sunday morning, “If you serve bacon at breakfast, there won’t be leftovers, and if you serve more bacon, there still won’t be leftovers”. He was right.
2. When making pizza dough in the huge Hobart mixer, be sure to pause the machine when you are pouring flour into the bowl. I know what you’re thinking and no, the dusty powder didn’t fly everywhere. Instead, the curlicue dough attachment crushed the aluminum pitcher I was using to dump the flour, which is no longer a cylinder – it’s now just a long oval made out of metal. It squashed like a tube of toothpaste under a car tire.
3. Keep your hands out of the Hobart mixer.
This guy knows what I'm talking about.
4. How to make bear crack. It’s candy, and I guess bears really do like sweets. This is just one more trick I’ve learned in our neck of the woods. If you live in a suburban area, don't use this recipe. I will not be responsible for bears snacking on your children because you like to take their pictures when they eat out of your bird feeder. Common sense could save the world.
5. Wear good shoes and sleeveless shirts. I could’ve done hot yoga in that kitchen had I brought a mat, and it’s almost winter here. so I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to work in a Miami restaurant. If you don’t have any sleeveless shirts, I suppose a bathing suit would work, but I’m not sure how that floral tankini or those Hawaiian board shorts would fly with the state inspector. Bottom line: it’s hot, and after 12 hours on your feet, you’ll feel like you are waddling around in shoes three sizes too small with a pair of newly acquired cankles.
6. When the crowd has left and the day has ended, you’ll get enough of a happy, tired endorphin rush to help overcome the swelling as well as the bacon aroma that has imbedded itself in your scalp and fingernails. Above all, you’ll be thankful for those crucial other hands that helped put you food on the table. At least I was.
So to every line cook, sous chef, dishwasher and baker out there – you are underappreciated champions of the greater public. You perform miracles daily, converting old bread, eggs, milk and sugar into a bread pudding that I could never rival, and yours feeds 85, while I generally eat my 9"x12" alone on the couch, unless C gets to it first. You order vast amounts of food with precision and can compose menus quicker than I can write a status update. You are astonishing individuals, and on behalf of all of us who eat with vigor and abandon, thank you. Don’t ever stop.