Monday, March 28, 2011

Olives Ole

Finally, Olives Ole. This week was extremely long and taxing physically and mentally, but I got to learn many new things and apply them. What kept me going was not sweating it when things didn’t go right—because inevitably they didn’t. And it all still worked out okay. I might consider that one of the most important lessons I learned doing this event.

Monday was devoted to collecting all the lists of volunteers that had been posted in the St. Philip’s hallways and emailing all the volunteers with information regarding the event. Tuesday we had a last-minute meeting with about 20 Dames, most of whom had not been at any of the other meetings. It was apparent that there were gaps in the communication; one Dame had been collecting volunteers for the non-concessions and had no idea that St. Philip’s was providing the volunteers for the concessions despite the fact that we’d been here all along. There were some changes made to the menu; Sysco contacted me and informed me that they were unable to procure lamb chops, so the decision was made to go with ribeye instead and keep the side dish and sauce.

Thursday, all the food product was delivered to St. Philip’s and I was the one to receive it. This was significant for me because even though I have taken Purchasing and understand the general idea of how receiving inventory works, this was the first time I had put my learning into practice. It was really difficult! We were speaking different languages, so to speak, and I had to translate on the spot. I had my checklists and the delivery order from River City Produce and another from Ben E Keith. Di-Anna had received the dry goods and paper goods from Sysco at the Botanical Gardens, but I wasn’t initially aware of this and did not know from which source we were supposed to be receiving the food. So this took a bit of adjustment for me. Even more of an adjustment was the way large quantities of food is packaged and shipped; it was not at all like how I had written it in the ingredient requisition, because I just didn’t know. I would say “60 each butternut squash” and I ended up getting 3 cartons of some butternut squash by the pound. So I’d have to look at them and calculate/guess if the amount they sent was indeed the same as the amount I requested. Sometimes it was. Sometimes it was not, and sometimes not even close. There were items they were unable to procure for us (pomegranate juice). There were things they procured some of, not all of (24 heads of collard greens instead of 40). There were things on the list that we didn’t see in person (but they ended up being there after all, oops). The best I could do was go down the list, try to translate it as best I could, and check the quality of the items (that at least I could do well). Ultimately another couple of shopping trips were made to supplement the missing items and we continued onward.

(Since the food was donated, it wasn’t hard for me to keep from getting out of sorts about the missing things…something about not looking a gift horse in the mouth.)

Friday was prep day. I was one of five chefs in command, and ultimately was the kitchen manager of all three classes prepping ingredients and making 10 dishes, most of which for 600 portions. This involved assigning recipes to groups of students; gathering fresh ingredients from the food truck outside, dry ingredients from wherever we squirreled them inside St. Philip’s; and following and/or changing the recipes. Some changes were forced because ingredients weren’t available in the desired amount, and some were adjustments we made a la minute to the recipes (e.g. not adding a pound of black pepper to the chicken salad). In some cases we made great use of our time and cranked things out faster than I expected, such as the mashed sweet potatoes, zinfandel pomegranate reduction, and chocolate chipotle brownies. Other things took far longer than they should have, such as the hummus (thanks to not getting enough cans of chickpeas which forced us to cook our own, a time-consuming process that ended up not being necessary as I will discuss in a bit), the peachwood smoked chicken salad (in one part due to the laborious job of smoking chicken and finishing it in the oven, and in another part due to the decision to chop 60 red bell peppers by hand rather than running them through the buffalo chopper which is what should have been utilized for all mass production of vegetables). Overall, the classes were very receptive, hard-working and focused. At the end of the day, all the prep work was completed and everything tasted delicious.

Finally, Saturday was the event. I felt completely in my element all day as I collected volunteers when they arrived, ordered them to set up, grab food off the truck, man a booth and plate food, or run errands for all the Dames. We had an astonishingly good turnout of volunteers (out of 49 that signed up, only about 6 were no-shows), and a handful of those scheduled until 2pm stayed with us until 4pm which was wonderful. Once again, nothing went totally right. But we rolled with it all the way through. I kept morale up, checked in with the volunteers to make sure they understood how we wanted things and ensured they got breaks and a chance to eat and drink, and overall the concessions were a success.

Was there room for improvement? Absolutely. I had to send people back to school to pick up the zinfandel pomegranate sauce that I had forgotten to load onto the truck, and to Central Market because foolishly we had neglected to bring salt, pepper and chicken base to the event. Some ingredients were not in sufficient supply for the paella station (thanks to the missing red bell peppers). We had far too much of everything else, especially the stupid labor-intensive hummus. We returned what we could, donated what we could, and gave as much away to the volunteers as they wanted, and still threw away probably 15 trays of food. The biggest financial calamity was that the ribeye, which was prepared at another location by one of the Dames’ caterers, was not held at a food safe temperature. The health inspectors came, checked it, and ordered it destroyed. The Dame in charge of that station made the decision to go purchase racks of lamb at astonishingly awful prices at Sam’s Club just to have something to serve. (Incidentally, Tavis said it was some of the best lamb he’s ever eaten, so it was not a complete waste.)

As far as labor goes, St. Philip’s made this possible. I don’t know how they could have done it without us. Setup did not take as long as expected; breaking it down at the end of the day took longer. The Dames, as often as they had complained that breaking it down was the part that they were least-prepared-for in the past two years, had still not devoted sufficient time and planning to ensure that they would be better prepared this year! Our volunteers were done by this point, physically and mentally. Many of them had cooked the night before or been there since 7am. We were culinary students, we had prepared and served food, and asking more of them was ridiculous. So this is definitely an area for improvement in future years.

Throughout this week, I learned so much about my ability to thrive under the pressure of long hours, a huge amount of multi-tasking, and being diplomatic to every stressed person under trying conditions. I am hugely proud of myself and I know that I came out of this event knowing once again that when I’m put to the test, I can and will do a great job.


Rosie Posie said...

Congratulations! It sounds like a wonderful success. I am so proud of you! The food sounds wonderful and I wish I could have helped break down the night (and take some food home with me!)

Megan and Tavis said...

Thanks friend! I miss you. You would have enjoyed a whole bunch of nummy treats. At the very least we can recreate the chipotle chocolate brownies, they were delish.