Catering for crowds2
If a friend asks you to cater for 35 people at his short film the correct answer is no; this is what happens if you say yes.
Let me start by saying in no way are we professional cooks. Correct ways to describe us would be drunken cooks, smokey cooks, fat bastard cooks or perhaps most fitting would be a combination of them all; drunken smokey fat bastard cooks.
The only way to tell this story is to start from the very beginning. Jason Kempnich over at Yarnmaker (check out some of the shorts they are really good) is an old university buddy of one of the Swords and abusing this wonderful friendship he asked, having seen our numerous exploits on Facebook, if we could cater for a short film he was doing. Having zero experience in catering or films, besides eating and watching respectively, we thought this would be a great idea and so it began.
Being both professionals in the IT industry the Two Pork Swords went about this as someone would with any IT project, plan for weeks on on building a menu, come to the last minute, realise it is unfeasible, throw it all out and start again. Our plans started out with what we thought was a great idea, bacon and egg rolls for breakfast and a roast for lunch! Roast lamb on the rotisserie, some roast vegetables and some gravy to wash it all down. Alas, no oven was going make this a challenge and after twice cooking veges to try and save time we realised it wasn’t going to be possible. Our saviour came in for form of something we had never really put much thought into making before.. salads.
Not surprisingly the Two Pork Swords are big meat eaters, sure we had seen a salad before, even eaten one from time to time when the meat had run out but make a salad? This was going to be a push, we were going to have to come up with something that even a meat eaters like ourselves would be interested in and after a little experimentation we got there:
- Garden beans and lemon butter with shaved almonds
- Oven roasted pumpkin and rocket salad with pine nuts, parmesan cheese and balsamic dressing
- Slow roasted tomato, halloumi and baby spinach pasta salad with a citrus dressing
For our meats were were going to offer a selection, partially for anyone who might not like lamb but mostly for redundancy:
- Spit roast organic lamb with bush herbs
- Mixed Bratwurst
So the menu was set, most of the vegetables could be prepared the night before, the rotisseries were packed, all we needed was to get rolling.
So where were we to be catering? The smog hazed LA? How about the streets of Turin? Even somewhere closer to home, perhaps the metropolis Sydney? No, we were going to Ipswich.
Our morning began early, it would be no surprise that the childless Pork Sword of twoporkswords.com wasn’t accustomed to a 4am wake-up. Not to worry, a petrol station cup of coffee and the realisation that we would have 35 people to have breakfast ready for by 6:30am was enough to get the heart started.
Getting to set at 5:30am and starting to set up the bacon was on as soon as we saw faces poking around to see what was going on. It was a simple but great combination. Fresh home laid eggs with smoked deli bacon on a roll with a choice of the usual sauces plus a ring in. The night before tomatoes were roasted for the salad but there were far too many, the extras were mashed up into a jar of Ajvar which we labelled our ‘Special Tomato Relish’. All was going well, the biggest problem we had was being told we weren’t needed to provide beverages but not one had hot water for their coffee. Not a worry, there was a solution, a pot of boiling water tipped right into the small Styrofoam cup, it was going to be a new sport seeing who could avoid getting their finger’s burnt by scolding water. Breakfast was only just done and we had already a following but they were not prepared for what was to come.
With breakfast finished around 7am it was time enough for us to pack up our breakfast setup, clean up a bit and then start thinking about getting our swords through some lamb. Having cooked the same sized legs of lamb 5 or 6 times in preparation for this we knew exactly when we needed this to happen. The fires on the rotisseries were lit generating much interest around the set and a little bit of trepidation from us as were were nestled between two office buildings and worried we might attract some unwanted attention, no time to worry now we had 1 hour until the rotisseries were going to be up to temperature.
Once the lamb was on and rotating it was time to take a breather, a timer was set for every new item that we needed to cook, we knew exactly when we needed to start cooking the components so we could hit our noon deadline for lunch. Things were looking good, our water was on the potable gas stove getting up to temperature to cook the pasta, the beans were in the pot with their butter and lemon accompaniment, the roast pumpkin salad was all but made things were going great, right up until a small wind developed. This might not seem like much but the poor camping stoves were were using were having trouble boiling our pasta water. Worse still our lamb hadn’t quite hit the temperature we wanted on the thermometer even though it should have been cooked by now, tension was building but we made the decision to trust that while the lamb rested it would be cooked through enough and if not we could finish any uncooked parts in the pan.
Zero hour was upon us, the lamb was resting, the haloumi was grilled, the beans were ready, a few of the Cevapcici were cooked and the pasta had finally reached the border between uncooked and al dente. Curious crew members were being drawn in my their noses, we weren’t quite ready for service and the lamb had rested, it was time for the moment of truth. The first cut goes in and it is perfectly cooked, what I mean by perfect is it is overcooked but we don’t have to explain to 35 people why we think medium lamb is better. We are in business.
We work as a two man team, at one end of service lamb is served out to hungry crew and assistance given for anyone not au fait with the utensils on offer. At the other end bratwurst and cevapcici are served out as fast as they can be cooked, the next 30 minutes are a blur. We have a break, the actors haven’t finished filming so we get a chance to regroup before the next group comes through. Those fed are already circling like buzzards waiting for a chance at seconds, we keep them away, knowing we still have more to feed.
The second wave comes through (somewhat less ravenous than the first) without incident and we manage to give away our last bit of lamb and sausage to the final member of the crew, we had portioned our food perfectly. All that was now left to do clean up and pack away our kit, the crew was already moving to their next location.
We learnt a few lessons from this experience: firstly, don’t every cater for anyone but your closest friends and family, it isn’t worth the time and the effort. Secondly, practice make perfect, know how long everything you are going to cook takes and time it for service. Thirdly, prep as much as you can, you aren’t going to be in your nice kitchen with your usual utensils and cooktops, make sure everything you can is prepared the night before, this goes for anything you can cook as well as anything you can peel, just top and tailing beans the night before saved us half an hour of work on the day. Lastly, try and enjoy it, you won’t ever receive the same praise at home, enjoy it as much as possible.