Seasonal Cooking 17 Jun 2007 08:11 am
Last week my friend Steve called to say he’d landed a catering gig, to feed 200 scooter enthusiasts at a scooter rally, and would I like to help. I took on the challenge of feeding 200 people, to see what the experience is like and whether I could pull it off. Good people of the NYC scooter clubs, should you happen upon this blog, I’m sorry to spoil any illusion you might have had that you were fed by professional caterers. No, you were fed by a couple of food-loving amateurs, who wanted to give it a go to see if we could handle it.
My assessment: we handled it pretty well in that ‘not bad for the first time’ sort of way. Our menu: burgers, hotdogs and chicken wings on the grill, plus chili and mac’n’cheese in hotel pans.
Mac’n’cheese for 200 people? How in the hell do you do that? For expert advice I called my friend and neighbor Naidre Miller, proprietor of neighborhood happy spot Naidre’s. Naidre’s advice: don’t take a home kitchen recipe and size it up: get a food service recipe. She happened to have one for Mac’n’cheese and she passed it on to me. The recipe made one hotel pan worth and I decided to double it for the hungry crowd of scooter lovers.
How to cook six pounds of macaroni? In a really, really big pot. From the Jetro, along with our cases of hotdogs and burgers, our foot-high stack of American cheese slices, our deli-size jar of mustard, we brought home a pot nearly big enough to take a bath in. I poured in salted water by the stockpot-full, set it across two burners on the stove, and watched and waited & waited & waited for it to boil. When the pasta was finally cooked I scooped it out with a strainer, and with help from Steve carefully poured off the cauldron boiling water into my apartment kitchen sink. The mac then went back into the huge pot, along with six sticks of butter, two dozen eggs, eight cans of evaporated milk, two tablespoons of Tabasco, tablespoonfuls of salt and pepper and nearly an entire jar of McCormick dry mustard. Once this was stirred together, I added seven pounds – seven pounds! – of shredded cheddar cheese.
It was weird and very cool and kind of weighty working with such quantities: any mistake would be multiplied by 200. Stirring all that cheese & pasta together took some muscle, and pouring it from the huge pot into the flimsy aluminum hotel pans in my small apartment kitchen was a delicate – and definitely a two-person — operation. But into the oven the pans finally went — props to my new kitchen’s oven for accommodating both pans — and the enormous pot was handed over to Steve to make the chili. NB: Steve didn’t have a foodservice chili recipe, and despite Naidre’s advice, sized up a Food Network recipe for pork loin chili. It ended up working ok, and came out tasting great, but it was definitely scary working with 20 pounds of pork loin.
At the venue calamity struck: one of the folding tables provided by the scooter club collapsed as I was trying t o move it into serving position, dropping one of the pans of chili to the ground and pouring out about a third of its contents. It looked like a heap of wasted chili, but hotel pans are commodious, and there was plenty left inside for the queuing crowd, and another pan besides, plus two pans without pork for the vegetarians. We fired up the grill, opened up the first box of burgers, and started cooking. The burgers and dogs disappeared as fast as we could take them off the grill, and we made the mistake of trying to insert a round of chicken wings which took too long to cook & stalled out the line. But then we fell into a rhythm and for the most part kept the line moving and the crowd happy. Lots of thank yous. Overall I think we did a pretty passable job — not bad for a first time catering effort. The preformed frozen burger patties in boxes were definitely not my style, and I would’ve loved to have spiced up some quality ground beef for some really flavorful burgers, but adhering to a ‘keep it simple’ strategy for this first outing was pretty smart. Maybe next time – if there is a next time – I’ll have the time for some extra touches.