Holidays at the club put a bit of my life into perspective. No longer does worry of making a couple of pies for thanksgiving seem valid. Even a few days of cooking, preparing for a large family of 15 or 20 pales in comparison, especially when the family holiday ends in my sitting to enjoy the meal. No, Holidays at the club are a week long event.
Lets take Easter, which technically is on Sunday, but the Rainier Clubs’ Easter brunch takes place on the preceding Saturday. The menu, this time a banquet for 300, is planned weeks in advance. Meetings involving the Exec. Chef, Bill Morris and his team of 3 sous chefs began 2 weeks prior to break the menu into it’s working parts. I am guessing at the order here, but this is roughly how it’s done.
First, the menu is broken down into each ingredient, and the estimated quantity needed to make the dishes. This is where experience and focus play a trump hand. Not only do you need to know roughly how much will be eaten, but you have to calculate in overages to ensure nothing runs out. Then, you have to adjust recipes to fit the quantity needed, and come to a figure estimating the amount of each individual ingredient needed. Not every ingredient is strait forward either. 12 dozen eggs, sure that’s a snap. But 250 portions of ham, at 4 ounces a portion, doesn’t add up. You need to factor in that the ham will loose weight during the cooking process. How much weight, you ask? It would take the experience I mentioned before to really know. Once the menu becomes a sum of it’s parts, it turns into a super-mega-shopping list.
The shopping list has to then be broken down between the many, many purveyors used to stock the Rainier Clubs stores. I was told that we have 3 different sources for fish, and 4 for meat. Add to that the various produce vendors and farms that deliver, the dry goods suppliers, pastry companies, dairy suppliers, and companies that specialize in various ingredients, like Ritrovo, or cheesemongers. Now it’s time to order. But wait, there’s more. Each purveyor has different delivery days, so you have to take into account when they can have the product to you, close enough to the date of the party to be fresh and tasty, but giving enough time for it to comply with the preparation schedule. Your master list becomes a time sheet as well.
Which brings us to the prep list. The menu is broken apart yet again to assess what needs to be prepped. Each dish is dissected, listing each individual task it will take to complete the dish. Simple sounding, but when you consider that each dish must feed the 300 members and their families, the concept grows. Now add to that the 40 or more various dishes made, (18 in pastry alone) to give the members the kind of variety that a special holiday at the club warrants. Needless to say, the list is very long. The list is also turned into a schedule, taking into account when you can get product in, how far ahead (or not) you can complete the task while keeping quality at it’s peak, and in what logical order tasks must be completed.
It takes a kitchen of 17 working cooks, 4 dishwashers, and 3 very hardworking interns a full week to complete a holiday menu. All the while, the kitchen is running it’s usual regime of breakfast, lunch, banquets, dinner, tasting menu’s, bar menu, and pastry.
As you can see, the key behind this endeavor is organization. And I’ll say again, the Rainier Club is the most functionally organized kitchen I have ever been a part of. They really have this down to an art. So much so, that when the events do finally come around, the kitchen hardly breaks a sweat. The sous chefs might, but only in their efforts to keep the well oiled machine rolling.
Easter is a buffet, which means that quite a bit of the food can be plattered ahead of time, salads are held in large bowls, and the desserts are all set up ahead of time. Come time for the guests to start moving through the buffet line, all the kitchen has left to do is slice the roasted meats, cook a few hot dishes like pasta in quantities to feed 30 at a time, and run food in and out of the kitchen.
However, not all holidays are buffets. Valentines day, my first holiday at the RC was a 5 course sit down dinner. The dining room was set with tables for 150, a dance floor in the middle, and a full service staff. Each cook was teamed up and became responsible for a single dish.
While the kitchen isn’t pumping out food in volume, each dish involves so many high maintenance components, that it takes two cooks just to put out a single dish all night. Food is cooked to order rather than in batches, and the focus is on perfection.
To have to say that perfection isn’t the focus of every last thing that comes out of the kitchen may sound lazy. But don’t scoff, every thing done in the kitchen sits somewhere balanced between speed and perfection. The faster you need to go means the less attention to detail you are capable of. The more you focus on details, perfecting everything, the more time you need. So everything we do must consider both speed and quantity vs. quality and strike the right balance for the dish at hand. It’s hard to keep the balance leaning towards quality when you are pushed for quantity and speed, which is easy to see in so much food that is sold in the industry. Too often the easy road is taken.
Never the less, on Valentines Day the balance is tipped as far as possible towards perfection and refinement. The menu takes as much time to prep, but by cutting the quantity and speed at which the dishes must fly out the kitchen doors, the dishes are inspired.
Below is a slide show of Valentine’s day, including all the plates that were designed for the menu. For a more detailed description, the menu is posted here, on Ex. Chef Bill Morris’s own blog, which is a small peek into the artistry he brings into the kitchen each day.