How To Feed The Masses

Because we didn’t have enough going on for the holiday weekend already, my wife and I agreed to do the food for our church’s pre-cana class. As in “wedding feast of Cana” … as in wedding preparation class. Which really doesn’t matter, except that we did breakfast, lunch and dinner for 40.

No new recipes today, just a look at what it looks like to scale a couple of familiar recipes up a lot.

(It was at a church. So “feed the masses”. Get it? Church … masses … )

You’d think working in a big institutional kitchen would be a joy compared to the tiny space I usually work with. You’d be mostly right … but just mostly.

Lots of counter space is nice.

But that’s not real butcher block, it’s Formica. So I can’t cut on it, can’t put hot pans on it. And it’s too close to the convection ovens.

But it was enough counter space to prep 20 pounds of asparagus.

They also had this neat little razor tool for opening plastic bags.

I’ve got to get me one of those for my kitchen.

I’ve never seen asparagus that had such a wide variety of sizes in one package before. As we snapped the cut ends off we sorted them into thin, medium and thick.

We got a great deal on this asparagus, but it was the sandiest I’ve ever had. We had to wash everything very carefully, then spread it out on sheet pans to dry.

Next up was 20 pounds of Russet potatoes, rinsed and diced to bite-size.

In that last shot, I’m using a spatula to move the diced potatoes. Usually I’d use the knife I just cut it with. Usually I’d be cutting four potatoes. Even the tools you use change when you’re making this much.

Early in the day I was still smiling.

All those potatoes went into a couple of large pots with about a quarter-cup of salt in each.

I could have fit them all in one really enormous pot, and was actually about to do that. Then I realized that I’d have to carry it, full of 40 pounds boiling water and potatoes, around the prep table and to the sink. Yeah, I’ll use two merely large pots instead of the ginormous one.

By this time Jenn was asking if she could please do something to help besides getting me pots and pans and saying, “Yes, chef!” (She thinks that’s hilarious on Hell’s Kitchen.) So she prepped the cucumbers and tomatoes for the salad.

I’ve never used that squiggly cutter thing she used on the cukes. I forgot we had it. And I don’t understand how she can work sitting down like that. It hurts my back just watching.

Next up, two heads of garlic.

I wasn’t in a hurry, so I just peeled them by hand. All you have to do is twist until you hear the papery skin pop, then peel it off. (If you can’t see this video in email, come check it out on the blog.)

Once it was all peeled, mince and toss it in a little sauce pan with about two cups of extra virgin olive oil.

That went over low heat to infuse the oil while I worked on other things.

Entrée was pan fried pork loin chops. Start with two whole pork loins.

Trim the excess fat.

Cut into one-inch chops.

Then … well, I don’t have pictures of this part. Jenn was off cleaning up from lunch and setting up the dining room for dinner. But the process was the same as the pan fried pork tenderloin chops. Pound them flat, season well with salt and pepper, then fry in a little fat. I tossed some of the trimmed fat in the frying pans to render out a little bit. I could have used butter, but it’s got a lower smoke point.

In between rounds of pork, I did the asparagus. A little garlic infused olive oil, more plain olive oil, salt and pepper.

Then roast them in the convection oven at 350° until the tips just start to turn brown.

By this time it was getting pretty hectic and I completely forgot to take any pictures of the pork or potatoes as I was working on them. The pork was pan fried with salt and pepper, and the potatoes got butter, parsley, and garlic infused olive oil

By the way, this is what counts as “fine dining” when you’re setting it up in the cafeteria of a grade school.

I’ve never seen this much cooked asparagus at one time before.

Last year we had four people helping out assembling plates. This year we had …

Jenn came over to help, and I snapped at her to put down the freakin’ camera and help me here!

Yes, I apologized afterwards. I’m glad she even got those shots. I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get any pictures of the pork chops or the pan sauce I made.

After frying 54 chops in two large pans, I threw a pound of diced fresh mushrooms in each pan and cooked them down until they released their liquid and deglazed the pan. Then a dusting of flour for thickener, a couple of tablespoons of butter, and cooked for a few minutes until the flour had lost the chalky taste.

Finally, a cup of heavy cream, plus more salt and pepper and a tablespoon of marjoram to each. A few cups of water, and bring to a boil for one minute. I can’t tell you how good that sauce was.

The asparagus was pretty popular, too. When we were done, one of the guys on staff grabbed a spoon and ate up the rest of the olive oil and asparagus juice from the bottom of the pan.

The timing was perfect. The food was great. (Though the potatoes could have used a little more butter. Even the portion estimate was pretty close. But I am so out of shape for this kind of stuff. I burned my hands four times and my arm twice. My back and feet were sore all the next day.

Did I mention there was no air conditioning or exhaust fans in the kitchen? Yeah, that was fun.

All in all, I had a good time doing it. And I am not planning on doing it solo again any time soon.