Friday, 17 February 2012

Notes from the kitchen....

Snapped on a rare day off!
Head chef, Patrick has taken over the blog today...

At Thames, Catering & Events we want people to be excited about and enthused by our food.  So a lot of thought goes into the menus we produce for our clients. 

First, and foremost, it has to be what they want - we try and incorporate as many elements specifically relevant to each client as they wish. Secondly, we need to be sure we can produce it, to the best standard, at their chosen venue, which can sometimes be in a temporary kitchen in a marquee in a field!

trio of desserts
Once we've agreed a final menu, it’s onto the tasting.  Hosted at our premises in Henley, the clients are served the full menu, including canapés if required.  We take photos of the food as it is served, so that we can use those to ensure any other chefs working with us on the event can see exactly how the food is to be presented, making sure it meets clients’ expectations.

We also recommend prospective clients take up references – it’s easy for a caterer to provide a meal for two in a commercial production kitchen, but the clients’ need to be satisfied their caterer can do this in a tent in a field for 150 hungry guests!

After the tasting, there’s a break for the kitchen until the big day approaches, while Pennie keeps in touch with the clients, working on the front of house and event management aspects of the day.

prep menu showing special diets
While we do events on any day of the week, Saturday is naturally the most popular, especially for weddings. The prep menus for the week’s events will be brought to the kitchen on Monday, with all final numbers and special dietary requirements having been confirmed the week before. From these final menus, I write my prep lists, I will go through all the finer detail to ensure we haven’t missed anything important, and double check the front of house equipment orders include everything we need to serve the particular dishes. I then also compile my order lists and place all the food orders for Thursday delivery.

Once Thursday arrives, its all systems go!  For the kitchen, this is probably my busiest day as I like to get as much done as possible. Each event will have an allocated chef, who will also start the prep for whichever event they will be cooking for. Why is this?? This ensures they are familiar with their menu, and also whilst he works through his prep list, I will be able answer any questions he may have (and decipher the writing! – Pennie). The first day’s prep lists may take 6 hours, may take 14 hours, but we work until it’s all done - this is part of the job when using the freshest produce.

prepping one of our chicken main courses
Friday comes and with it more prep! Also, importantly, we go through the job stacks in our walk-in fridge and check them off against our menu. (As food is prepped for each event, we use stacks of clean, brown bread crates to separate each menu in the fridge – a ‘job stack’.) This will highlight anything we may have missed, crucially at a time when we still have time to fix any problems.

Also on a Friday, most of our hire equipment gets delivered to the site. At this stage, I’m reliant on Pennie and her team to set up the temporary kitchen and check everything is working correctly. After all, no one would want to me or the chefs to turn up on-site to produce a hot meal, only to find the ovens didn’t work! Once I am happy that everything is as far prepared as it can possibly be, only then will I finish for the day.

Event day arrives, and this generally means an early start, usually being at the kitchen by 6am. I generally finish any outstanding prep myself, usually having canapés to finish, desserts to garnish and bread to cook. Again, we check the menu against the food loaded on the job stacks.

Why this obsession with constantly checking?? Well, sometimes some of our jobs are over 40 miles away - too far to be coming back to get something if we’ve forgotten it! Also, we don’t want to disappoint our clients, and making it as seamless and stress free on our side as possible means we can do the best job towards making their big day really special.

job stack in a catering tent

So, it’s into the van and off to site, Once there, it’s all hands on deck to get the food unloaded and into the fridges, and then the magic starts! Service can be a very stressful time in the catering tent (!! - Pennie), but more so if you’re not organized, so that’s another reason why we pay a lot of attention to the finer detail.

If the menu includes a cold starter these will be plated just before service starts and will have the final dressing as the waiting staff take them to the guests’ tables. Once we’re happy the kitchen is ready to go with the next course, the starters are cleared and we start sending out the main dishes.  This is a carefully choreographed process with the service teams working closely with their chefs to make sure all the hot dishes goes out still hot, on hot plates, presenting all this carefully prepared food in it’s best possible light.  Once the main course is served, it’s down to the chefs to get the cold desserts plated up, and again these have final dressing as they go out to the tables.

All in all, service of a three course meal will usually last for 2 hours and is very satisfying once finished and it has all run smoothly.

cooking giant paella
Often a wedding party will have more food in the evening, this may be a hog roast, or even a curry cooked in front of the guests. This is my favourite way of cooking as it allows the guests to interact with me and talk about the dish I am serving and also gives me chance to gauge feedback about the wedding breakfast.

Then comes the hard bit. By this point, we’ve often been on our feet for around 12 hours, but we now need to start breaking the temporary kitchen down so that the hire equipment can be collected on the Monday morning. Our van will also need to be loaded with the equipment we have brought with us to be taken back to the kitchen and unloaded.

Around 16 hours after we started, the kitchen is locked up and it’s time for the chefs to head home.  This is common during the summer months as Pennie and I like to work on every job we have booked, giving the client a recognizable point of contact for the day. 

Sunday is clean down day. The kitchen, all the equipment & the van will be cleaned down in preparation for the coming week.  And on Monday, the cycle starts again.

Days off?? These are at a premium during our summer season, although we try to make it up during October and November, once the season ends.

As I hope you can see, Pennie and I put a great deal of effort into making our clients’ event days special.  We believe this personal commitment is the extra added value that distinguishes us from other caterers.  We hope you’ll come to believe this too, as you book us for your next big event!

Thanks for reading

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