Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cooking For My First Knowne World Event... AND LIVING TO TELL ABOUT IT!

A year ago, after a particularly wonderful sideboard at Crystal Snowflake, I was approached by Mistress Deonna and asked if I would make food for Knowne World Dance and Music Symposium. After she explained she didn't plan to have feasts, just two sideboards, I thought that would be fantastic. I was a little nervous on the idea of a feast with recalling the size of attendance at Knowne World Cooks and Bards (who did a feast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but of course had cooks who loved the kitchen helping out). So the idea of a sideboard seemed more palatable. And being a 4 day event (Thursday through Sunday) she wanted me to cook on the main day, which was Saturday.

That was a year ago. Because planning for Knowne World events should definitely be planned far in advance. But having so much time, I knew about it, and talked to people about it, but it never felt completely real to me.

I had a menu idea. A menu idea I thought would be good for the event. Salty things, vinegar things, cold things, refreshing things, protein. Everything that people working up a good sweat could want.

About two weeks before the event I was given a rough estimate of numbers and a budget. THAT was when I began to nervous. 150 estimated people? What if there was more? And I've never cooked for more than 50 before. This was three times that amount! As a sideboard that would need to constantly be replenished! Bad enough with 50 people, but 150?! As this point, I was certainly nervous. I wasn't certain if I was calculating things out correctly. I was all kinds of concerned about my math. I was picking brains of all kinds of people to figure out how much meat I should make versus everything else. The menu? That I was completely confident with, even if some nay sayer's tried to poke holes in my food theory.

Finally, after much weighing of the decision, I decide I would make about 80 servings of every recipe. That would leave me with 85lbs of meat (20 of it being made into a jerky like substance) to feed everyone with. Technically, I should have figured a way to maybe just 75lbs, in the thoughts of  8oz per person, but 80 servings was easier to calculate and I began working my way through making everything.

I started, of course, a week early by making things that needed long marinating times or pickling times. I worked more in snippets through the course of the week, but Thursday, a few more things were made and then Friday was kind of the wrap up before Saturday, where I only had to cook three dishes on site (one of them already fully prepped to cook).

 That Friday, I knew the event was already in full swing, so I figured I would stop by and bring my stuff over to the kitchen. I walked into the beautiful event hall, trolled in, and asked where the kitchen was so I could deliver the food.

I will be honest, my heart sank a little when I was pointed about 2-3 blocks away to a brick building in the distance and was given keys to unlock it. Mainly because I saw this beautiful church and was looking forward to doing a feast in there. But, you know what? I got over it. Which ever building I was in, the important thing was that the next day, I would be doing what I loved: feeding people. And so we drove those few blocks and got in that kitchen and started a light prep to prepare for what I knew was going to be a crazy day.

I didn't sleep much. I decided to make baklava. I didn't have to. I could have struck it from the menu (gracious knows there was enough food). I was already dead on my feet because of cooking since the previous weekend, but there was also this buzz of excitement that, even after the baklava was done and I went to bed, I tossed and turned most all the night, anxious about the morning.

At 7am I rose, triple checked that I had everything packed, garbed up simply, and headed out to be on site by around 9am. My dedicated kitchen staff, Mistress Brid and Mistress Siobhan, who have helped me at numerous feasts and sideboards now, were both with me as we assessed the situation, cleaned table tops, and got to work. Kathryn arrived later with beautiful dishes to make the food look amazing, fresh flowers for the table, some extra table clothes to give more color, and a happy disposition for helping out in the kitchen.

Our first concern? After almost an hour at 500 degrees (I am not kidding) the rice pilaf was not working. Time to change tactics and get it on the stove and cook it that way instead. And not use that one broken oven. Thankfully we had two.

Around 10:30, I decided the dancers who were taking classes in what would later be the lunching area deserved some treats. So I put out some dried beef, pickled mushrooms, fresh fruit, and bread with butter. Mistress Deonna had come around and cautioned me that lunch was not until 12:30 and I smiled. I had planned extra food in order that people would be able to replenish salt and protein levels through the morning until lunch. Mistress Deonna recalled why she had asked me to make the side board and thanked me once again.
In our final push, around 11am, Magnus asked if there was anything he could help with. I begged him into the kitchen to help out as my blood sugar had plummeted and, even with drinking much water and partaking in sugars and some protein, I was visibly shaking, incredibly pale, and the world felt like it was swimming around me. I persevered, though. Glass of water, plate this. Glass of water, cut this. Around 12:15 tables and chairs began scraping across the floor and I knew I needed to start getting things out on the tables. Hungry dancers and musicians were on their way.

The line of people was incredible. I made sure people would walk down both sides of the tables, but the masses swallowed the tables. I had to peek around things and for a full 45 minutes, I was back and forth to the kitchen trying to replenish dishes as they emptied. I made sure nothing was empty long. And while I was doing that, Kathryn, Siobhan, and Magnus were still cutting meat, frying meat, and getting things on plates. We were a well running clockwork machine.

When the masses cleared, I was barely able to stand any longer, but my persona needed to go to the tables and make sure everyone was well fed. Feeding people is one of my most passionate hobbies and it is important to me that every can, and does, eat. As things settled and my kitchen staff were finally grabbing plates themselves, I allowed myself to sit down.

The praise I received about the food was overwhelming. As I sit here now and recollect on it all, I don't think I gave the proper thank you's while in the state I was in, and I apologize for that. So, thank you. Everyone. So much.

Everyone was fed. Everyone enjoyed the food. I had one woman come up to me to thank me profusely because everyone in her house ate and was happy, and she had a picky household of gluten issues, vegetarians, and meat-a-tarians. Everyone in her family enjoyed things on the sideboard. The people from Renassonics hugged me because I knew about their lifestyle choice of being vegan and accommodated them without any insult. There was even a dessert option that they could eat: no eggs, no dairy. I was asked by two different people from two different places if I would travel and cook at other events. I was even informed I had groupies that were beginning to watch for my name as a cook at events so that they could come and enjoy. I heard there was a woman so excited because this was her first Knowne World event, and if she knew the food was this good, she would have come to more of them. I was told by a dancer I highly adore and respect that it felt weird coming to an event he loves and knowing he was looking forward to the food more than the dancing (and we all know how much he looks forward to dancing, so this was a huge compliment for me). Someone mentioned that the event could be a little chaotic (as many events are when you are trying to choose between lots of classes of fun), but the meal I created had such a harmony of exotic choices that all worked together so well in their simplicity that it was a refreshing break before classes began again. Even our lovely autocrat had nothing but praise, saying that she chose who she knew was competent and would put on the perfect meal for dancers, really knowing what it is they need and want in a meal.

I am certainly humbled. I have only ever been to one Knowne World event before. For some reason, having been asked to cook for one is the highlights of my cooking career in the SCA. I was honored. It really pushed me as a cook and I feel I rose to the challenge. I want to thank everyone that made this possible and especially thank Mistress Deonna for this incredible opportunity. All my staff, my clean up crew, and the people at the event who just wanted to lend a hand and washed a few dishes, I adore you all. You inspire me to be a better person. Thank you.