This is a post for my student, sort of a recap post of my 4 part "so you want to be a cook" I did. This condensed version. I will try to be much more specific on what I do , how long it takes (approximately), and how I view / judge my results.
Step one! Find an audience to cook for. This can be easy, it can also be hard. If a group has 1 or 2 cooks it is pretty easy, if the group has 8 it might be harder and you might have to look outside your group. I have an "in" in this area, if my Mistress is the event steward then more than likely I am cooking :) I have also been asked to cook in other groups who are without the manpower as well as volunteered outside my group and region. Note that while I have volunteered I have only actually cooked outside my region once.
Step 2: Know your budget!!! Make sure you get a firm number. Usually it is a set of numbers. X per adult and Y per child between age and age. There may be more categories to track and there may be a fixed price of Z per paying person. This is up to the autocrat, for the most part. The exception is to present a budget.
Step 3: Make a budget: This does not need to be fancy or detailed but it should contain some basic information. My "usual" budget is 12 euro per adult and 6 euro per child for a "full weekend" event. Full weekend is defined as Friday night until Sunday Morning. I have a generic breakdown of the budget but really it is more fluid than that for me. I may pinch a little off feast to have a bigger lunch or I might save a few pennies on breakfast and have a nicer Friday night supper. It depends sometimes on what is on sale the week I do my shopping. I have decided an entire menu twice based on what was in the sale papers that week. This approach is not advisable but maybe when planning leave a few things "open" or have a few alternatives that could do in case there is a sale.
All of the things above take little time, now. They took a few hours the first few times I was cooking but now that I have a working model it takes me no time at all to plug in numbers or to shift things around.
Step 4: What type of food are you cooking? Is there a theme? Is there an era? Simple foods? Complex? Decide what your goal is, then start the research. This is where the bulk of your outside the event time is going to be spent. I can spend days, even months and yes years researching for a feast. I am researching and planning a feast that I may never get to cook but if I have the opportunity I will. For the most part I spend a few hours a day for at least a month pouring over my books and making lists. I list all the recipes that fit my concept and goal. From that list I narrow down recipes to try. Redacting is a process that takes time as well. Rarely will you get exactly what you want on the first try.
Redacting is a tough process, not only is it helpful to already know how to cook but it requires an understanding of medieval cooking methods as well in order to understand what you will need to do differently in a modern kitchen. As not everyone will have medieval equipment nor manpower available to them accommodations need to be made when testing the recipes. How close can we get is a tricky subject that I have tackled in a previous post and will not expand on here. The actual time it takes to redact something will vary person to person and recipe to recipe. Some recipes provide you with measurements to go on, others do not and you must try and discover the proportions yourself. Even if you are given measurements do you know what the modern equivalent is? Can you find it? Do you need to guess? While there has been much progress made we do not yet know everything about everything and not everything is easily findable even in this modern computer age.
Step 5: Menu decided, redactions done, it is time to make lists! Make a list for everything! I like to make several lists, the first is by dish, listing ingredients and quantities. The second is an over all grocery list and the third is an equipment list. My grocery list is then split into what I need from the store, what I need to bring from home, and any equipment that may need to be purchased. It takes a bit of time to get all this together, plus checking and re checking.
Step 6:Time plan: A step by step not quite moment by moment of what I need to be doing when. Mostly this is a simple list of times I need to have something ready and in the oven by or started on the stove or served by/at. It can read simply or very complex depending on how large and involved the feast is. This is helpful in many ways. I can see whan I am behind, and I have prioritized at my finger tip what needs to be done if someone comes to the kitchen asking to help. I look at what is set to be accomplished next and set them a task that accomplishes this. I also make a list of what I want to accomplish Friday night and schedule in things like sleep :) My day on Friday starts at 6:30 am to get my son and daughter ready for school and kindergarten. As soon as I drop off my daughter (by 8:30) I am off to do the shopping for the event. I really like to buy as much fresh stuff as possible especially produce. When possible I am at site between 2pm and 3pm in order to have Fridays supper done for 6-7 pm and then I try to work only until midnight on Friday and be in bed no later than 2 even if I don't have to wake up and do breakfast. If I am making Breakfast my day starts between 630 and 7 am in order for everything to be done by 8 am to go out. If someone else has volunteered to make breakfast my day starts as late as 8:30 am to make sure I eat before starting the prep for lunch and feast/dinner.
Step 7: Wake up Friday and execute plan.
Step 8:Post event review: Yes folks, It isn't oven when you get home. Now it is time to review what you did. Not just celebrate what went well but also to anylize what went wrong and despite seeming like nothing went wrong there is always something that went wrong or that could be done better, even if it a dish that was not well recieved. Later, in another post I will post my "post mortem" form that I use to analyze myself, It is a form given to me by my Mistress and worked on and added to together.