Most recently I have started thinking back not on the feasts that I have cooked but on the ones I have attended, and while a lot of them have been superb there have been a large portion that have not. Some of that portion have been adequate and the rest have been downright horrid. This is not a post to run those feasts down but it is a post that maybe those cooks could find inspiration in. This is a post about my humble beginnings and the feast from hell.
I took on the job to cook for a crown tournament event, this in and of itself was a big task as it would be my first time cooking for over 100 people in a kitchen that was not a professional one. Having cooked for groups of up to 80 before I was confident this task could be handled. I had planned a banquet that was glorious! Full of foods, flavors and textures for everyone. I had not 1 back up cook but 2! I arrived on site on Thursday to get a head start on everything. It seemed perfect, boy was I wrong! The first of the problems started Thursday when we got moving later than expected but this in and of itself would be OK we had plenty of time in which to make up the time that was lost. The schedule was not tight, actually there was no schedule. Later on I would realize that this was the first of my problems that i would need to fix. We arrived on site to find that a box of stuff was left at home, sigh, this meant a trip back to get it and another 1.5 hr delay. That is OK we have all day on Friday to get prepping. I should add right now that my son was only 11 months at the time and still nursing. So in amongst the prep and breaks to eat and all that was things like diaper changes, feedings and nursing to get him to nap, all of this eating time from the "schedule". Thursday night my son doesn't sleep for poop. He is constantly waking up and of course what does he want? me, or more specifically my boobs, so i get less than a perfect nights sleep, but that is OK right? I mean I have all day and suddenly it is Friday night and people are arriving. Saturday It's wake up get things going and oh ya, did I mention I was a consort for the tourney? First lesson learned make a schedule, second lesson learned do not be head cook and a consort. Throughout the day on Saturday little things kept adding up, the soup turned into a solid block of rice, the beef purses were taking way too long to make and cook and we could not keep up, The tourney started an hour early and therefore the schedule for when the fighters lunch we had prepped got stepped up, racks were missing from the ovens and I didn't know so I think I am baking 4 pies at a time and it is really only 2 and intending to serve 2 pies this was a hell of a slow way to do it. When this is discovered we stop and re arrange the menu, dropping dishes all the way. My large beautiful menu gets chopped to bits and substitutions made on the fly and extra leftover filling served as a side, the kitchen gets crazy! Among all of this coming and going I am still nursing my son when he needs it and it has become apparent he is not feeling well. Service has started and we are salvaging what we can, trying to keep our heads despite another setback, this time a hand mixer that is electrocuting me while using it. At this time my husband peeks in and asks where the thermometer is. I give him a quick answer while trying to get things into bowls and figure out what is going out next. a few moments later as the second service is being set up he comes in and asks where our son's insurance card is. At this point I fold, I no longer care what is going on and I abandon ship. There is only one more service to go and I am sure those in the kitchen can handle it. Nothing is yet done for the desert course which was intended to be a sideboard but at this point nothing else matters. I retire to our room and quiet space with my son to care for him and his dangerously high fever while my husband consults a doctor. We are .5 degrees centigrade from having to go to a hospital. I give him all my attention and all my energy, at some point he falls asleep, fever down a little and stays that way. I return to the hall and the mess to face the crowd that I am sure is ready to lynch me. I walk in the building and I am told to stay put! The new Prince and Princess want to see me. This is it I think. I'm done. I will never cook again. As it turns out they wanted to talk to me about something completely different and not a single person mentioned the food, well not up until that point anyway. I tried to relax a little, spoke with a few people including a very kind woman who sat me down and fed me "medicine", and talked to me gently not about what I had done wrong, but about what I could do better and what I had done well. The most negative comments ever spoken to me came from the king himself who said "Can I ask a question?" I said of course and he asked "What was up with that grey shit?". All I could do was giggle. I had survived and even if people went home unhappy with the food time has helped them forget that and my determination to do better next time and not make those mistakes again.
Nobody's first time is perfect, especially if they are going it alone. Hopefully, we live and we learn.