Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cooking In Volume-Systems

Cooking In Volume-Systems

One important thing to understand, which some people don’t really realize, is that there are two major forms of catering facilities. The first and most popular is the hotel/conference center type of facility that mostly does in-house functions such as banquets and plated dinners. The second type is the catering facility that operates either strictly off premises, or is a combination of both on-site and off-site catering. In reality, these are two different worlds.

Through the course of the holiday season 2005-2006 I spent some time on the road in both types of facilities. My primary job is at a conference center that does both on and off premise catering/banquets/plated dinners and after our Christmas rush was over I spent some time in other facilities, most notably The Woodside Conference Center in Greenville, South Carolina that deals strictly with on-premise banquets/plated dinners. These are two very different worlds.

One of the major differences between the two is the volume of parties that each of them performs, not necessarily the number of people, but the number of parties. One case in point was right before Christmas 2005 one of our cooks had asked how many sauces I made that day and after going back and counting, I realized that day I had made 22 different stocks and sauces, which was my mise en place for the 25 plus parties we had on the books that day…whew…chungachungabam baby…

On the other hand, when I was in South Carolina, although I may have only done a sauce or two per day, the sauces were in volume. 150 gallons of Bolognaise, 80 gallons of Turmeric marinade, 130 gallons of Bordelaise sauce...the list goes on and on and if I had to prepare this amount of sauce you can imagine the amounts of protein that we had to prepare. The reason I was called into South Carolina was that they were doing 5000 people a day for four consecutive days for a convention. Making 800 lbs. of mashed potatoes for a meal is quite a bit!!!!  (Not to mention a heck of a lot of fun in Cheffy’s world of “I love Volume”-Ha ha….)

Regardless of the facility, the organization should be the same. I have gone on and on in previous articles about doing the math, incorporating systems and realizing who your enemies are (meaning labor, tools, equipment, purveyors, storage space, etc.). Sometimes this organization is a difficult thing, especially when you have to bring in product everyday because of limitations of space, equipment etc. which is often the case at my primary job.

One management tool that I use in the analytical process of planning an event (that I learned from my Marine Corps days as a guideline for warfare) is the acronym SMEAC.

Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration/Logistics and Command

Know your enemy!!! (The Art of War-Sun Tzu)

The situation is the function itself. The who’s, what’s, and where’s of the event.

The mission is and always should be to put out the best quality food that you possibly can ensuring that the event runs as smoothly as humanly possible, I don’t care if you are doing a two top in Lou Ellen’s section or whether you are doing a plate up for six thousand over in Hall B, we must always be aware that failure or near failure is never an option. When all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed the less stressful the job becomes. In the words of my buddy Chef Scott “…when everything is black and white there doesn’t seem to be a problem, it is only when a little gray appears…”

The execution is just as it says, How am I going to execute this event, what do I have to do to be able to pull this off? Are all of my systems in place and more importantly, does my staff realize how the logistics of the event is going to occur?

Administration/Logistics- Quantities of food established (by doing your math of course…),  recipes established, food ordered, storage space analyzed, scheduling reflective of the projected labor hours, strengths and weakness of the facility and staff to perform this function, does the right hand know what the left hand is doing and what direction is it headed next? Rooms set, cambros lined up and primed, hot boxes plugged in, plates hot, do I have enough hotel and sheet pans? Are all my ducks in a row and if not, why? And again, if not, how am I going to make sure they are?

Command- Ascertaining that each responsible person involved in this function understands his/her role in the big picture. All of the “What if’s?” are addressed so that all understand, does the right hand really know what the left hand is doing or are they just saying that to be nice?

Although I am specifically talking about catering/banquets, the same laws of logic can and should be applied to a la carte as well. Do I have enough food prepped? Are stations/mise en place set for the night? And perhaps the most vital question: “What did I forget?”

The SMEAC acronym is just one system that I use in the analysis of an upcoming event to make sure that I have covered all of my bases which aids in the difference between success and failure, which at times can be a very fine line.

One major discrepancy that I have witnessed in both worlds these past couple weeks, which often leads to unnecessary stress is that when a plan is developed STICK TO IT!!! Although in this world there are countless variables that occur when a plan is changed, if an event is changed in any way, shape or form all players involved in the process must be advised to any changes in the original plan; not doing so causes unnecessary confusion and chaos which only leads to stressful situations that often produces unwarranted and undesirable tempers.

If you plan the event and have done your math and have logistically decided on quantities and other systems, stick to your plan, second guessing minutes before the final execution of the event only causes stress. If you had it properly planned originally, then why change your mind in the midst of execution? I will concur that sometimes it is the clients that change our logistics by adding or decreasing the numbers in a function but this is who we are and what we do, if we have our I’s dotted, then we should have no problem with it as long as the variables are not that drastic. In Cheffy’s book of culinary passion, over-production, wasted food, wasted labor and wasted time is the same as failure---do your math!!!

In closing I just want to add that it doesn’t matter if you are feeding ten thousand at once or 55 different parties in the next two days, or whether there are 600 covers on the books tonight, if your systems are not in place and understood by every player in this theatrical event then you are setting yourself up to fail and failure is never an option in this business…

Inspired? Hope so…

“…the release from a cocoon is awkward, but the result is a beautiful butterfly…”
Tao Te Ching-Lao Tzu

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