April 5, 2012 -
Let’s give it up for the caterer!
There are few professions that top the physical and mental stresses of cooking in a professional kitchen. That’s probably why plenty of TV shows have been dedicated to the glamour, guts and glory of the field. But when it comes to accolades and appreciation, catering cooks always get the short end of the stick. Maybe it’s because most people associate catering with troughs of chicken marsala and crusty mac & cheese, (both are very much missing from our custom menus, BTW), or maybe it’s because reviewers can’t simply walk through a door on any given day and start Yelping.
Having recently been named Scene Magazine’s Best Caterer last week, we thought it was high time to explain exactly why we here at Spice of Life Catering Co. are so proud of our staff – and respectful of all caterers everywhere.
Consider the average day in the life of a catering cook vs. a restaurant cook, as told from the point of view of the Spice kitchen.
Catering Cook: Show up to Spice Headquarters, pack up the truck and haul ass to the farmer’s market.
Restaurant Cook: Still sleeping (or just going to bed!)
8:00 – 8:30am
Catering Cook: Build the burrito stand kitchen in a field – one tent, three eight foot tables, half dozen coolers and chafers, two electric griddles and a few rocket burners.
Restaurant Cook: Still sleeping
Catering cook: Chorizo hits the pan.
Restaurant cook: Wake up, wizz, pound water to alleviate hangover, back to bed.
Catering cook: After cooking 150 breakfast burritos, write SOLD OUT on the menu board. Walk around the market, buy up leftover produce that the chefs haven’t already purchased earlier.
Restaurant cook: Roll out of bed. Make coffee.
Catering cook: Break down the kitchen, pack it up and haul it back to the van. Return to shop.
Restaurant cook: Warm up last night’s leftovers for lunch. Think about putting pants on.
Catering cook: Unload the truck – take all dirties to the dish tank, all equipment to the basement. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Restaurant cook: Stroll into work. Hi-five the catering cook.
Catering cook: Reload truck with staged gear for fundraising event of 250. Review checklist no less than five times to make sure all food and equipment is on board. Check directions. Check in with chef for special instructions (vegan, food allergies, etc.). Review walk through notes with event planner, who spent the last six months and 14 meetings writing them.
Restaurant cook: Write the prep list. Prep the station.
Catering cook: Unload the kitchen from the truck – three tents, 10-12 tables, four hot boxes, speed racks, rocket burners, and a hardwood grill. Move the smoker to prime position. Set up for passed and stationary hors d’oeuvres. Realize you forgot lemons for the bar. Cuss. Run to store. Run faster. Complain to yourself about the quality of the lemons at un-named grocer. Return to make-shift kitchen. Dive back in. Fire smoker. Fire fryer. Fire burners. Start cooking as chef barks orders.
Restaurant cook: Q-time. Review specials. Wait for early orders.
Catering cook: Dinner rush. Waaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh.
Restaurant cook: Dinner rush. Waaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh.
Catering cook: Break down kitchen. Throw dirty dishes into coolers. Load thousands of pounds of gear back into truck. Return to shop.
Restaurant cook: Late night dinner rush: Waahhhh.
11:00pm – midnight
Catering cook: Unload truck. Patronize dishwasher. Hi-five restaurant cook. Belly up to the bar.
Restaurant cook: Return unused foods to cooler. Clean station. Belly up to the bar.
There’s no doubt that every cook, whether working at a restaurant or party center, works incredibly hard to give you the incredible dining experience you deserve. But caterers are a little different. A little quirky. And they have to be. These Chef MacGyvers are resourceful, multi-talented, and very, very creative.
So let’s just take a moment and toast to all caterers everywhere, who cook in less-than-perfect, never consistent circumstances to help you throw one hell of a party!
Images of various Plated Landscape events by…
*Kayla at Full Bloom Photography, whose work will also appear at Spice Kitchen + Bar over the summer.
**Tess Smith, whose husband heads up the kitchen over at Marigold Catering.