12/7/09

Large Orders

Organisation is paramount when handling large orders. Boss Man's pretty good at coordinating the efforts of the kitchen and office, but even great leaders need good support to be successful. Such was the case with the order that went out on Sunday.

There were about 100 pounds of assorted foods that were heading out to Brooklyn for a large event being thrown by Avodah, a Jewish service organisation. The lovely people there were looking to try something different from the usual catering fare, and gave us a buzz to sort things out. First thing I did was send along our catering info. There was a little bit of back-and-forth, with regards to the specifics of the meal, delivery time/location, and sorting out final details.

It was almost too easy.

Famous last words, right? I took a look at the list of food, and figured that it'd be a pretty standard large delivery order, until I started to crunch the numbers. Oh man, this was going to be bigger than I thought! I was both excited and nervous. Boss Man asked me to compile a report of exactly what is required to fulfill the order, from start to finish. And off I went, to hammer out the report. How much rice do I cook to make 5 pounds of brown rice? How many pounds of dried shiitake mushrooms do you rehydrate to make 25 pounds of the stuff we serve? (5 pounds, for the record. And dang but that stuff is pricey!)

Then came all the minutiae of the food. The beauty of going to a restaurant is that when the food arrives at the table, it looks effortless. Consider, if you will, one of those Mexican places that serves the really good quality burritos. You know the sort, where you get the beans, the rice, the veggies, the guac, and any other fixings you can think of. They griddle the tortillas really quickly, so that it's warm and fragrant and slightly flaky. They add just the right amount of seasoning to the beans to get it just so. It's not too wet, and not too dry.

You think, "Well, they're just putting basic ingredients into a tortilla. I can do that!" You go home, and think that you'll save time by using tinned beans. Fine so far. You cook the rice. Mince up the veg. Make the guac. An hour later, you're so hungry that you can't stop yourself from nibbling on the tortillas, or taking a little spoon of guac, or a bit of something else. Before you know it, your kitchen looks like a hurricane ran through, and you're tired, hungry, and cranky. You make the burrito. You're full after exactly one. You survey the mess, and think "See? That was easy, right? LET'S NEVER SPEAK OF IT AGAIN." (I guess you can tell by now that I've had experience with this. Really, let's never speak of it again.)

Yes, it's easy in theory, but in practice, things get a little hairy. If you don't have an efficient and methodical system with which to churn out the work, you're going to wind up with disasters aplenty. Fast forward to Sunday, when the people who are going to take the food over to Brooklyn are here, and look at the chaos and madness in the kitchen. Yes, the food arrived safely, but there was plenty of scrambling, which isn't so good.

What's the solution?

In a restaurant, it's a production list. Because you have multiple people working on many different things at the same time, it's best if you have a centralised list where everyone can sign off on the various and sundry tasks that are involved in putting together the food. Is the marinade made? Check. Is the plant protein cut into bite sized pieces? Check. Are the greens cleaned and tossed through? Check and check. Who did it? You can see by the signature. When? The date's right next to it. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. At home, you won't have to go to quite so much trouble, but it might help anyway.

Have a list of what needs to be done in advance (peeling and chopping veg, prepping your proteins, soaking beans, making hummus, making dressing, etc.), and what has to be done at the absolute last minute (composing the salad, deep frying the food if you are deep frying, etc.), and what can be done in between (making a pot of rice, boiling the beans, cooking the soup). When you have a plan like that, even if things go wrong at the last minute, you always have a birds-eye view of the bigger picture, and can shuffle things around your schedule.

If you forgot to soak the beans last night, you can still nip on down to the store to snag some tinned beans. If you didn't have time to make the rice, you can always use pasta as the grain, because it takes less time to cook. If you never did make that dressing, you can go for the "stripped down" version, and just toss the greens in lemon juice, and drizzle on some olive oil at the last minute. The point is that when you have an idea as to where you're going, you'll know where you're at, and can avoid getting flustered.
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