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Porthos

Changing My relationship to the Faire Feast Kitchen

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I have cooked in the So Cal Ren Faire kitchen for 14 seasons, the last 7 of which I have been the team leader/kitchen manager and a cook.  Although chronologically I am still sort-of young (62) my body has been betraying me for the last 20 years. Between my lumbar spondolosis and my diabetes I have had increasing mobililty and decreasing engery issues. I noticed last year that I was starting to have trouble putting in the long weekend days that being the manager requires. My day starts between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. and if I'm lucky I can eek out a 15 minute break somewhere before I am able to walk away at 2:00 for a few hour break. On Saturday I am back at it at 5:00 and put in another couple of hours. On Sunday it is almost the same but I will put in another 3 1/2 to 4 hours starting at five to close the kitchen for the weekend.

 

I had to make the decision this year to renlinquish the team leader/manager position at the end of this season.  I will still cook for the faire and do the purchasing during the week, but I will no longer have to do the closing of the kitchen, the hardest part.  The kitchen consists of 4 areas. The first area is a 10 x 20 Costco "garage" (we call it the feast tent) which serves as the food pantry, ice cooler for meat, prep area, pot and pan storage and serving bowls/platters,etc storage. the second area is sandwiched between the feast tent and a 20' ocean shipping container. For cooking in this area I have an 8-burner event grill, a 2-burner freestanding camp stove (25k BTU per burner) and a 3-burner freestanding camp stove (30k BTU per burner). There are also ice coolers for dairy and for vegetables, shelves for drink pitchers and other bits and bobs. The third area is dishwashing. There are shelves for dirty dishes, a table with a 3-sink approach to dishwashing using 10 gallon Rubbermaid totes, the sink for filling and dumping the tubs, and shelving for air-drying the pots, pans, bowls, etc. I actually use a 4th tub for pre-wash to keep the wash tub from getting too dirty too fast. There are also paper towels available to wipe out visible food bits. The fourth area is the ready-to-serve area with shelving for foods ready to serve and a table to plattering (10 platters of meat and 4 "specialty" platters).

 

As I said the hard part is the closing of the kitchen. By the way, my crew has a paying gig in the afternoon so they are not available to help with the closing. We cook from scratch each meal. Since we use ice coolers, any leftover food has to be removed from the coolers, the bags of ice removed, and then the water in the coolers has to be dumped. All of the serving pieces have to be pulled off of the drying shelves and stored in the tent. Any serving pieces that have come back late have to be washed, drying and stored also.There are 8 trash cans that have to have their liners pulled, and placed upside down to prevent errant trash from ending up in them. The wash area has to have the tubs dumped and generally cleaned up. Tarps are put in place where needed. I also have to do the rounds of 6 propane tanks to see if any are nearly empty to be put with the ones already emptied. The ready-to-serve area needs a once-over. It may not sound like much but it is a minimum of 3 hours work for me, usually more. This closing of the kitchen is why I am stepping down. My body has said, "No more."

 

I know that their are several member here that have heard me talk of running the kitchen and I wanted to share why I am stepping down.

 

The good news is that I still have what it takes to do my share of the cooking. I am grateful for that.

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I think a lot of folks who enjoy events like the Renaissance Faire have no idea what it takes to keep the staff fed.  You've done yeoman's work for them, for many a year.  I hope they find a worthy team leader to take the load off you.  It's good that you'll be able to keep cooking.

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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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Cooking more than a dinner for 8 is serious work and hard on the body. Cooking for a rabble hoard is several orders of magnitude more strenuous. Good for you that you realized its time to move forward.

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I think I failed to mention that our Guild Mistress has chosen my late 20s daughter as my successor. She has cooked with me for about 3 years. She really shines in sauteing vegetables. I will still be Mr Meat. For this final weekend of Spring 2016 I will be grilling top sirloin steaks for Saturday and chuck eye steaks Sunday for the beef portion of the meat platters. Pork will be boneless shoulder meat that I have already oven roasted and will finished on the grill to set a BBQ sauce glaze. Carnivores don't go hungry.

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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Over the years, I've very much enjoyed your insights and "behind the scenes" views into an aspect of the Ren Faires that I was completely oblivious to. I look forward to those posts continuing.

 

It sounds like you have planned a wise transition into a role that will afford you much involvement but shift some of the more physically arduous tasks.  I hope you'll find that altered role as fulfilling as previously, though relinquishing partial control is potentially a uneasy situation.  Since you've been responsible for so much for so long, it may be rather a shock to the organization as they realize how much you have been doing.   I hope all goes well for you.

 

When the So Cal Ren Faire was in Agoura, I used to attend pretty regularly but I haven't been since they moved down south.  I think that was in 1988, so it's been a while:$!

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@Porthos,

 

 You know how much I've enjoyed your stories about the faire I am sure.   I can totally relate to your physical challenges and I can only wish that you get much satisfaction in your new role. 

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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I hope your daughter will let you continue to be the voice of the faire here.  Like the others, I have enjoyed hearing about your role and the amazing amount of prep work it required.  You can sat back and become the wise elder now!  Well earned title I'm sure.

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I took pictures this weekend before I began the end-of-season tear-down.

 

Here is a plot of the overall layout: (The kitchen stove shown in the layout is no longer used.)

 

The kitchen area (inside and outside), but not the dish-washing area, is off-limits to everyone except the kitchen crew while preparing the feast. This layout makes it very clear where that boundary is.


 

Feast Layout.jpg

 

There are additional feast helpers who sit "on stage" and prepare platters of "salad." Each platter has fresh veggies, fresh fruit, black and green olives and pickles on it.

 

From this kitchen we put out grilled beef, grilled chicken, grilled pork, lil' smokies in BBQ sauce, coined kielbasa, meatballs, steamed potatoes, 4 types of cheese that we cube fresh daily, steamed veggies, sauteed veggies and baskets of various kinds of rolls. All items except the rolls are cut into finger-food serving size.

 

And now onto the kitchen pictures.

 

This is looking through the pots-and-pans shelving at the doorway into the outdoor cooking area:

 

Slide_1.jpg

 

This is standing next to the pots-and-pans shelving looking to the right showing the unused stoves and the steel prep table:

 

Slide_2.jpg

 

Turning to the right shows the pantry shelving across from the steel table:

 

Slide_3.jpg

 

This is standing next to the pantry shelving looking down the rest of the wall, showing the other prep tables and storage.  The prep tables are 6' banquet tables with leg extensions to raise them to counter-height. one is 36" and one is 39".

 

Slide_4.jpg

 

The table area next to the pantry shelves has the spice, oil and vinegar shelves:

 

Slide_5.jpg

 

As of ths year we had plenty of under-table storage for gadgets and tools, and we need 2 knife blocks to contain all of the knifes we have on hand (including 5 paring knives - yes we use them all).

 

Slide_6.jpg

 

Across from the above prep table is shelving for our serving bowls and platters, some misc Cambro pans and bread products on the top shelf. The shelving seen out the end of the feast tent is the drying shelving. The top drying shelves have vertical supports for drying cutting boards, lids, platters etc.

 

Slide_7.jpg

 

This is the view looking across the washing station at the drying racks. The flow works very nicely. The dish washers put the items to be dried onto the shelves from the dish washing side and we pull dried items off of the shelves from the kitchen side.

 

Slide_8.jpg

 

And, last but not least is a view of the 3-burner stove and the big grill. The pot on the ground is where I keep wooden spoons for my 2 y/o grandson to play with in the afternoons. He is not allowed in kitchen (as best as I can control) when we are cooking. It is his mother, my daughter, who is taking over managing the kitchen next year.

 

Slide_10.jpg

 

That is my home-away-from-home on weekends in the spring.

 

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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I've just been looking at the Faire website (they don't really exist like this in the UK, our nearest would be something like http://www.ludlowmedievalchristmas.co.uk/). Wow, it's quite a thing!

 

Love the kitchen pics.

 

http://new.renfair.com/socal/ for anyone else interested.


Edited by Tere (log)
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I just found a picture that a guild member took during the feast. The raised platform at the back is where the widow of the former mayor and her special guests preside over the feast. On the table pictured you can see the meat platter, the veggie platter, the cheese platter is farther back, a server at the other end of the table is offering vegan-prepartion potato chunks, etc.  If you're a peasant you eat with your hands.  I love feeding my friends.

 

I generally loos about 5 pounds (and this is a good thing) during faire because I don't eat enough on the weekends. I'm thinking that I will probably eat a little better in the future now that I am not the manager.

 

Eating the feast.jpg


Edited by Porthos (log)
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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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Fascinating. Glad you're cutting back a bit, glad you're staying with something you so obviously love.

 


Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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I've been meaning to ask: are these meals during the shows or after hours? I've only worked a smaller (6 week) faire as a vendor, so we didn't stay on site, but I gather it's not so in character for the folks who do camp out. But I know the west coast (and socal specifically) has a very different faire "culture" than most.


Joanna G. Hurley

"Civilization means food and literature all round." -Aldous Huxley

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The feast is a mid-day meal, eaten on stage in full view of the traverlers (the paying customers).

 

Our run is seven weekends in the spring. We are roughly 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Our guild, The Guild of Saint Cuthbert, does several parades during the day, including the opening and closing parades, puts on pagents in the streets, and has some demonstration stuff in our enviromental area (dedicated area in view of and accessible to the travelers) allowing the travelers to see and touch and ask questions. Some of our people also go out into the streets to gig with the travelers.

 

This faire, the Southern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire, is the original renaissance faire that Phyllis and Ron Patterson created in 1963. It has gone through many changes since then.  Our guild mistress has been part of faire since 1967. I have been part of it since 2000.


Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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The Southern season that ended last month was, for me, the season from hell, not only because of the demands of faire but rather all of life making too many demands on me. Unfortunately, faire is the only item on the list of things I have to be responsible for that I could stop doing. I don't talk much about my 12-step recovery here but the level of stress and pain in my life was upped so much that it put my recovery in jeopardy but I was not in a position to walk away. So, I am taking the 2018 Southern season off. I have been in the kitchen there for 15 years and I need a long break to help me get back to a healthy place. Since the other stressers are still in my life, most notably helping with my dying FIL, I expect getting back to where I need to be mentally will take a long while. I want to be back for the 2019 season.

 

However, I am not completely abandoning my guild. My equipment will still be there to be used. All of the cooking gear you see in the pictures, along with the 3-burner camp stove and large event grill, are mine. I am  not mad at the guild, I just need space, so the equipment will go out. Also, I will continue to do the feast shopping, which I already do during the week, and deliver it during the week. What I won't be doing is being anywhere near the faire on the weekends.

 

Because I have not had someone come behind me whom I could mentor, I have been writing a thorough set of documents for how the feast works, and how the kitchen makes that happen. There are a myriad of little things that have to come together to make it happen.

 

My daughter who was going to take over the kitchen management had a major change in her life between accepting to take it over last year and this past season starting up. She went from being unemployed to being employed full-time + mandatory overtime on a shift that doesn't start until 12:30 p.m.  That job, along with being the mother of an active 3 y/o son, left her without the necessary time and energy to take over.

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Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

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Bless your heart. You absolutely must take the break and tend to yourself. The faire will get along without you; no doubt not as well as it got along WITH you, but it will get along. 

 

I hope things ease up and go better for you; sending positive thoughts and prayers and good energy in your direction.

 

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Don't ask. Eat it.

www.kayatthekeyboard.wordpress.com

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Posted (edited)

8 hours ago, Porthos said:

The Southern season that ended last month was, for me, the season from hell, not only because of the demands of faire but rather all of life making too many demands on me. Unfortunately, faire is the only item on the list of things I have to be responsible for that I could stop doing. I don't talk much about my 12-step recovery here but the level of stress and pain in my life was upped so much that it put my recovery in jeopardy but I was not in a position to walk away. So, I am taking the 2018 Southern season off. I have been in the kitchen there for 15 years and I need a long break to help me get back to a healthy place. Since the other stressers are still in my life, most notably helping with my dying FIL, I expect getting back to where I need to be mentally will take a long while. I want to be back for the 2019 season.

 

However, I am not completely abandoning my guild. My equipment will still be there to be used. All of the cooking gear you see in the pictures, along with the 3-burner camp stove and large event grill, are mine. I am  not mad at the guild, I just need space, so the equipment will go out. Also, I will continue to do the feast shopping, which I already do during the week, and deliver it during the week. What I won't be doing is being anywhere near the faire on the weekends.

 

Because I have not had someone come behind me whom I could mentor, I have been writing a thorough set of documents for how the feast works, and how the kitchen makes that happen. There are a myriad of little things that have to come together to make it happen.

 

My daughter who was going to take over the kitchen management had a major change in her life between accepting to take it over last year and this past season starting up. She went from being unemployed to being employed full-time + mandatory overtime on a shift that doesn't start until 12:30 p.m.  That job, along with being the mother of an active 3 y/o son, left her without the necessary time and energy to take over.

The Faire has always put a lot of stress on workers behind the scenes and it is a shame that the managers don't want to spend the money on more trained help. It was the same back in the early '70s when I had my booth there (at the Hope Ranch in Thousand Oaks).  One of the cooks was a woman who had been recruited from a hotel and prior had been a cook in the Army so she had a lot of experience. I often met with her and we talked about our Army days. One of the organizers kept asking for extra meals for "VIP guests" that she was hosting, usually at the last minute, then "borrowing" one or two of the kitchen helpers to set up her table and serve her guests.  

I thought that was totally out of order but I was just a lowly vendor.  I showed up one day to set up my booth and learned that Lou had quit.  One straw too many.  

This reminded me that I found a stack of SCA publications from the '70s and '80s.  Tournaments Illuminated and Crown Prints.  I have been thumbing through them and remembering friends I haven't seen for decades and wondering if they are still living.  


Edited by andiesenji (log)
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