Saturday, August 06, 2005

Camp 2005 -- The Chef's Role

Camp is now over. We're all home waiting for the 2006 session, which will be July 2 to 7, 2006. I learned last week that for 2006 the camp is being moved back to its original week over Independence Day.

This week has given me time to contemplate my role as chef at a children's camp. The job of camp chef stimulates me like no other. I look forward throughout the year for one week each summer.

The kitchen crew for 2005 Northern California FC Camp.

I'm looking to turn this experience into a fulltime career once I retire from my current position. A career change will give me the opportunity to work in a small- to medium-sized camp kitchen with a tightly knit staff of cooks and food service workers. I'll be able to get back to my first love (career wise) -- cooking.

I enjoy most aspects of the camp setting. The remote wilderness locations of most camps attract me for sure. But the best part of the job is the opportunity to prepare and serve good food to campers and staff.

So much for my future career plans. Let's turn back for a moment and remember the focus 'Round the Chuckbox has taken over the past two months: Operating a camp kitchen at a weeklong children's Bible camp with a volunteer workforce.

The job of camp chef requires commitment. You're on your feet 12 to 16 hours each day directing volunteers in the kitchen. Most volunteer cooks are unfamiliar with quantity cooking. They don't know all of the finer aspects of producing quality meals for a crown.

As chef, it's your job to lead so you serve the best meals possible. I find that I spend most of my time in the kitchen directing the crew, answering questions about the recipes and making sure that the job gets done for the next meal.

You're the "attention to detail" that many of the volunteers find lacking -- at least in the culinary sense of the word. At any given moment in the kitchen I find myself:
  • Reminding the cook to take the final cooking temperature for the dinner entrée.
  • Stirring a saucepan of béchamel to keep it from scorching.
  • Turning the burner down under the pot of macaroni so it won't boil over.
  • Instructing the salad cook to clean up a spill on the prep table.
  • Rescuing empty #10 cans out of the garbage and reminding staff that we must recycle.
  • Answering the question, "What do you want me to do?" (These words are music to a chef's ears!)
  • Finding someone to take the garbage to the dumpster so we don't have to handle a 150-pound garbage bag.
  • Updating the inventory and writing a few ideas in my notebook for next year.
  • Asking for a "time check" one hour before mealtime (the idea here is to find out the status of all dishes for the next meal).
You're the culinary traffic cop -- not a tyrant, rather a sensible, loving chef that's full of mercy for volunteers. A few burned cookies won't ruffle your feathers, especially when the baker forgot to adjust for the convection oven (something we all missed that morning). As camp chef, you must be kind, patient and tolerant.

Eager volunteers are a blessing. They'll lighten your burden. Volunteers with a good work ethic leave you to planning and directing meal. You'll find that you won't have to cook every dish. Just be there as mentor, culinary counselor and leader. A good crew will carry the day.

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