Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ready, set, go, part 2

I was selected to prepare the tip of the month for Royal Tine hunting, fishing, guiding and camping forums. Since I could only find one other tip that related to camp cooking, I though I'd start with the fundamentals.

My entry for the August tip of the month is partically based on a post titled "Ready, set, go" from last April. Here's my tip:

At my current job, I work through a mental checklist each morning when I first walk into the kitchen. It's a routine that's served me well for nearly 40 years in the culinary business.

My checklist is much like the pre-flight checklist that my father worked through each time he climbed in the left seat of the family Cessna 182 when I was a child. Dad wanted to ensure all systems on the aircraft were in good working order once we were airborne.

My mental checklist helps me size-up the day. I check refrigerator temperatures and make sure the breakfast cook properly cleaned the kitchen. I also take the time to lay tools out and get the kitchen ready for lunch.

Chefs call this process mise en place. In addition to organizing my work station, I set up the cutting board and collect ingredients for the soup, entree and sides for lunch. This process also helps me make sure that I have enough food for the meal.

It's the "ready, set, go" for the cook. Also known as “prep work,” it basically means the cook gets everything ready to cook before he starts cooking. Tasks include making sure your knives are sharp, honed and clean; setting up your work area; setting out spices, herbs and other ingredients and cutting vegetables and fruit for the meal.

Prep work takes on special meaning for the camp cook. The cook works in a harsh environment, one that’s unforgiving when things go wrong. No one wants to serve their guests or clients an overcooked or cold layered enchilada casserole (for instance) because the cook forgot to grate the cheese, shred the lettuce or chop the onions.

Here are a few tasks the camp cook must attend to before she starts the next meal:
  • Has sufficient firewood been gathered and/or are the propane bottle full?
  • Is the campfire large enough to support the meal? Nothing is more irritating than to run out of coals for the fire and Dutch ovens before the meal is done.
  • Do you have enough potable water to cook the meal and clean up after the meal?
  • Is the workstation clean and organized?
  • Are knives cleaned, sharpened and honed; utensils, pots and pans set out; meat, vegetables and other ingredients handy and ready to go; etc.?
  • Are your hands washed? (Need I say any more?)
I could continue on for some time. But since this tip of the month is already long winded, I’ll stop here. For the camp cooks out there, what tasks do you perform each meal to get ready to cook?

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