Run-a-Feast-art - 3/24/01
"About Running a Feast" by Minna Gantz.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefanšs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
About Running a Feast
by Minna Gantz
Many people think running a feast is a project that depends mostly on
creativity. But I would say that it's mostly a matter of logistics-- bringing
all the food, people and resources together in such a way that they can
produce a delightful gustatory and cross-temporal experience.
Planning a feast involves keeping track of many things: food, labor, budget,
resources for cooking, cooling/ storage, and serving. Above all it is a
matter of managing timing.
Useful planning tools:
1) Menu list: A list of all the dishes to be prepared (see "Constructing a
Make many copies & use as a planning tool. Use one to make sure you review
all dishes to be served when making your shopping list. Use one to plan a
timeline for advance prep and another for prep the day of the feast (in other
words, consider what will happen to the ingredients for a given dish ahead of
time & up to the moment it is served?)
2) Recipe: A written record of how to prepare a dish.
Type a recipe for each dish-- type it yourself because it's important to
become intimately familiar with the recipes you will be serving, to avoid last
minute surprises. Structured with a list of ingredients at top & each step
numbered separately below.
It's very helpful to your staff to have all recipes in a parallel form. It
can be taken from a source or your own redaction. Always indicate where prep
may be interrupted for storage/ holding. You will be glad if you take copies
of your recipes with you when you go shopping when you can't recall amounts or
wonder whether a substitute ingredient could work.
3) A kit & station per recipe:
For each recipe, kit (usually appropriately sized cardboard box with a copy of
the recipe) contains all necessary ingredients or a note where to find them
(i.e., perishables in the fridge) and the station (where kit is placed)
defines where they are to be prepared (or at least begun).
4) Shopping list as a checklist:
Broken out by type of establishment where purchases will be made.
Generally, one will shop at 1-3 grocery stores, a meat supplier, a wholesale house, 1-3 produce suppliers and perhaps a few specialty suppliers-- cheese, bakery, spices, or ethnic.
5) Timeline: Lays out a plan of how activities (usually recipe preparation) will be sequenced and when things will happen. Plan backwards from all dishes served at feast time. Designate dishes that must be cooked last minute. Take all dishes as far along ahead of time as they can be without loss of quality. Remember it takes large quantities of food longer to get to cooking heat, then they still cook a bit slower than a small quantity. Make a page that shows a line for each resource, and what it will be doing at a given time.
6) Lists-- Use them. Some useful lists:
Things not to forget to do
To do on a given day
Transport & storage of perishables
Planning & allocation of scarcest resources
Things to bring:
-Ingredients including seasonings
-Ingredients stored in fridge, freezer, others' homes...
-Tools, sanitation, First Aid
-Presentation & decor items
-Personal Sanity & Nurturance for Feastocrat:
Comfy Shoes, clean clothes, FOOD-- DON'T FORGET TO EAT!
How to make your feasts more period
Presentation: (Strive for opulence)
Fancy (or appropriately Rustic) Servingware
Use of Flowers, Herbs & Leaves
Handwashing & other services
What is Authentic?
Authentic feasts are those which are similar to ones of period times. I think it's better to focus on an authentic overall experience, and an authentic feel for the feast and event, than on explicitly letter perfect documented dishes.
I firmly believe "authentic" is not equivalent to "documented". Specifically, there are many authentic dishes which are not documented.
- -All ingredients available in same season in region,
- -Preparation techniques appropriate to region & era,
- -No ingredients or methods of preparation known to be out of period.
Constructing a Menu
Go into menu planning with ideas about estimated size of event, kitchen &
dining room resources, theme of event, some dishes you'd like to cook. Good menu planning should involve both wishful thinking and practicality: what would be really neat to serve people and how can it be managed while retaining one's sanity and the affection of one's kitchen staff? The ideal menu has "enough" of each of these dish types: meat & other protein, veggies, starches, flavor impact dishes, and balances colors, textures, and flavors (salty, sour, bitter, sweet, spicy) across the menu and within courses.
Other things to balance:
-Familiar/ unfamiliar ingredients
-Familiar/ unfamiliar preparations
-Expensive/ inexpensive foods
-Labor intensive/ easy dishes
-Simple/ complex dishes
-Dishes which can be made ahead/ last minute prep ones
-Methods of cooking (baking, boiling, frying...)
Theme: Tied to an era, place & season. Hopefully, also involves the event's theme, activities & decorations, etc. Theme helps to narrow your search when looking for dishes to fill in gaps in the menu.
I am opposed to the concept of "throwaway dishes"-- practice of making mounds of uninteresting veggies, starches or lentils! which are predictably not eaten. Make several interesting smaller dishes (plan about 1/8 c. portions) to optimize chance each person will like something. the people who do eat veggies will be grateful and the holdouts wouldn't have eaten veggies in any form probably.
Following an existing redaction to the letter may not get you a more authentic result than your own interpretation of the recipe.
Bring to Redaction:
Experience cooking & reading cookbooks:
-Knowledge of process
-Knowledge of "how ingredients work"
-Knowledge of where to look up missing information
A wide range of cookbook sources for reference
Some perspective on the region in that era, its food history & cooking
An understanding of seasonally available ingredients
Personal convictions about how cooks were "back then"
-Smart: Frugal & preferring less labor
-Desirous of producing delightful food
-Skilled at & very knowledgeable about their profession
An understanding that many concepts taken for granted by modern persons were
not present or seen from a different angle in period:
-Accuracy & reproducibility-- probably most period recipes were NOT tested after written down, many period recipe collections were copied or typeset by hand multiple times, introducing errors.
-Assumptions of "what everybody knows" and "how things are" vary drastically from ours.
Read modern redactions with a healthy skepticism.
Ask what is background of person who wrote them (cook, scholar, SCA...)
Errors are cues to knowledge level of redactor.
Beware of tendency for redactions to get more like the cooking "vernacular"
with which the redactor is familiar.
SCA redactions tend to err towards:
-Less labor intensive
-More appealing to popular modern tastes & familiarity: witness the
conversion of all sorts of root vegetable recipes into carrot recipes.
If you redact, be careful not to skip steps!
Cooking Technique Tips
Always visit your kitchen scene ahead of time to scope it out.
As soon as you arrive, make sure the circuit box, hot water & oven are turned
Time: Remember it takes large quantities of food longer to get to cooking
heat, then they still cook a bit slower than a small quantity. How much
slower depends on how careful you are to prevent heat from escaping
-for stovetop cooking ALWAYS USE LIDS, foil is a fine substitute,
-minimize opening ovens to "check". Roasting lots of meat, add 1/2 hour for heat to "settle".
-When cooking large quantities of things that cook quickly individually it's best to break down into small batches and run them through sequentially.
Saute in steamtable pan across two burners-- miraculous!
Similarly, big dishes take longer to cool down. For food safety, if chilling
to hold for later, they have to be broken into smaller batches & chilled quickly.
Copyright 1997 by Sherry Levi. Please address requests to reprint to the
author at <fionanyx at prodigy.net>.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.