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Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update
Healthy Tips and Recipes for Institutions

Volume VII, Number 3 Summer 1999  

VRG’s Foodservice Director, Nancy Berkoff, R.D., Ed.D., CCE, Helps Organize Vegan Meal for Fundraising Event Held in California

In November 1998, an upscale evening event was held at Chasen’s, one of the most historic restaurants in Hollywood. Benefiting an animal rescue group, the dinner had to be vegan and posh.

Chef instructors and culinary students were given this challenge: prepare a multi-course vegan buffet with a minimum of cost (in fact, many of the ingredients were to be donated, so menu items had to be designed around them), minimum number of preparers (the city had strict fire regulations and for every extra cook on premise there would be one less paying guest), no preparation ahead of time (the restaurant kitchen was not available until 7am the day of the event), and having to prepare all items in a kitchen stocked only with ovens, stoves, and refrigerators. All other equipment including pots, pans, cutting boards, etc. would have to be brought. In other words, create a high profile menu in 12 hours (service to begin at 7pm), starting completely from scratch with a staff that had little or no experience! Oh, did we mention that the guests would include many top Hollywood and Broadway professionals?

No problem. A month prior to the event, a wish list of ingredients and equipment was given to the event organizers, with the understanding that there would be continuous communication (via email and fax) as items came in. The culinary students divided into teams and chose cuisines from countries that lent themselves to vegan themes and designed menus and recipes for them.

Two weeks before the event, the restaurant was visited and diagrams were made for kitchen and dining room set-up. Cooking was planned based on who needed what equipment for how long. One week before the event, the restaurant was visited by the servers to plan their patterns. Five days before the event, ingredient and equipment availability was finalized and plans were changed accordingly.

The day of the event was, as expected, organized chaos. Team leaders had scheduled volunteers to come in shifts, and of course, many did not appear. Promised equipment and ingredients did not show up on time or magically became other than what was promised. However, because of good planning, these glitches caused some gray hairs, but did not cause any disruptions. In fact, the culinary crew was so organized they wound up helping volunteers in other areas of the event! The menu was as follows:

· Thai: Thai fried rice with onions, garlic, peas, carrots, and cilantro; coconut curry with lotus root and bamboo shoots; sautéed bean sprouts with water chestnuts; and steamed basmati rice

· Kenyan: collard and mustard green sauté; lentil and coconut stew; three bean ragout (a thin stew of beans, potatoes, and tomatoes); mashed potatoes with cornmeal and garlic; and fried plantains

· Central American: seasonal vegetable enchiladas; white bean burritos with green, red, and yellow salsa; Spanish rice; sautéed corn pudding; black beans and rice; and sautéed yucca

· Indian: rice and vegetable pilaf; spinach saag; and potato and cauliflower curry

· Chasen’s Table: vegetarian chili (Chasen’s chili is very famous, with legend having it that Elizabeth Taylor had it flown to her movie shoots; we adapted it for a vegan recipe) with cornbread, chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and chilies

· International appetizers: chili, lemon, and pepper hummus; eggplant fajitas; salsa and wraps; samosas; and garlic and onion naan (Indian bread)

· Dessert: tofu cheesecake with assorted fruit toppings; fruit compote; granola-brittle cookies; and a carved fruit station (watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew carved into sculptures and stuffed with melon, grapes, orange segments, and apples)

In total it took 15 students and instructors 10 hours to assemble 40 gallons of chili, 500 enchiladas and burritos, 60 pounds of rice, 20 gallons of lentil stew, 40 pounds of plantains, 10 sheets of cornbread, 100 pounds of potatoes, 15 gallons of salsa, and 10 gallons of hummus. There was a bit of panic when 30 gallons of chili were consumed in the first hour of a three-hour buffet!

Kitchen organization was very important. Items that required long cooking times were put on the stove or in the oven first and items that could "hold" (could be made ahead and would keep in the refrigerator, to be reheated or garnished later) were made as early as possible. Ingredients for items that needed to be made close to serving time were assembled ahead of time (as in chopping, shredding, par cooking, etc.) so they only needed to be cooked. Everything that could be was plated, chopped, or stewed as soon as possible. Serving dishes and equipment (with back-ups) were laid out where they would be used. Servers and cooks were teamed to avoid confusion during service.

The dinner went very well, with many guests, including Jenna Elfman (from Dharma and Greg on NBC) and Martin Landau visiting the kitchen to extend their thanks (and to give their appreciation for a vegan meal). Typical comment (sigh), " the food was so good we can’t believe it’s vegan!"

PS: The secret to Chasen’s "new" vegan chili is a combination of white, kidney and pinto beans, prepared tomato salsa, lots of chili powder, red pepper flakes, sautéed bell peppers, and onions.

Excerpts from the Summer 1999 Issue:

For the complete issue, please subscribe to the magazine. To subscribe to Vegetarian Journal's Foodservice Update, click here and check "Add 1 year Foodservice Update for $10 more  on whatever subscription form you choose.

Converted to HTML by Stephanie Schueler.

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