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Hey everybody,

A month or so ago I mentioned that I had been invited to help work with a catering company for large wedding. The big event was two Saturdays ago so I wanted to share the details of the day, in order to avoid incurring the wrath of Rav. This'll be split into two parts, the first one (this one) detailing the work I did in the kitchen, and the second detailing what happened once we made it on site. Here goes...


I got up pretty early, without the aid of an alarm (unusual for me, as I'm a serious non-morning person), but hey, I was pretty excited. Still, I didn't have to be at Baci ( ) until noon, so there was pleny of time to watch FoodTV before leaving.

I was somewhat nervous on the drive over. Not so much because I didn't think I could handle it, but because I really didn't have any idea what I'd actually be doing. Prep work? Actual cooking? Who knows. I listened to the Swingers movie soundtrack on the way over to get into a nice relaxing groove.

I arrived right at noon and stepped into the large kitchen. Certainly the biggest I've ever been in, but probably nothing unusual as far as big kitchens go. Chef Karen looked up from her work ("fileting" red and yellow peppers for use in a very fine dice) and greeted me. Even though we had confirmed, twice, that I was going to work I still think she was a bit surprised that I showed up. She got me an apron and I washed my hands while she figured out something for me to do.

First job: making parmesan curls with a vegetable peeler, for use later as a salad topper. Now, this wasn't exciting work at all (the woman working next to me was piping a goat cheese mixture into little tarts, which looked like much more fun), but I had to remember that I was low low man on the totem pole and take what I was given, so I set about working on the large chunks of cheese.

Uh oh! I've only been here 20 minutes and I'm already bleeding. No, I didn't cut myself with the veggie peeler, but I was working so hard on these cheese curls I didn't notice that with each downward stroke, I was hitting my knuckle on the cutting board. Time to regroup. Wash hands, bandaid, gloves, new cutting board. Most importantly, new peeling mechanics. OK, ready to roll.

Peeling, peeling, peeling. By the time I was finished, I had filled a one foot cubed container with the darned things. Wow, that's a lot of cheese. Is that a blister forming on my right hand? Hmmm... try to ignore it for now.

At this point I set about on some serious grunt work: moving large containers of produce from the walk-in fridge next door (an adjacent kitchen, where we had rented extra fridge space for the weekend because the event was so large). Three huge plastic bins of hearts of romaine; I never knew lettuce could be so heavy. Then many bins of red potatoes, already quartered and soaking in water. The last bin was so large I needed a cart to move it.

Introduction time. Jason, John-Eric. John-Eric, Jason. John-Eric asks me if I've ever cooked like this before, I say no. He laughs a little, then says, "Well, it gives you a whole new perspective on food." Then, turning to the guy next to him, who's busily blanching many pounds of asparagus, "Right Dave?" The two share a quick chuckle. J-E and I set about roasting the potatoes -- spread a layer of them on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, drizzle with olive oil, then hit them with salt and pepper and into an oven. After a few sheet trays are done, we fall into a nice system, me placing the potatoes and doing the olive oil, him doing the seasoning and walking them to the oven. There are 20 sheet trays in all and he seems pleased with our pace.

Dave, who had been blanching and then shocking the asparagus, then arranging in in four-inch hotel pans, has to take off pretty soon to get to his other job. With the potatoes all in the oven, the job of seasoning the asparagus falls to me. I'm shown how by Mike, the chef du cuisine at Baci. Olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon and lime juice, some water to keep it moist, then give the pan a nice shake so the juices reach even the stalks at the bottom.

There is a nice atmosphere in the kitchen. Everyone -- there are probably a dozen of us, maybe 15 -- is busily working on their own thing, and it all moves together like the proverbial well-oiled machine. There's occasional conversation and instruction, but no idle chatter. By the time I get going on the asparagus, I actually feel like I belong there, as opposed to when I first arrived and felt like a complete outsider. I'm in the asparagus-seasoning groove and all is well.

When each pan has been seasoned, I cover it with foil, label it "Asparagus -- Alhadeff wedding" and number it. There are 16 pans in all and each one goes into the walk-in fridge.

Somehow, it has gotten to be 3pm -- I've been here for three hours already?! -- and it's time for a meeting. We meet in the back and Karen goes over the menu, the approximate schedule for the evening, the layout of our space and who will be doing what once we get downtown. The reception is about ten minutes away, at Seattle's Paramount Theater ( ). There are no kitchen facilities on site. When it comes time to actually plate the dinners, I'll be on the steak line. John-Eric will be my line captain, and I'm happy about that since I worked with him him on the potatoes and we seem to get along OK.

The final count has come in at 488 guests. 242 of these will be eating steak, 196 will have the salmon, and the balance will have veggie lasagne. Of course, we have to be prepared to go over on each one of these counts in order to serve the staff, the band, and those fickle guests who might change their mind when dinner rolls around. "Hey, that looks pretty good. Excuse me, waitress? I think I'll have the salmon instead of steak." Trouble makers.

I'm in the first group of people who will head down to the Paramount, leaving Baci around 4:30pm. It's 3:45 now so we need to get cracking. J-E has been turning our roasted red potatoes from the sheet trays into four-inch hotel pans, and I go about the same process of foiling and labeling as I did with the asparagus. There are 15 pans in all. J-E remarks, "Not bad. We cranked those out in an hour and a half."

Karen walks over to me as I'm cleaning up my work space with a request -- would I like to make the staff salad? Now we're talking! She opens the walk-in and points at the right wall. "Pretty much everything on this side is fair game. Except those poblano peppers." I grab a box of lettuce mix, some hothouse cucumbers, a few yellow peppers and some tomatoes. The lettuce goes into two large bowls and I start chopping the rest. Karen walks by. "Is that all the lettuce?" I say no, I just started with some and was waiting to see how much of the other veggies I'd be able to squeeze in there. "Well," she replies, "don't be skimpy with those salads. They have to feed 70!" Hmm. Better grab a few more cukes!

It's time to leave. Parking at the Paramount can be a tough proposition, so I leave my car at "the shop" and ride in the back of one of the vans, sitting on the wheel well and holding on for dear life. The good news is that if I go flying, I'm probably just going to land on a soft bed of bread. The bad news is that there's a hot tray of lasagne in a rack in front of me, just waiting to land in my lap if the driver takes a corner too quickly. Hmm.

To be continued...

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