19 people to feed for a week when the kitchen is a gazebo, a couple of fold up tables and 2 sturdy, double gas burners with 14 of those being fed are 6 to 13 years old, one of whom does not eat gluten or dairy. A culinary challenge you might say….especially when you add in wind that meant the heat and flame was being blown around so much that boiling a Billy of water took hours! We kept starting the boiling process earlier and earlier but it seemed we were destined to always be tight to feed everyone before evening activities started.
I was cook for the 1st Maisons-Laffitte / 4th Beaconsfield contingent to the Kent International Jamboree. It was an amazing experience that I hope the Scouts will remember for a long time. We were on the Interamericas Subcamp, with around 5000 people camping we were divided into Subcamps themed on world regions. Each group camping were given a country so our two groups had Brazil and El Salvador respectively.
This was the first time I have catered for a week long event. Success? On the basis of the verdict of the people eating, I got a pretty good response from a pretty difficult client base. 6-14 year olds can be fussy souls and you can’t cook pizza on a gas burner easily nor would I be boiling fat to fry chips! As a leader with my nutrition training, it was important that the kids ate reasonably well – hungry kids can equal grumpy kids or cold, tired kids. They were going to be on their feet a lot around a 200 acre site and doing climbing, watersports, huge inflatable assault courses, laser quest, circus skills…….busy, busy. Not to mention being outside all the time, whatever the weather (and we had quite a variety in good UK summer style).
On the budget front I was less good, we had loads of left over food, luckily most of it was long life, packed food and the organisers had made a link with a charity that provides a food bank so what the group couldn’t use later went to a good cause, the fresh food was divided up between leaders and helpers. Partly, this was because the jamboree was so full on that we had less time for meals and kids weren’t coming back to camp for snacks mid morning or mid afternoon as usually happens on a camp. Lesson learnt.
Also, we had leftovers that could be used for meals the next day. I hadn’t factored that in at all. We had excellent cool boxes that really kept things properly cold with freezers available to refreeze iceblocks. So we used up leftover chilli for a lunch, we used left over chicken curry to fill wraps another day.
Things I learnt on camp:
- You need to start prepping dinner as soon as lunchtime washing up is done….if rice, pasta or spuds are needed get the Billy of water going as soon as possible!
- There are a lot of ways to use ready made custard if a mix up in online ordering means you have 14kg of the stuff. One leader was having it for breakfast with bananas just don’t tell the scouts. Pushing a trolley with enough juice, milk and custard for 19 people up and down ramps in a supermarket is a risky business.
- Get used to switching between ‘arrggh…I have bought too much food’ to ‘ there isn’t enough of this to go around’ constantly. Get used to saying ‘it will all get used by someone’ or ‘there is plenty of other food- no one will go hungry’.
- More apple juice is drunk compared to orange juice.
- Cut oranges up and kids eat them, leave them whole an everyone eats the apples and bananas.
- Good food equals happy campers.
- Having hot water always on hand for cups of tea and washing up is essential but strangely hard to manage.
On camp there is always the challenge of fussy eaters. Not so important on a weekend camp but for a week it is really important to have them eat enough to be comfortable on camp. Camp is an energetic business and doing 7 days on not enough food is going to affect their enjoyment of camp. There is no way that you can cook what everyone wants like a camp cafe. You have to have a tight menu incorporating a little flexibility and choices here and there, but essentially everyone is eating the same food. Obviously, allergies have to be adhered to so planning the menu as far as is possible the allergens in question are avoided or easily substituted in the menu. Choosing meals that are not too challenging and as the week goes on generally everyone gets hungrier and less picky.
I have found that talking to the scouts who struggle to eat anything outside a narrow range of foods at the start of camp to explain how important it is to eat well on camp, how it is my job to help that happen with a limited kitchen. I need them to work with me. Each day before mealtime, I would explain what was on the menu and the ingredients in the meal. We would talk about the ingredients that they were ok to eat and agree a plan. Would they take the meal and just pick out the offensive item, if the sauce was a problem could I make a little without sauce, if the veg was a problem then I expect them to eat some salad bits? I am understanding that they find it hard and try to give them a feeling of control without cooking entire separate meals.
Friday was festival day with lots of activities run by the groups inspired by the countries. I felt it important, as the caterer, to get into the spirit of festival day by cooking food from the respective countries for breakfast (El Salvador) and dinner (the national Brazilian dish of meat and bean stew) with Pupusas made as the El Salvador activity for anyone to come and try. Strange meals so I would expect them to be met with apprehension but they gave the meals a go in the main. Was this a sign that I had earned their trust as a cook or that they were just had generated such good appetites from being outside all the time that they would have eaten anything who knows! Recipes for our South American festival day to come in another post.
I was exhausted at the end of the week but would do it again without a doubt.