SCA Catering (Feast Organization) Author -- Viscountess Ysabella Dolfin (mundanely: Chef/Owner of Compass Star Catering
The SCA feast can be daunting, even for a professional catering chef! Not only are you typically using an unfamiliar kitchen the day of your event, but the typical Medieval feast has far more courses ad dishes than even the highest quality wedding, and they are (hopefully) thoroughly documented. So here are some tried and true tips for a disaster-free Feast!
Food: Anything (ANYTHING) that can be prepped ahead without the quality of the item suffering, should be prepped ahead. If there are courses, buy dot stickers in different colors so each course can be marked. This, plus clearly label each item with a sharpie so that item is clearly marked for anyone who might be helping you the day of the feast. Some things which are labor intensive, such as hand made tortellini, can often be made ahead and frozen, If you want to stor pastas in a period manner, there are extant recipes where the pasta is air dried adn then stored. Keep in mind if you are freezing pasta, you must lay it in a single layer on a cookie sheet covered with parchament and let them freeze completely before putting them in a plastic baggie, or you will have a big lump of goo.
In a professional catering kitchen, the process and order for breaking down food goes something like this: Emulsified sauces and dressings are made first, then fruits and veggies are broken down into their component parts. Starchy vegetables are peeled and stored in water, fruites are peeled and seeded and stacked in plastic bins. Lettuce is cleaned and spun and stored covered with damp towels. Meats are trimmed and scored and set into their marinades and rubs. All of this labor intensive preparatory work makes later composing of the dishes go quickly and easily. In the trade, this preparation process is callede "Mise in Place" (everything in it's place). Each dish, and it's component parts goes onto a prep list, one on a clip board for the chef de cuisine and one on the wall for the prep chefs. I like to have people sign-off on a prep item as they go, and cross it off when it is completed.
Additionally, I only post the basic initial break-down stuff first. This list outlines how each component piece should be cut/peeled/diced and stored. A seperate prep list for the later assebling of items and cooking, then comes out when ALL of the initial prep of peeling and breaking down the produce is done. This makes assembly of a dish, fast and easy and you know that you have everything you need on hand.
The plastic quart containers you can buy at Smart & Final are ideal for storing sauces. You can write directly on them in sharpie and reuse them. Canning and pickling items should be done at least two weeks and up to 3 - 4 months ahead of time, this is a fast and easy way to have high quality and thoughtful product on-hand that is no work the day of your event. If you are using regular port casings for a dry cured sausage, these items take typically 2 weeks to dry out, anything larger (beef middles, whole chunks of meat) will take longer. 3 months for beef middles, and up to 18 months for something like a prosciutto ham. these things are also labor intensive ahead of time, but are almost no work the day of the event and are pretty (as Mistress Aldith would say, "snotty" -- meaning cool).
Equipment: Having a list of courses and what items are being served in each course will determine your platter/bowl needs. You CAN re-use platters/bowels, but I do not recommend for consecutive courses. For example, if you want to use the same bowls for the 1st course and the 3rd course, adn you have a dedicated dish washer, that should be ok... however, using the same bowls for the 1st and 2nd courses is not a good idea. You may not have time to get those cleaned before you need them the second time.
Site: Doing a site walkt is imperative prior to the event. What is available on site and is it in good repair? If you turn on a burner during your site walk and it doesn't work... I would highly suggest bringing portable burners. Everything should be turned on... stoves, burners, etc. And this is STILL no guarantee the stuff will work when you need it to. I like to utilize crock pots and portable burners, plus my own grill. Even if the stuff does work... does it work well? You just never know!
Staff: Having a few new people help is a great way to get them involved, but you really want to have an additional core of people you know and have worked with before. These people should be proven to be reliable and will show up and be ready to work. Talk to them about what is going on. I have a core group of people I work with on a regular basis, and they all like to do different stuff. Misttess Lucreze, Mistress Rowan and Mistress Vittoria are hard core chefs who would be totally comfortable in a commercial kitchen. Viscountess Erzebeta and Viscountess Syele are both fabulous helpbers whom can do all kinds of basic prep work but are not really all that into cooking, and do not want to spend the day of an event in the kitchen, but will gladly help out ahead of time. All of these people make a HUGE difference in the success of an event. It is nice to have people in the envent kitchen whom don't need a lot of attention. When I am running a feast, I am focusing on my work and expect others to be focused as well. And a final work, keep your sense of humor and be flexible. If something gets burned or goes bad... it is okay to take that item off the menu. Just take a deep breath and use your best judgement! And HAVE FUN! Feeding people is FUN and period food is TASTY (as Duchess Juana would say)!