Working the kitchen shift
Food is not a catered service of the camp – we’re a family, not a company! Like a family, you will find yourself in the kitchen helping out – and, we hope, enjoying yourself while doing it!
Everyone is expected to sign up for 3-4 shifts in the kitchen; sign up at the shift page. You can sign up as a chef, a sous-chef, KP, or a courier.
- The chef is the team lead. Your job isn’t just to make food – it’s to have a plan and to provide tactical guidance to your team, making sure that everyone is active and knows what to do. The chef chooses the menu, determines the number of necessary sous-chefs and KPs, arranges transport and storage of food, and purchases the food.
Yes, it’s true: all of our meals are gifts to the camp from the chef. Bioluminati does offer financial support for cooks of limited means, but in general your dues are not going towards meals.
- The sous-chefs’ job is to make food. You may be given a recipe and told to make it, or you may be given a pile of onions to chop. Every task you perform should be oriented towards making sure food is forthcoming.
- KP’s job is to clear obstacles. Yes, you clean dishes – but this is so the others can cook. A good KP crew also keeps the working area clean, safe, and supplied while the cooks are doing their jobs.
- Sometimes, meals towards the end of the week may require perishable ingredients that cannot reasonably stay fresh without active refrigeration. That’s where couriers come in; they support chefs by bringing in fresh food later in the week. This usually involves doing shopping and pickup in Reno before heading into the playa. If you’re arriving on Wednesday or Thursday, you very well may get contacted by a chef requesting courier duty.
Before a big meal, the chef should already have a game plan:
- Have your recipes and ingredients already ready, scaled to the size of the crowd that you’re feeding.
- A good rule of thumb is to scale your recipes for ¾ of the number of people you’re feeding! Appetites decline in the desert, and leftover management is a tremendous pain in the ass.
- Make printouts of your scaled recipes. That way you can delegate items with your sous-chefs and not rely upon devices or books.
- Practice your recipes beforehand to see where there might be problems in the desert.
- What’s being thrown away? Everything’s that’s not eaten has to be packed out. Items that generate a lot of waste in terms of peels, bones, cooking oil, boiling water, and so forth, should be minimized or eliminated.
- Consider not just the food, but the equipment you’ll be using when cooking. If everything you make involves a stove, then you’ll find the stove becomes a chokepoint. But if you have an item on the stove, an item being made raw (like a salad), and an item on the grill, your team will be able to work in parallel.
- Similarly, time is another resource. Items that can be precooked the day before – or even off-playa – turns the pressure down when it’s approaching dinnertime.
- Be sure to check the food restrictions of your dinner guests; people aren’t just fussy, they have legitimate medical, religious, and ethical reasons for what they can and cannot eat.
- Make sure that your sous-chefs and KP know when to show up in the kitchen.
Your first goal, as the kitchen team, is to get tasty, nutritious food to the camp in a timely manner. Your second goal is to leave the kitchen in as good a shape as you found it, for the next team.
If you’re not a member of the kitchen team during meal prep, stay out of the way of the kitchen team. Do not be offended if you’re asked to leave – dinner time is crunch time.
Playing the game
The crew should walk into a kitchen that has:
- All surfaces clear and clean
- No dishes in the sink
- No loose food
- No other activity going on
A cluttered kitchen creates distractions and makes it difficult to work. A dirty kitchen is unacceptable. Dirty kitchens can lead to food poisoning.
Keeping it clean
Briefly, but emphatically: do not sicken your guests!
- Wash your damn hands before you start cooking!
- Wash your hands when you switch between different foods!
- Wash you hands after you go to the bathroom, take out the trash, or touch your face!
- Wash cutting boards and utensils between foodstuffs!
- When in doubt, wash!
Hints for the crew
- Relax and trust your crew. You have a plan, you’ve got the food; now your main job is to guide the team calmly across the inevitable problems. You’ve got this.
- Remember to set aside food for your team, including yourself!
- Bug the chef! It’s better to ask a question than make assumptions. Substituting peanuts for cashews in a recipe might sounds like a harmless bit of economizing, but it’ll look like a false savings when they MedEvac a camper out because of their severe nut allergy.
- Be there on time. Dinner is served at sunset. You will most likely be needed at least two hours before then, or perhaps even the day before if your chef is precooking . Get with your chef when you arrive at the camp and find out when you’ll be needed, and show up!
- Consolidate your cleaning When you’ve got a pile of stuff to wash, scrub scrub scrub rinse rinse rinse works a lot faster than scrub rinse scrub rinse scrub rinse.
- Dust and water Dust falls down, and so does water. When you put a utensil to dry, it should be handle down, so that the water drains away from the part that touches food. Similarly, when storing pots, pans, and dishes, store them upside down so that dust doesn’t get in the food-touching part. Same goes for the griddles.
- Grills and griddles need love, too. Does food touch them? Yes? Then they need to be cleaned. The griddles should not be cleaned with soap and water; instead, heat them up and wipe them down with dry paper towels (and salt, if necessary). If it’s a hopeless case otherwise and you have to wash the griddle with soap, then it will need to be reseasoned.
Although the kitchen is large, it’s not large enough to run the entire camp through. Whenever possible, serve in the chill tent or outside.