Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Culinary Disasters....yes, there is an "s" to this story

It happens to all of us.

I hope you will find as much humor in today's post, as I am sure I will, in about a decade or two.

Culinary Disaster Story #1, Same song, second verse......

For the last two years, I have had the privilege of being the Chef at a very large Bison Ranch located on the Wyoming/Colorado border. Each year I am asked to cook for various groups of clients and friends, board retreats, executive team meetings, and the family's very large Thanksgiving celebration. I find great pride in being called "The Ranch Chef".

Thanksgiving 2007: Nervous and wanting everything to be perfect, I follow Mr. and Mrs.'s instructions to the letter. My sous chef and I cook breakfast, lunch and dinner for 22 people for 5 days. Thanksgiving turkey's are ordered, brined, basted, cooked, rotated and pampered for HOURS. Dinner time was promptly at 5:00. BOTH birds were gorgeous on the outside, and the inside temp readings registered a perfect 160 (we left time for carry over cooking)....but, to my horror, both birds were completely undercooked on their left sides!! I prayed Mr. and Mrs. did not want to carve at the table....they didn't. We carved up the right sides only and spent the next 20 minutes frantically cooking the left sides of the birds before the family came back for seconds. It was a close call, but I learned my lesson. The Ranch is at an elevation of 9000 ft....next time, I would allow for longer cooking time and bring better thermometers.

Thanksgiving 2008: I am prepared this year!
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving we had determined the Ranch's commercial ovens were not running true and at any given time, they would drop 25 to 75 degrees. If I opened the doors, they would loose all heat. I was thrilled, because I now knew that it was not MY fault last years turkeys only cooked on one side. It was too late to have the ovens serviced, so we lined the ovens with fire bricks and I was confidently on my way.......

Thanksgiving day and I am ready to do battle... I bought three medium turkeys instead of two large ones. I had the oven heating for 2 hours so the bricks were evenly hot. We even had so many meat thermometers inserted into the birds, it looked like the turkeys were visiting an acupuncturist! We brined, basted, cooked, rotated and pampered for HOURS. These turkeys were gorgeous! Every thermometer said we were right on target. At 5:00 o'clock sharp, I carved the turkeys, and all three birds are undercooked on the LEFT SIDE!! Thank Goodness I was cooking for Bison Ranchers and not Turkey farmers or everyone would have noticed just the right sides of the bird. At the end of the evening, I confessed, everyone laughed, and we all poked fun at my turkey cooking skills. I despise turkey.....

Culinary Disaster #2 This was a Woozy..I mean doozy.

48 hours later.....Ranch Christmas party and 45 guests are arriving at 5:30. I have cooked 35 lbs. of Buffalo Short ribs, ( seared then braised at 200 degrees, overnight) and 30 lbs of dry aged Buffalo Prime Rib ( I dry aged the meat myself). Everything was perfect!!! Cocktails and appetizers are served, several jokes about turkey circulated and I could laugh about Thanksgiving because I am an expert at cooking Buffalo. Tonight was my night!

We set up the food buffet style, I explained the menu to the guests... I am proudly standing over our perfectly braised, fork tender short ribs, and one of the slabs of perfectly rare Buffalo prime rib ( the other two are in the oven, waiting to be pulled out, rested, then carved). As I am helping two small children with their plates and food selection, I look over to my right and notice, what can only be described as "Tomato Sauce" thrown all over our 45 dinner plates, salad, dressing and some of THE PERFECT PRIME RIB. Susan, the saint who washed all our dishes and who set the tables, discreetly tried to tell me what had just happened.

Everything was in slow motion......an Eleven year old boy stood in front of her and told his father he did not feel well and proceeded to empty the contents of his stomach all over the buffet that was going to feed the remaining 42 guests. He did not even cover his mouth or turn his head... he just decorated the table.

In shock ( they said my eyes rolled to the back of my head), a handful of us removed the linens, the food, and SAINT Susan cleaned and disinfected 43 plates. We passed out more wine and appetizers, then pull together the second round of clean, fresh food and to my horror...the two, almost WELL DONE slabs of prime rib.

Where was the undercooked Turkey when I needed it?

Mrs. told me not to worry, no one would notice and everything would be fine. Ninety percent of the guests had no idea about the "Hurl fest" that took place 30 minutes before. BUT I will tell you, EVERY ONE of those ranchers and ranch hands let me know that I overcooked the Buffalo!

I am told, someday this WILL be FUNNY.

Why am I telling you this? Because we all have kitchen disasters and I am looking for a little holiday chuckle. If you are willing to share your own holiday disaster, I will put you in the drawing for the last book I am giving away, Mark Bittman's "How to cook everything" .

It has almost everything in it, except how to cook turkey at 9000 feet and the proper technic for shielding buffet food from an 11 year old...

I hope your Thanksgiving was happy and memorable too!

Chef Deb

3 comments:

three generations said...

I so enjoyed your turkey confessions...does my heart good to know that the pros have their days also. I know I have had holiday disasters, but I think I have swept them out of my consciousness...either that or my disasters happen so often I just consider them the norm, like the time I put 1/4 C of salt into a batch of cookies, instead of 1/4 tsp.

Chef Deb T said...

Dear Three,

Every chef I know has dozens of disaster stories we would like to forget. Most of the time, they happen on a large scale......but they happen, and often. Good thing we love to cook!!!

Thanks for the comment.

Chef Deb

Anonymous said...

My daughter just graduated from college. She wanted a large party for all of her friends, and "please Mom, don't gourmet it up." She wanted a nacho fountain, and being a good Mom I went out and bought a chocolate fountain - heated a can of nacho cheese sauce and ran it through the fountain. It worked for about 30 minutes then slowed and finally stopped. Just not hot enough for cheese. I decorated a sheet cake for her, one of the worst looking cakes ever. We also had pizza rolls, yes Totino's pizza rolls. This was a party for Andrea and her friends with lots of beer and bar food, so we did pizza rolls. The chafer of pizza rolls was next to the cake in the back of the truck on the way to the party site, and yes, you guessed it, the pizza rolls ended up on the cake.
We left it just like it ended up, ugly, funny, and really just a perfect fit with my daughter and her personality. It was a fun party, according to my daughter the best graduation party ever. I drank too much tequila - but that is another story, not one of my better moments. Our friend Jim from Denver was here to visit and help, and he is was a real lifesaver. He is used to doing high end food for the chef we work for - so this was a real change for him.
Keep laughing and keep cooking -
Cahty