Ideas that worked:
1. Spread the Love
Cooking for 1000+ people for something like this is completely overwhelming to even contemplate on your own. So don’t make it about you. First, I made lists of dishes that would a. keep well with no/little refrigeration, b. could be cooked well ahead of time, or c. needed no cooking at all. I separated the dishes into savory and sweet and wrote out a description of each one. Then I started posting invitations to the populace. I targeted the cooking Laurels and their households first, then started petitioning the populace at large. Each person volunteered to cook 100 pieces of one dish, with the goal of 20 people cooking 20 dishes. Each person would cook, transport, store, and deliver their dish to the party themselves. Doing it this way has several benefits: it keeps me me from cooking, storing, or transporting 2000 pieces of food, and it means that if one or two people bail, there’s still plenty of food. By the end, I had 18 volunteers.
2. Forget the Vegetables
In the beginning I had to keep reminding myself: This is not a feast. This is a giant cocktail party full of drunk people. People at cocktail parties don’t want vegetables. They’re not looking for a balanced meal. They want starch, sugar, and meat. I had the starch and sugar taken care of by a score of volunteers. Now I needed the meat.
3. Storage and Cooking
The KWP is on Friday night. I was arriving on Sunday afternoon. I was sleeping in a tent with no fridge or freezer available. Sure, I could have brought everything with me and kept it in coolers, buying ice every day, taking up a huge amount of space, and risking spoilage in countless ways. But why?
Thankfully, Hattiesburg is only 45 minutes away and has a Sams Club, Walmart and even a small upscale grocery store. I had to plan something I could get there in Mississippi.
Then there was the cooking. Where on the Gulf Wars site could I cook meat for 1000 people? How would I transport the cooked meat to the fort? How would I keep it hot through a 3 hour party? If the food was cooked there *at* the party, that would eliminate most of these problems.
So now I needed a main meat dish that fit the following criteria:
- could be served in very small portions,
- fit the theme and was a medieval dish, or “medieval plausible” at minimum,
- could be cooked there in the fort during the party,
- would appeal to the largest percentage of the population,
- was available in Hattiesburg or closer,
- and, was inexpensive!
The choice? Plain grilled meat, served on flatbread, with cucumber & yogurt sauce. Basically, gyros. This part ended up being “period-plausible”. I wanted to cook a whole goat or a lamb on a spit, that being the centerpiece of the whole food thing, along with gyro meat and chicken.
First I found a custom-cut butcher close to site. I cannot recommend this enough… in fact I will probably buy a lamb from them every single Gulf Wars from now on. I ordered a whole lamb, skinned, gutted and beheaded, for pickup the morning of the party. A 40 Lb lamb was $165.
Then came the gyro meat, brainchild of Joel Schirtzinger/Baron José Leodefrediz. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anyone who would sell me gyro meat wholesale in the area, so I ended up buying frozen steak-ums from Sam’s Club. I now think this turned out to be a good thing, since the steak-ums were cheaper per pound and cooked very well on the flat-top grill. I knew I wanted boneless, skinless chicken thighs- no waste from skin or bones, and thighs stay moist on the grill- but how to present them? I wanted to do the chicken on skewers but needed very small portions. I ended up purchasing 1000 4″ bamboo temaki skewers online. These were the perfect size for 1/2 thigh per person, about 2 oz.
There was a lot of discussion on how to cook the lamb. The spit was impossible. We couldn’t start setting up until 5:30, and ended up being closer to 6:30. There was no space to construct a pit and not enough time to get coals started, much less cook a whole lamb. We ended up wrapping each half of the lamb tightly in a packet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and putting it on the grill to steam-cook. Then once the lamb was well-cooked (no bloody lamb served in the dark, thank you) each half was laid directly on the grill for some smoke and color.
To feed a goal of 1000 people:
- 80 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- 40 lb sliced beef (steak-ums)
- 1/2 gallon vegetable oil
- 40 lb lamb, cut in half down the backbone
- 1000 temaki skewers
- salt & pepper
Then came the grills. Baron José Leodefrediz brought 2 grills and Count Duncan the Black brought one, all three gas-powered (no charcoal to worry about!). The grills had to be delivered and manned. We set up the three grills as a triangle, one grill each for chicken, beef and lamb. Then tables were set up around the grills, so the people were served directly from the grills. The meat only had to go about 2 feet from grill to platter to people. There were no worries about keeping food to temperature since it was all served hot right off the grill.
4. No Plates
There were no plates purchased or provided for this party on purpose. This was not dinner. Plates encourage people to fill them, and then throw them away. They also create more waste and paper trash. No plates. No silverware, either! Everything was finger food so I didn’t have to provide silverware. This saved a bunch of money, too.