I loved this feast.
How a feast works for me is that someone comes to me with an idea for an event, or just says they need a cook to do feast. I always have a few feast concepts swimming around in my imagination. This particular event was so easy and the theme fit so well- the theme of the event was mythical beasts. What story has more mythical beasts than Sindbad the Sailor? Then I did some research and it turned out that the manuscript Kitabh al-Tabikh (the basis for the book Annals of a Caliph’s Kitchens) was written around the same time and area as the story takes place. It was kismet.
We decided on a seven course feast, during which the Hall Steward, Sir Tymm Gard, would tell the tale of each voyage.
A seven course feast!
The menu took months. First I read the book cover to cover. Then I read it again, marking the recipes I wanted to test with sticky notes. Then I started sorting recipes by method of cooking, major flavor profile, and major ingredients. Then I started testing recipes. I probably tested and discarded more recipes out of this manuscript than any feast I’ve done in a long time. The dishes are all delicious, but the major flavor profile- coriander, pepper, cinnamon and vinegar- is tough to work out just right. This court loved sharp, heady flavors, but to balance that for the modern palate was tricky. Then after I thought I had a decent menu I started gathering prices for the estimated budget, and had to face that the menu was just too expensive. Even when I shaved the portions down to the bare minimum, it was too expensive.
After shaving down the menu I had to start thinking about the kitchen plan. The only way to serve a feast of seven courses in a reasonable amount of time without needing a HUGE kitchen crew is to pre-make as much as possible. The kitchen plan was written so almost half the dishes could be made ahead and served either cold or room temperature.
We ended up with two full courses that were made entirely ahead, and two more courses of only 1-2 items each that could be plated very quickly.
With the pre-cooking I did at home, the pre-cooking of the date and walnut pastries, and the combined help of at least a dozen people working furiously for two days, we served a seven course feast in 95 minutes, start to finish.
What I learned in this feast:
Pre-cooking can make all the difference in a difficult feast. Now that I finally have a kitchen large enough to do pre-prep and pre-cooking, I will do this for all of my feasts.
You only need tiny portions of starches late in a feast. My favorite dish from this feast- the dish that has entered my everyday cooking forever- is the lentils with greens, dill, and feta. It’s just a fantastic dish. Even though I served a mere 4 oz per person (1/2 cup) with 1/2 piece of flat bread in the 5th course, at least half came back to the kitchen.
People liked sitting on the floor! We gave a choice on the feast registrations- floor or regular seating. I think the people who chose regular seating were a little jealous of those lounging in the floor on pillows. Special thanks to Mistress Thalassia Hellenis for collecting those pillows at yard sales for months before the event.
The staff meal. At 5pm, when we were heading into the final crunch time, my apprentice suggested fixing a simple meal for the kitchen crew. I wasn’t hungry, but they were. So everyone ate a simple meal together (they forced me to eat too) and I think everyone was less frazzled and the plating and final cooking was smoother and faster because of that short break and refueling. I will plan for that from now on.
We are a volunteer game. Without volunteers, there is no game.
For THL Christopher Koch, my right hand
For Mistress Maol ingen Mide, my left hand
For Sir Tymm, who took my vision and ran with it
For Lord Angus and his awesome wife and daughter, who cooked and washed dishes all day and considered that a fun time,
For Annie, Signy Ottarsdottir, Elk, Mame Wood, David Archer, and even my son Mongke for working their butts off during crunch time,
For Mistress Teamhair and Lars, for doing the jobs that need done and everyone else hates,
For Mistress Dianna Wyndalan of Kidwelly and the rest of Clan FarFlung for cleaning the kitchen after feast and doing such an amazing job,
For my daughter Elizabeth for helping with the shopping, packing, working her butt off as head server and taking feedback with an open heart,
For all the rest of the servers, including my son Alex and his lovely Lady, Finnoula,
For Crissy Brillant for contributing to the feast she couldn’t even attend,
For Tj Vestal for the murri, which I made everyone who came into the kitchen taste by the spoonful,
For Lady Zafira, for being the best Event Steward a Head Cook could possibly ask for,
And everyone else who fetched, toted, chopped, and washed. THANK YOU.
We made a damn good feast.