Kitchen Spotlight: Bringing Food to the Fort

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As you know by this point, we had to make some adjustments to run a healthy and safe camp for summer 2021, one of the biggest ones being eating all of our meals in the Fort, our brand-new open-air building.

So much about this prospect excited us: eating meals together! Al-fresco dining! Beautiful views! Lots of space to spread out! A great sound system for dance parties! But it also came with lots of challenges.

We would still be cooking all the food in the Kitchen, in a totally different part of camp than the Fort. How do you transport food for 700 people three times a day, and still keep it hot and fresh? How do you then serve all that food in a safe way? The questions just kept coming. Our incredible Kitchen crew, headed up by Gervais and Alli rose to the challenge and came up with an ingenious system that kept us well-fed all summer long. Scroll on through to see some behind-the-scenes for how they did it… and just how much went in to our meals this summer!

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What went through your mind when the decision was made to do meals in the Fort this summer?

“We got this!” Because we already serve multiple picnics “off-site” from the Kitchen, we are used to transporting food. We knew we would just have to come up with a solid plan of attack, purchase the right equipment, and keep tweaking the system until it worked.

What was the process like of figuring out how to do it? How did you figure out the system that we had?

The first hurdle to tackle was how to get the food to the Fort. Gervais immediately started to think about the trailer we already have and what modifications would need to be made. It would need to be covered, have higher sides, and a “nook” to keep certain items from sliding around.

The next question was what to put the food in aka how to serve the food. We wanted to limit movement around the Fort, so every Family’s table needed to have their own serving platters of food. We knew we could not serve on our typical platters because they would not hold enough food nor would they transport easily. Gervais ordered samples of many different food storage and cooking containers to see how much food they could hold, how they could stack in the trailer, and, most importantly, how easily they could be cleaned.

Lastly, would we be able to serve all of our typical meals? Luckily, just a couple meals had to change. Pizza Night had to be reconfigured to a picnic. Meals like Paella night where they take a long time prepare were also off the table. The timing would not have worked for Sunday Sundaes, but we (hopefully) made up for it by having novelty ice cream more often throughout the summer.

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Tell us a little bit about the process of preparing and packing up food to go down to the Fort. What did the campers NOT see that happened?

Food preparation was the smallest change we made. The only difference was deciding which pan to put the food in. Instead of deciding if the green beans are served on the platter or in a bowl, we had to decide whether it went in a “half size” or “quarter size” pan. We had a laminated chart in Window 2 where someone would assign which food items went in which pans for every meal. It was a little puzzle to figure out how to get it all to fit evenly.

We put a couple tables in front of Window 3 and those tables plus Windows 1 and 2 became the beginning of our assembly line to bag up all of the food. It was all hands on deck to put all of the pans in the bag quickly to keep the food as hot as possible. It’s amazing how many steps you can get in just walking back and forth from the bags to Window 2!

What you also did not see was the process to unload the bags. After removing everything from the trailer, two people would stand at Window 3 with all of the bags in front of them on tables. They would compete to see who could unpack their half of the bags first. Undoing the bags’ zippers, taking all of the lids off, consolidating leftover food and slopping it, and stacking the dirty pans in Window 3 can make you break out in a sweat if done quickly enough!

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Tell us the pros and cons of this system - what worked great, and what was hard? Any bloopers or fails to share?

Oof. The hardest part was the timing of getting the food portioned, packed, loaded in the trailer and delivered. Junior Camp had a lot of dance parties while they were waiting for meals!

Did you learn anything from doing meals this way that you’ll continue in the future when we go back to the Dining Hall?

We’d like to use the bag method for some picnics (Opening Day lunch) and Sleep Late Friday. However, the bags we had were used to their full potential this summer, and we had to throw them away at the end of August Camp.

We’re toying with the idea of continuing to serve food in the pans instead of platters and bowls. It gives the campers larger portions from the getgo, and the food fits better in the pans as opposed to platters and bowls. However, the pans take up more room on the tables and are more industrial than a nice family meal.

It’s a minor detail, but we probably will keep the roll of paper towels on the tables instead of stacks of individual napkins (this was a big camper request!).

Anything else to share about doing meals in the Fort?

The Kitchen operated with half of the staff they have in a normal summer. Right off the bat they had to work twice as hard, and then they had to step it up even more to handle the changes. The beginning of the summer was full of trial and error, but the staff powered through to develop a great system for those working the second half of the summer!