Queues and Barbecues

They asked me to do it again. Despite the lines — oh! the lines… — they asked me to do it again.

“Is there anything we can do about the lines?” they gingerly put forth.

Last Halloween, our children’s annual grade school Halloween carnival got an upgrade. It moved from school to the ballfield at the local community center, a live band would play, there would be a bar… And they asked me to do the food.

The Chef boogying at sunset

The chef/fairy/cow boogying at sunset

I was to cook for somewhere between 450 and 600 people. I was a week in preparation and was all set — except that the chimneys I needed for my coal were 90 minutes late. The carnival had opened at 3:30, people began queuing up for food at 4-ish. And I didn’t have anything to serve until close to 5 p.m., at which point the line had stretched from our home-plate set up well into left field. We would never catch up.

“Yes,” I addressed their concerns in a calm and soothing fashion. “I know what the problem was last year. There will be no lines this year, other than regular lines.”

I arrived at 2 p.m., set the coals ablaze in the Santa Maria grill and commenced final prep. By 3 p.m. food was cooking. A few people came by to order something, but we advised them we were not open until 4 p.m.

Maximus at the grill

Maximus at the Santa Marina grill

By the time the appointed hour rolled around, we had trays already full with grilled tri-tip, salmon and chicken breast, trays full of rice and cole slaw, sliced bread rolls and squirt bottles of sauces. An eager 15-year-old with foodie ambitions named Colin earning his community service credits shadowed my every step.

“What’s that you’re doing?” “Are you smoking the meat?” “What are these little black things all over the fruit skewers?”

We were off to splendid start. People were being fed, there were no lines. I had some of my trustiest sidekicks manning the grill — Bobby Mahaffey fresh in from Seattle, Katy-Who-Will-Not-Let-the-Chef-Get-Too-Drunk, Emperor Maximus (this year resplendent in a brown robe, replacing last season’s toga).

The food was going fast — Santa Maria tri-tip sandwich with smoked jalapeño BBQ sauce and pickled slaw; grilled chicken breast sandwich with garlic aioli, arugula and red onion pickles; Tokyo salmon wrap with sushi rice, wasabi aioli, cucumber, radish sprouts; roasted vegetable bowl with curried brown rice…

Sophie and Willa check their loot behind the grill

Sophie and Willa check their loot behind the grill

Returning from the past year were my popular “premium meats” — a 2 lb. dry-aged rib eye with a shot of premium tequila for $50; and a Chinese-spiced long-smoked 1.5 lb. beef short rib with a shot of Japanese whisky for $25.

Lost somehow in the logistics of set up were my kitchen shears and the bottle of Japanese whisky. And I had to count on the undiscerning palates of my short rib customers to not notice they were being served tequila instead of whisky; or I had to fess up. And I imagined a costumed partygoer sitting in a sage bush somewhere nearby, drinking whisky and snipping leaves with my shears.

Later in the evening, a line did form. But it was a small, reasonable one (a “regular” line, as promised), and the food was served expeditiously. One by one, we crossed off menu items until the only thing left was a new and improvised offering — the “$8 Sean Make Me Something.”

Those adventurous diners received a surprise — curry rice with cole slaw and salmon; chicken with a squirt of wasabi cream; sushi rice topped with chili; a fruit skewer and grilled cheese…

The party ended, the band broke down and left, the ballfield lights went up. And less intoxicated than last year (good job, Katy), I loaded up my coolers, tongs, knives and cutting boards and headed home.

Two days later, my wife lying next to me in bed said: “You still smell like barbecue.”

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cheryl "Cheffie Cooks" Wiser
    Nov 04, 2016 @ 22:08:09

    Wonderful job Chef Sean! Have a great weekend.


  2. pal-O
    Nov 05, 2016 @ 00:04:38

    Sounds like a great cologne!


  3. Michelle
    Nov 06, 2016 @ 13:40:26

    You are a trooper!


  4. Bobby Mahaffey
    Nov 07, 2016 @ 17:01:26

    What a total blast that was! Again!! Can’t wait for the next gig, chef.


  5. Trackback: Globalization, Topanga Style | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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