Spooks, Sandwiches & Sympathy for the Devil

It couldn’t really have started any worse.

The day of our school’s annual Halloween Carnival — the new, experimental 2015 edition in which I would be cooking for somewhere apparently between 450 and 600 people — had arrived.

Rennie at work

Rennie at work

I got to the ballfield at the local community center around 1:30 for the 3:30 start time. I unloaded my coolers full of meat, boxes of bread and bags of slaw — far more food than was necessary, I was certain, and felt confident I would be bringing things home at the evening’s conclusion. But the event organizer, my friend Danielle, had asked me to err on the side of abundance. To cook on, there was a large and rusty Santa Maria grill that had rolled in on wheels and parked itself beneath the backstop. More

Skinny Girls LIVE — Fundraising for the Kids

I sometimes get asked to do large events. As with the lovely wedding I cooked for earlier this year, I am always quick to point out that I am not a caterer. I don’t have any of those warming trays and I don’t have large metal spoons.

But I can usually still pull off feeding a whole bunch of people and having them feeling relatively happy and full at the end.

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My children’s school Halloween Carnival had always been a somewhat humble affair — a couple hundred kids running around the school playground in the dark from one parent-curated booth to the next; adults queuing up for a bowl of chili or slipping stealthily from spiked sports cups.

This year, I was told, they wanted to “step it up”. Stepping it up involved, among other things, moving it to the local Community House, having a live band and alcohol sales, and me cooking.

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The most I had ever cooked for previously was a bit shy of 200. But now, for the Topanga Elementary’s fundraising Halloween Carnival, I was told there could be as many as 600 people. Some of whom would be eating, some who wouldn’t; some carnivores, some pescetarians, probably some vegans; lots of picky kids. How do you plan for that?

Like a one-night restaurant, I suppose.

I didn’t want to buy too much. And I didn’t want to buy too little — I was okay with running out of items, there’s a certain aura of missing out to that, but not before say 8 p.m.

Star of the evening

Star of the evening

I planned a menu that would be easy to prepare on the only thing I would have to prepare food on — a Santa Maria grill: sandwiches (tri-tip and grilled chicken), Baja fish wraps, grilled veggie bowls. In a stroke of (I thought) inspiration, I would also offer two limited-quantity premium meat items: a Flintstone-size beef short rib, long smoked, Texas-style; and a 2 lb. “cowboy” dry-aged rib eye on the bone. The true inspiration, I would serve each with a premium alcohol — a shot of bourbon with the short rib; a shot of tequila with the rib eye.

As I did pre-prep in the days leading up to the event, there were still some unanswered questions beyond how many people would actually eat — how would I keep food cold, and warm; would I have enough people helping me; would I be able to see what I was doing after it got dark; would the premium meats sell; and would the grill staff be able to keep from drinking all the premium alcohol themselves?

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Stay tuned next time for a full report.

And if you live in the area and are not busy on Saturday, October 24th, bring the kids to the canyon for some old school Halloween fun — booths, a haunted house, games, live music and, of course, tasty food. There’s a rumor the chef may even be performing a song with the band.

Topanga Halloween Carnival
Saturday, October 24, 3:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Topanga Community House
1440 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
Topanga, CA 90290

Raising Fun and Funds

Last year around this time, I was asked to cook at the silent auction fundraiser for my kids’ elementary school. The event, a 1970s-themed soiree at a local venue, the 1909, was a huge success and the food — including pizzas and huge paleolithic ribeye steaks emerging from a wood-fired oven — was the star.

So when it came around time for the 2015 fundraiser — with an 80s theme — I was again asked. Again, I accepted.

Don Schneider as Hef, plating cod and cous cous

Don Schneider as Hef, plating cod and cous cous

The party would take place this year at Froggy’s, a local restaurant that had been shuttered and put up for sale — which I briefly considered buying before regaining my common sense — and then, upon failing to find a buyer, reopened. More

Feeding the Unwashed Masses

I am not a caterer.

Caterers have large refrigerators and big stainless steel warming trays and things like that. I’m a chef. I have knives. And I like to see the looks on people’s faces when they taste something good that I have made. It’s hard to do that when you’ve laid out a buffet for 200 people.

The menu

The menu

So, I approached the silent auction I was cooking for as if it was just a big dinner I was doing for 200 of my friends. (Which is essentially what it was anyway.) More

50 Lbs. of Potatoes

I’ve begun sourcing for the massive auction dinner I will be preparing on Saturday night. While I was out shopping one day, I saw a 50 lb. bag of potatoes, and bought it.

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“So I guess you’re doing a baked potato bar?” my friend Katy asked.

“Yes, with no condiments,” I replied. “Just baked potatoes. People will ask, ‘Do you have any sour cream or butter?’ And we’ll say, ‘No, just potatoes. And beer.'”

“I like it.” More

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