It’s Alive!

April 20th, 2013 | Rachel

Rachel Hundley, Self Portrait

Self portrait from the Drums & Crumbs test kitchen

Last night my business had its very first job. We catered a film set for a short film called Dub Step that one of Arthur’s buddies is directing. Over the course of the day, things went from nervous and excited to confident and prepared to borderline disastrous to actually kind of successful. I’m thankful our first large-scale project (25 people) was for a forgiving friend. We have plans to practice this volume a few more times before we take a chance on client who doesn’t already love and adore us.

But first, let me back up a few steps and say that Drums & Crumbs is roaring along.

Most excitingly, we have a logo!

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Our “look” is also going to incorporate a gingham patter in both the blue and this really fun pinkish red:

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Now that we have that part figured out, we are working hard on getting  a proper website. I’ve been working on a lot of the content, like the “Our Story” text and the menus. I think the funnest thing I did last week was draft our catering menu (which probably doesn’t sound very fun, but I loved doing it).

Arthur and I are also putting together a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the final 15% of our start up/first year budget. That will be launched as soon as we can get a video together (which will hopefully be in May). I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises, but one of the rewards is going to be choosing a dish to be named after you or someone else that will be sold during your birthday week. And you’ll get a special birthday shout-out on the website. We have to replace our $150 level reward because ours involved wine and you can’t include alcohol as a reward, so if anyone has any ideas, do share. At our highest level, we’ll cater your 75-person wedding, complete with packaging in your wedding colors.

In addition to a logo, a website-in-the-making, and potentially all of our financing (really it’ll depend on securing a truck lender, which will be easier after the Kickstarter campaign), we also have a pretty well-tuned product! We’ve been in the test kitchen for the past two weeks experimenting and refining our recipes.

Arthur in the test kitchen

Arthur in the test kitchen

Some of the dishes, such as our cole slaw, collard greens, cobbler and biscuits, are pretty close to our vision. Our chicken recipe is perfect, but we are still working on the actual cooking process. The only recipe still in the air is the macaroni and cheese. I’ve gone through five in the past two weeks and still haven’t found what I am looking for, although someone did tell me last night that it was the best mac n cheese they’ve every had.

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Leftovers from a test batch

We had an opportunity to cater a 10-person lunch earlier in the week but declined because we didn’t think the product was quite ready. As a result, the job at the film set was our official debut. The menu was straightforward: fried chicken, cole slaw, mac n cheese, biscuits, cobbler, iced tea and water. We had successful made all of those things multiple times before the big day, although the most servings we had done at one time was eight. The estimate for the film set was 24.

In the past two weeks, we have purchased the ingredients several times and have stocked up on most of the necessary preparation and cooking supplies. We are starting to get a grasp of the order in which we should do the unpacking, washing, chopping, boiling, mixing, melting, frying, baking and washing.

From talking to other caterers, apparently the standard practice is to start out of one’s kitchen, but we’ve opted to run a legitimate operation and are working out of licensed commercial kitchens. It does cost money to rent the kitchen space (around $25 an hour ‘a la carte’ but less if you commit to a certain quantity of time), but advantages include copious prep space, a ten-burner gas stove, four ovens (two of which are high capacity convention ovens), a high pressure pre-rinse sprayer and a deep three-compartment sink, a dish/pot/utensil sanitizer with a 60-second cycle, and walk-in fridge storage. Its also the legal way to operate a food business, which my lawyerly background can’t ignore.

When we do get the truck, we will have to do all of our prep and cooking in a commercial kitchen, so its also good practice for that.

The day of the film set job started off great. The client wanted the food served at 7:30pm, so we needed to be at the kitchen, which is 45-minutes away, by 3:00pm. This meant we had to leave the house at 1:45pm to get the perishable ingredients. The drive between Sonoma and the kitchens we’ve been using is rather stunning. Imagine a two-lane highway through rolling hills covered in grapevines and vast pastures with clusters of dairy cows, sheep and picturesque barns. Usually we ride with the windows down and the radio on. Its not a bad way to spend an hour and a half each day.

Our time in the kitchen also started off pretty well. We unpacked and got to chopping and shredding. I chopped the cabbage and other vegetables for Arthur’s cole slaw, and he shredded the cheese for my mac n cheese (I really don’t like manually shredding things and need to research more efficient methods). We knew the chicken was going to take some time because we had 50 pieces to cook and we were doing it on the stove. The sides and cobbler were finished without a hitch, but the chicken ended up taking quite a bit longer than predicted.  Two and a half hours longer, actually.

As a result, we were almost three hours late to our first catering job. Stress levels were elevated, but we held it together. I was expecting the worst but trying to commit to make the best of whatever happened. We arrived (after some difficulty locating the set at the dark and desolate marina) just as they were finishing filming the first scene. The original plan had been to feed everyone before they got started, but we got everything set up in time for them to take a break between scenes and before a lot of the extras went home.

We hadn’t investigated the venue, something we will certainly be doing before our next catering job. Otherwise we would have realized we would be serving the food in an empty dirt parking lot under a single street light. We ended up recruiting a second vehicle to park next to us and had ourselves an old-fashioned tailgate out of the back of the cars. When the camera crew arrived, they added some of their LED lights to the set up to illuminate the food. It was not at all how we imagined it to be, but the actual serving was accessible and fluid, and there were enough random objects in the vicinity for people to perch on while they ate.

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Catering the set of a short film

I think most of the people assumed we were right on time, and our “client” didn’t seem upset about the three-hour delay. I’m just thankful it happened under those circumstances, and now we have time to improve and practice our process to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

It is crazy to think that I have a food business that is actually up and running and open to the public. The food got rave reviews last night, and a lot of people took our business card and said they would refer us to their friends. Even with the chicken problems, I was pretty proud of what we produced. I’ll be even more proud when the chicken is cooked correctly and the sides are served while they are still hot. I’m interested to look back at this experience six months from now after we’ve done this many times to see how much better things are. By the way, Future Rachel, if you are looking back at this and things aren’t better, then you are doing something wrong.

 

One Response to “It’s Alive!”

  1. Tracy says:

    Woohoo! Look at you! I don’t know how you keep such a trim figure, being in the kitchen all day.

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