The night I booked my first catering job, I lay awake at 2 am, wondering about all of the things that could possibly go wrong.
They all did.
For this post, I find no need to try to be funny – an effort I typically put in to a painfully obvious degree – as this story reads like a farce entirely of its own accord. At every point at which you think this surely must be the end of my misfortune, you will be mistaken. So, catch your breath, prepare your scrolling finger, and enjoy the long, disastrous story of my first catering job.
What a bore it’d be if this entire saga took place on only one day. Purely for dramatic effect, I suppose, The Universe conspired against me and allowed the mayhem to begin a whole day in advance. 24 hours before the event, I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and hooked up to a drip.
Passing out as the cannula was inserted, I found myself thinking… nothing, obviously. But in retrospect I have long thought about how my boss at the time had read my palm the very day before this, and told me great success and fame await me, but (with a gasp) that I must look after my health. Given how quickly this warning came into fruition, I look forward keenly to my promised fame and fortune, choosing to ignore his adamant denials that he is a witch.
Thankfully, nothing was seriously wrong besides a bad case of dehydration. The drip sorted me out, and I skipped (see: lurched) home, ready to take on the job.
The morning prep went by without much fuss. My boyfriend and my mum had both come to my plastic-chair-side in the hospital, and insisted on helping with the cooking. Between us we prepared about half of the food and packed it up into the car for the 40 minute drive to the venue.
Sorry, are you getting bored? Once we got there, my poor mum dropped about 2/3 of the roasted cauliflower onto the gravel drive. We discarded it, and set about hauling the rest of the food into the kitchen. Here, I looked around desperately for the roasted aubergine slices to assemble canapes – no-one has searched so hard for an aubergine since teenage boys discovered emojis. But not to worry, they were only in the fridge! At home. 40 minutes away. Mum, doing her best not to cry, hopped back into the car for the 1 hour 20 minute round trip required to Save The Aubergine.
Meanwhile, I preheated the oven and started work on a big batch of pesto. Or, I tried to. With everything set up ready in the blender, I found that it wouldn’t switch on. I tried every button, switch, each different plug socket. Nothing.
Then the organisers of the event came in and asked if I was also having problems with the power. I was momentarily relieved to discover that it wasn’t the blender which was bust, then realised that with no power the entire kitchen was practically useless – the ovens wouldn’t turn on, the appliances were ignoring me and the fridge had given up. Fantastic.
So, the fuse had blown, and as one of the first events to take place at the venue since a total remodelling of the building, no-one knew where on Earth the fuse box was. After a slightly frantic search to no avail, an emergency electrician was called at 5 pm. He’d be there within the hour. That’s cool. The event was due to start at 6 pm. That’s cool!
Remaining eerily calm à la deranged woman about to snap, I mixed up my brownies, paced a little bit, gave the brownies an extra stir. Eventually, the electrician arrived, found the fuse box and got it all sorted out. Thank goodness.
Then I turned the oven back on, and the power went out, and he fixed it. Then I turned the oven back on, and the power went out, and he fixed it.
Then I turned the oven back on, and the power went out, and he fixed it.
As will be clear to you, but was not to us from completely different rooms, the oven short-circuited the entire system and could not be used under any circumstances. Thankfully, this wasn’t the only oven, so I made my peace with using only the one for all my catch-up cooking and got on with it.
By the time cooking was underway, guests had started coming in. That was fine, the aubergine had been returned to me, canapes were ready to go, and the hot buffet wasn’t to be out until halfway through the event. The issue was that I’d seen about 50 people coming in so far, and we’d expected about 40.
This was a non-ticketed charity event, and by the time food was ready to go out (and it was actually ready!) I’d been told that there were 80 hungry people waiting. Those of you who did further maths at a-level will have realised that’s double the number I anticipated. Double! I can’t even count to double.
With the love of my life, my beautiful, fantastic, amazing boyfriend having cooked about a kilo of rice down to baby food consistency, my buffet for 40 was to go out to 80 people, sans rice.
Unsurprisingly, the poor people at the tail-end of the line didn’t get to eat. Everything else here is hilarious in its absurdity, but it makes me cringe to think that people went hungry on my watch. With a whole host of other issues or all on its own, guests going hungry is pretty much a chef’s worst nightmare.
Now, the title of this post promised that I loved this experience. How? HOW?! It does make me feel slightly deranged to say so, but I truly did. Everyone
who got to eat was absolutely lovely about the food, and against all odds it had managed to go out hot at a decent time.
The organisers of the event were angels about the entire thing. They explained to everyone about some of the issues in their end-of-the-evening speech and then, as I had asked, sent anyone who didn’t get to eat to the front of the line for dessert. Having dessert canapes ready and waiting in the kitchen made me feel like a fallen hero pulling out his trump card at the end of a fight scene. So, some people didn’t get their hands on any cauliflower – dessert is the best part of every meal anyway, and they had as many brownies and chilli chocolate dipped strawberries as their hearts could desire.
With help from my family and a calm I didn’t know I possessed, I managed to work my way through a real whopper of a first catering job. And I immediately couldn’t wait to do more.