Ok, you asked for it…
Since Maria insisted, I shall try to describe our little Oktoberfest to you, hopefully without offending anyone associated with it because the group that puts it on every year (this was the 28th) really does do good work and all the proceeds go to local charities.
But…our little Mardi Gras (actually, they call it mARTi Gras), which is a fundraiser for the local arts council, sucks ass, and I told them so after being associated with it a couple of times, so perhaps my hopes of not pissing off any nice, well-meaning people who might stumble across this post while googling “Ruidoso Oktoberfest” are dashed before we even get started.
Speaking of starts, this is how this one went…
A few weeks ago a lady called and asked if I’d be willing to stand in for the Lion’s Club this year at Oktoberfest as they weren’t going to be able to participate and didn’t want to lose their spot for next year. I guess I should explain that different groups rent the booths and then sell food, the Republicans sell slices of Black Forest and apple spice cake, the Lutherans sell apple strudel, the Kiwanis sell potato and apple pancakes, and the Run for the BEACH group re-sells store-bought desserts, which is just dumb.
Anyway, I agreed immediately, a victim of my own vanity and an optimistic blindness that has afflicted me for decades.
Why yes, I do like camping. And you say that I can join now and not leave for a few months? Sure, I’ll join the army!
I know that we’ve only been dating for a short while, but the sex is really good and occurring frequently, so why don’t we get married?
Well no, I haven’t ever made sushi, but I’d love to cater your wedding.
Two years to pay back $50,000, where do I sign?
So, I did what I always do, I waited until the last minute, the pushed through in a fit of panic and rage…or at least stress and annoyance.
I started by ordering 200 pounds of potatoes, because that is what the Lion’s club lady said she used, for the Monday before the event was to start, figured out my portion size, how many portions I was likely to get and how much to charge. Since the Lioness had said that she never had any problem selling the all the soup, this all pointed toward a huge profit on a very modest investment of about $200.
This should have been a clue. Nothing ever goes according to plan, especially if the plan is, “This should be easy, and make us a lot of money.”
The soup itself wasn’t difficult as I’ve been making soups from scratch for a few years now. Here at the café we serve a Portuguese (Azorean, actually) kale soup that’s based on the original owner’s mother’s recipe. It has been on the menu for about sixteen years now and we go through hundreds of gallons of it every year.
While I’m typing this sentence, Danny is cutting linguica and chourico for kale soup as a ten gallon stock pot comes up to a boil on the stove.
I started by peeling 50 pounds of potatoes (ok, the dishwasher peeled the potatoes), and smoking several pork bellies that I had already cured. Lots of leeks, celerly, and onions went into a pot to be cooked down while three stock pots came to a boil. The potatoes were then rough chopped and tossed into the pots along with the diced pork bellies, some beef stock and some salt and pepper. When the potatoes were nearly soft the other vegs were added and the soup simmered for another hour or so. The soup was then split into smaller containers and chilled.
The next day I ran the soup through the Robot Coupe, one of my favorite tools. Like a squat little red ninja, this food processor on crack makes very short, very quiet, work of any chopping or shredding job and looks extremely cool while doing so.
A lot of our tools have names, some obvious, some not so. The walk-in was built by the Warren company, so it’s name is…yep, Warren, same with Hobart. Two of my knives are named, one is Howard, one is Margie. I’m the only person who knows that Margie has a name. We call the Robot Coupe the R2 unit.
So, after the soup was cooled I ran it through the R2 unit to make a smooth puree. At this point it was a very nice vichyssoise. Apply heat and it becomes kartoffelsuppe. Magic! I did this process three more times over the course of three days, staying at work until 2 am two nights in a row, sleeping on the couch so that I’d be less likely to roll over and go back to sleep when the alarm went off at 5:30 am.
The second day I already felt like the guy in the old Winchell’s donut commercials, the one where he’s shown getting up at some ungodly hour, stumbling to the front door, mumbling, “Time to make the donuts.”
About the third time as opens the door to walk out, he meets himself coming back in saying, “I already made the donuts.”
Other stuff that needed to be done included digging chafing dishes out of storage, then hunting down appropriate sized pans for soup since all we had were shallow ones, going to Hel-Mart for Sterno and crepe paper, and going by to visit the field office of the friendly folks of the New Mexico Environment Department to apply for our temporary permit, required for any food service outside of the restaurant. In the mean time, there was also the usual barely controlled disaster that is day-to-day operations of the café…the seventy year old Italian lady and the eighteen year old black kid pulling knives on each other in the dish pit (two men enter, one man leave), the prep kid misreading the chocolate chip cookie recipe and adding six and a half cups of four instead of six and a half pounds and unable to figure out why he has batter instead of dough, the toilet in the women’s room shooting water three feet into the air upon being flushed, not to mention the cooking, cleaning, and accounting that has to happen everyday to make sure that we don’t sink.
Friday afternoon arrived far sooner than I wanted it to and I was rushing around trying to get everything transferred over to the convention center, change bag put together, soup reheated to serving temp, and some sort of half-assed decorations done. Finally about fifteen everything was mostly set up. I had a chafing dish set up on the serving table full of hot soup, another pot in a warmer in the convention center kitchen, some blue and white streamers, a giant potato head with a sign that read, "Eat Me", and, since we were standing in for the Lions, they asked that we display their logo as well, with its two lion faces and the words, Lions International.
With everything ready to go, and my oldest daughter, Joey, minding the booth for a moment, I headed to the beer stand for a hefeweizen. When I got back she said that someone had asked which Lion's club we were with. She glanced over her shoulder at the logo and told them, "The international one, I guess."
And this is pretty much how the night went. The line for the bratwurst stand often stretched past our stand and we sold some bowls to those folks, others would walk up and read the signs, including the one that read, POTATO SOUP, and ask what we were serving. Several young men came over for no other reason than to hit on my daughter, which was...awkward, and by 9 o'clock no one was eating any more and the band might as well have been playing for an empty room.
The next day was better. The event goes from noon to 11 pm on Saturday and my younger daughter, Emily, and I were set up and ready on time. More of the same, questions about the Lions, more apparently illiterate folks, and one older vegetarian lady who sneered at me when she asked if the soup contained any meat and I told her that, yes, it had pork and beef stock. Should have just lied and served her the soup with a big smile.
Sometime during the evening, a elderly lady in line for bratwurst picked up our menu, which I had put on the table along with one from Cafe Z, and asked where Cafe Rio had moved to. I assured her that it was still in the same place, the same place it's been for something like sixteen years. She didn't seem convinced, "I've looked for it and can't find it," she told me.
"Well, we did remodel the front of the building a couple of years ago," I said. "But, we still have a sign."
And the same fucking phone number, I added to myself.
And so the afternoon and night went, rotating soup from walk in to stove top to chafing dish, spending as much time in the kitchen as I could, talking with either the retired chef with the Kiwanis, or the nice old lady with the Republicans as she mixed, baked and decorated one Black Forest cake after another. "Yes, you can use the Republican Ladies cookbook, even if you're a Democrat," she assured me, laughing.
Oh, and then there was the other Republican lady, this one about my age, wearing shorts and heels and drunkenly hitting on me. After about two minutes of her slurred business advice, "You nnneeeed to take shamp...shamples...out to people," while resting her hand on my forearm, I began to McGyver a homemade version of pepper spray from spices and cooking oil.
Luckily, I didn't need it and she was soon showing me that she was right by wobbling out into the crowd with a tray loaded with slices of black forest cake and returning with it empty moments later.
Even though my legs are nicer than hers I decided against it.
Saturday night was definitely better than the night before, more people, more lively, a very beautiful woman with one of the dance troupes walked by several times while doing an admirable job of completely ignoring my Jedi mind shit.
Look at me...you want me...I am the love of your life.
No dice. Gonna have to watch this when it comes out and see if I can pick up a few pointers.
But, by 10 it was pretty much over and I started putting stuff away, was able to get everything packed in my car in one trip, and dropped the left over soup at the cafe, before going home around midnight. All in all it wasn't the worst convention center experience I've had, I'm pretty sure that the gumbo cook off at mARTi Gras will forever hold that honor, and though not as profitable as hoped, it did bring in a pretty good, much needed infusion of cash that weekend. So, if asked I'm sure I'd do it again.
Maybe I'll call the Run for the BEACH crew and see if they might like to sell something with a better profit margin next year.
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