I had intended on writing and posting this sometime in September or October, which would have almost been reasonable. To be honest, I couldn’t really think about it until now, which is about the time I usually get excited for the next Cascade Falcon… So I’m writing this now about one of last summer’s camps.
10 days of cooking and serving a total of 3960 individual meals. All done in the most tiny and pathetic military kitchen I’ve ever seen, complete with no hand-washing sink, no air conditioning and no indoor dry pantry. Yup, it pretty much sucks. And do I get paid? Nope, it is all volunteer work. I absolutely love it. This last year was my fourth year working at Civil Air Patrol‘s Cascade Falcon Encampment. I went from an extra set of hands to leading the kitchen to planning and ordering all the food.
DFAC stands for Dining Facility
Let’s start at the beginning…
For the two months leading up to the activity, I spent a good deal of time coming up with a menu that was simple enough to work in the pathetically small kitchen I knew I was working in and with the limited equipment we had available to us. At the same time I knew for that I needed something that would push me and challenge my cooking and leadership skills and fit in my budget.
Example menu. Excel became my best friend.
My sister (12) and I traveled around town to price items and research serving sizes to minimize waste and ensure that we would have enough food. It was a fun adventure, from sneaking into Costco with Mom’s card to price things, to snacking on my favorite Asian candy, Milkitas.
From the pictures I was able to calculate how many bags I would need to get and the price per serving. Lots of the time I would have to recalculate everything to do a larger or smaller portion.
My price shopping buddy
Lynnwood Business Costco
Next came the master shopping list, divided into multiple categories to include different deliveries and stores. This was a lot harder then it seems. I doubted my calculations for many things, but the one that sticks in my mind the most was the sliced cheese. Go through it with me:
2 (meals) x 70(servings) x 1 (slice per meal)= 140
2 (meals) x 180(servings) x 2 (slices per meal) = 720
Means I need 860 slices of cheese. Each package of cheese has 30 slices, so 860/30= 28.667. I think I did the math six or seven times to get a proper answer. Even then, I bought 30 packages to have extra on hand. Imagine doing that for almost every single ingredient and that was my life for a few days.
Hotel pan sizing chart
After the list was completed, I typed out directions for each meal and printed out two notebooks. One notebook had all the directions, recipes and the menu in it and was colorful for my staff to look at and use. My version had all the allergy information, shopping lists, pricing and leadership ideas. This year I even found a chart with hotel pan sizes which helped eliminate the running back and forth with incorrect pans.
Throughout the planning from mid June to the start of encampment (August 12, for staff training) I emailed back and forth with my staff of three seniors members and five cadets getting their input and ideas.
We stayed in temporary WWII barracks on Fort Lewis. We were the second to last group before all the building were to be demolished, so that right there should give you an idea for what we were working in. Everything was old. The kitchen has five different sets of fridges and freezers, no hand washing sink and has an outdoor pantry. We weren’t allowed to use the kitchen range because it was fragile or something, it was a relatively new piece of equipment.
Disposable pan packed oven
Sauteing on the flat top
Almost every meal we have both ovens completely filled. Buying disposable pans is the BEST item you can buy when cooking for 200 people. We took turns manning the griddle because it was everyone’s favorite. My cadet got really good at scrambled eggs and sauteéd vegetables.
Did I mention there was no air conditioning in the DFAC? Yeah, well that in the summer, the three refrigerator units and the ovens all made for a rather miserably hot kitchen. Our hottest temperature in the DFAC was 105 degrees. Needless to say we left the dishes and ditched the kitchen as soon as we could and limited our work time to 15-30 minutes on and then 10 minutes off with plenty of water and Gatorade. Oh, and watermelon, Otter Pops and ice cream sandwiches. Our back porch became a life saver with camp chairs and the most comfortable cement ever. More on that later…
Full staff picture
All the cooks. We had an additional two who did all my errands, cleaned and did whatever I needed done, but usually stayed out of the way during the cooking. These cadets worked incredibly hard. They worked an average of 10 hours a day, had 2.5 hours of break (although 1 hour included team sports). Some worked longer, coming in early with me and staying until I left. Can you believe that theses guys get to say they’ve cooked for 170 people for a week? I don’t know many teenagers who could pull that off.
I was lucky enough to have a fellow senior member who is also my best friend, Gracie Hacking, work along side me. Although I worked her hard and we had a few differences (she didn’t exactly enjoy the 10 days…), we’re still good friends. She worked hard, knowing her way around the kitchen.
I had a really good team of cadets, two officers and three NCOs. Lt. Vangelder took charge of everything front of the house (or the actual dining room) from taking care of cadets who needed things to cleaning spills, refilling the salad bar and managing our 4 KPs (kitchen patrol cadets who came before every meal). Lt. West managed everything kitchen related, usually with me. She did a wonderful job, she was very organized, efficient and a good cook. She was always high energy and helped the rest of the team keep on track.
Homemade potato salad
The other person I could not have done the activity without was Justin Nolet. He always arrived early to the kitchen. Like, how early I usually went in. When he didn’t have a job, he stood by me and took over whatever I was doing or waited until I gave him a job. He was honest with me. He told me when I was too tough on someone, when I made mistakes, when I fixed problems. He kept me on track during the week. Nolet usually stayed until the lights went out and I locked the doors and never complained about any of the work we asked him to do. I appreciated his efforts and attitude the entire time.
We had problems in the kitchen. We always do. One cadet refused to drink water, one could not figure out how to do anything, my OIC got overly excited… It’s always a challenge to deal with, but we made it work.
Costco made two deliveries over the course of the 1.5 weeks we were there. The first of our deliveries was scheduled to get to our tiny little DFAC the day after we arrived. But it didn’t. One of my amazing grocery shoppers did some calling and they had lost our order. She did her magic and the order was placed again and would be delivered the next morning at 8am. The same time I was supposed to teach a class, right after a breakfast service.
My morning started with a massive thunderstorm followed by the Costco truck getting to the kitchen at the same time I was supposed to give instructions on how I needed the students to run through the dining room. Let’s just say it was the fastest I’ve probably ever talked before running out to check through the order.
The driver dropped off pallet after pallet of food and paper products. It was like a reality check to see all the food. We really were going to feed 170 people.
Our Costco delivery driver looked like Simon Pegg. I didn’t tell him that. He was incredibly patient with us as we tried to get more organized and inventory all the product.
Cooking and Leadership:
The kitchen had me as as the director. Under me, I had one cadet officer in charge (OIC) who had done a year of preparation for this position, but two officers. Since both were experienced, I was able to split the load my officer in charge had into two officers in charge. One to manage the dining room and one to manage the kitchen. It worked brilliantly and gave both more of a leadership opportunity working and communicating with each other, me and the rest of the staff.
Safety basics were taught, but even so, we still had cuts and burns. Knife skills were improved, although slow. Everyone learned how to read directions on packaging or recipes. The more experienced staff got hands on experience in troubleshooting and problem solving.
One of many after action meetings
We had after-action meetings for almost every single meal. Good changes were made or celebrations over a smooth meal service and we had fun getting to know each other. Sometimes we got personal and brought up issues with the staff, which is always the hardest subjects to discuss. Most of the time if my staff had problems with each other, we would discuss it one on one on the back porch before talking with the “problem” cadet(s). I had a hard time dealing with the aspect of having a team a couple years ago, but it was a little easier this year. Some after actions happened as we ate our meals, other times on the back porch during breaks or sometimes just before the next meal’s preparations were made.
Stacking the plates this way was one of the mid-course adjustments we made. Service became slow trying to separate each rough cut edged plate. Stacking them this way helped speed things up and kept track of how many people we had served. Who ever had spare minutes before or during meal service would stack plates in stacks of 25.
Students waiting for the meal to start
We got pretty good at getting everyone fed in a reasonable amount of time and for the first year since I’ve been doing it, my staff gave more even servings of food.
Breaks from the Kitchen:
We got breaks. Occasionally. My team participated in team sports every night and had a blast playing with the rest of the students and cadre. We also got to go on tours on Fort Lewis, including exploring blackhawks and chinooks. We also got to go to the confidence and obstacle courses.
Convoy of CAP vans
Every CAP van is given a name, this year is was super heroes. Our official van was Alfred, Batman’s butler. Since we ran the kitchen, we changed the name with the picture of Alfred to Alfredo. More kitchen related and funny!
The rest of the time, it was hanging out around the quad. Watching the students drilling, talking with the cadre, harassing the logistics team and taking naps (which we did the most of). Like I said before, that cement on the back porch is really comfortable.
The majority of the DFAC team napping
Every day during classes (break time for the cadre), we would have a dozen or more cadets come up to the DFAC. Mostly, they were looking for food, PJ&J, leftover pizza or whatever leftovers we had around, Gatorade and of course chocolate milk. I learned quickly to keep leftovers for at least a day and someone would usually eat it.
My kitchen mice. 😀
I loved having these guys in my dining room. They energized my staff and loved us. We even got given a new salute as you can see some of the cadets doing in the picture. They were always courteous, cleaned up after themselves and those who had prior DFAC experience would don an apron or a chefs coat that didn’t belong to them and help out. They gave my staff a break by doing dishes, making Gatorade and helping with whatever else was asked of them.
And they had fun doing it. They’d sing, laugh, tell jokes, vent a little, get advice from each other AND get the work done!
Cadre helping out during their breaks
Pack Up, Cleanup and Saying Goodbye:
This year, I had a decent plan for cleaning the kitchen that I figured wouldn’t work. The day before the encampment ended, we served a normal breakfast and for lunch, filed everyone through to get food and had them eat outside, the cadets loved it because it was different and got them out of the hot DFAC and we loved it because it meant I could close off the dining room completely. We consolidated the fridges and freezers and pushed everything towards the kitchen. Every year there is a banquet the night before the activity ends, so by the time we got to the banquet, the entire dining room was cleaned, mopped, waxed and rearranged to the original set up. We basically finished cleaning half the building a day early! After attending the graduation ceremony, we got back and finished cleaning the kitchen. I am quite proud of how fast my team cleaned and how sparkly new it looked when we left. Our building manager, Bill, who had been quite hard to please in the past, apparently appreciated the job we did! That culinary cleaning I learned in school sure came in handy!
After a celebratory dinner out with most of the staff from the entire encampment, I got home with my siblings, relieved the week was over, but looking forward to doing the same thing next year!