Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feeding the Masses: Tour of the Gila bike race

I'm a bit rested from this past week, and I made the mistake of stopping by the store today to finish up my cleaning, and I was swarmed by bikers asking for more pasta for one last meal...nice compliment, but no thanks, I'm off.

First, let's see what this was all about. We're a small little town that is very remote, but has a lot of culture and events. You can't just stumble across Silver City, you have to make it a part of a trip or the trip itself. So when guys like this show up

for our big race it has a bit of an impact. Our busiest restaurant on its busiest night might serve 75-100 guests. My cafè, which mostly does lunch will have about 40 covers on a good day. So when officials say that these guys are most likely showing up

but "we're keeping it quiet so things don't get out of control, but we need you to be prepared," well, I take notice. And with all of the speculation of whether he would come or not, and last minute wrangling between the international biking community and the national biking leaders, we were told to "be ready." But how the heck can you be ready for something like this?

I cook on a regular ceramic top residential range with a single oven. My response is, as always, pose the question to eGullet and see what you can glean. And after weeks of you all sharing your advice, and me watching Homeland Security set up its base camp, and me strategizing with my food reps, and finally a big ass black RV parking out in front of my store (the pics above are from my store's front door), it finally came down to this

The race was off and the black and white jerseys were blurring by with some famous dude that people came to see - I think I mentioned that hotels were booked as far as Las Cruces which is 2 hours away. And then there were 39 more moments like these

as they did their laps in our historic downtown district. It was truly surreal. I had never seen paparazzi in my town, let alone my neighbors acting like the Backstreet Boys were preparing to do a concert. Surreal. You can read about the race with a mention to our store in the New York Times.

But I missed all but a few minutes of the race because I was back in the hot kitchen wondering how much more I should prep to be ready for a rush, or would it be a slam, or would it be a slaughter?!

And that finally takes us to the food.

Some of the important info that I learned from my eG friends:
1. Keep costs to even amounts - I did everything in either $5 or $1 amounts (tax included)...and yes, it was appreciated.
2. Carbs, carbs, carbs...except on sprint day when it was all sugar of any sort
3. Smoothies were okay but not the most popular - too much sugar I guess
4. I didn't make them, but yes, pancakes were a popular request, oatmeal was second
5. Pie never happened, nor was it requested, but my lighter desserts sold best
6. Coffee, but only good coffee...thanks Peets!
7. Serve early, serve often. They want to eat about 1 hour after the end of the race and continue through the night.

One unanticipated issue came as I unintentionally became focused on the bikers moreso than the spectators. I guess I created it, but I was trying to serve two masters. I set up "Racer Specials" which were very low cost, racer focused foods. I can't tell you how many thanks and very grateful comments I received from the 95% of the riders who don't have food allowance from their sponsors. I like this niche as I don't really need to be a millionaire from this event, while others were jacking up their prices to capitalize.

Dinner Output:
Day one - 55 pounds of pasta
Day two - 75 pounds
Day three - 85 pounds
Last day - 100 pounds

I figured the last day, based on register receipts, to be 125 dinners. By this time we had things down really well so it felt slow to us. We turned away maybe 15 riders. I then put my kitchen capacity for this type of food at 150, but who knows. One big boost was when I thought, "okay dumbshit! why haven't you put your sauce in the soup warmer and crock pots instead of on the stove in a stock pot." Duh. That freed up a burner for two pots of pasta at a time. And, I bought pasta based on fastest cooking time - with the caveat that I refused to do spaghetti because I think its boring.

Recipes - nothing was fancy, but they all got great reviews even from the non-riders (meaning, you don't have to be famished to like the recipes) - all downsized for your pleasure
Pasta Sauce
One medium onion, diced
2 carrots, small diced
Sweat onion with carrot until just turning transluscent. Add thyme, salt and pepper to taste - for me, about 1 T thyme, 1/2 t. salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes. 1/2 C. white wine and cook until almost evaporated. Two large cans of crushed tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour. Taste, adjust and cook until the mobs come to eat. That simple.

Salad Dressing
- fast, tasty and totally ripped from Peterson's Sauces book.
1 T. Dijon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C. Rice wine vinegar
Whisk together
1 C. Cream
1/4 C. Olive oil
Whisk. Done.

Fruit salad topping
- this received more raves than anything else
1 C. Yogurt - drained in mesh filter for at least one hour, preferably overnight
1 T. Pistachio could probably use pistachio pudding mix for a similar effect
Pinch of cardamom ground
I put this over whatever fruits we could throw in a bowl quickly - mostly frozen blueberries, fresh apples, bananas, oranges. Topped with some pistachio nuts.


Manggy said...

Yay for Silver City! I hope you were able to rake in a ton of profit even with your reasonable prices. Flaunting the pistachio compound I see :)

Eddie Howard said...

Great job! I'm very impressed that you were able to pull it off!

Pam said...

It looks like everything went very well! I know you worked your ass off. I hope you made some $$$, even with your reasonable prices!

Anonymous said...

A belated thanks, we enjoyed your pasta on at least two occasions. Our first trip to Silver City and the Gila. Hope to be back next year.