Friday, July 25, 2008

Cooking at Camp

My big question to all you home cooks...what's the largest number of people you've cooked for at any one time? I've often hit 25 and once or twice even made it to 30. Remember, I'm talking about actually doing the cooking, not ordering in! This post will be especially eye-opening for those of you who cook for 1, 2 or even 4 people occasionally.

First a little background...Last summer and this, I've had many an opportunity to join Joanna and family at Camp Kadimah, (Boaz is naturally the main attraction for us) usually having lunch with them and during one typical, chaotic lunch ...280 campers and another 135 or so staff, make for quite a noisy experience...I began to think about actually cooking three meals a day, every day for 6 weeks, and frankly, couldn't imagine it. So I asked Joanna, (who is the camp's Director) if I could spend a 24 hour period with the kitchen crew, to find out.

Meet the morning crew. Missing from the photo is Kathy, the incredible baker, but more about her in a minute. Anne (little one fifth from the right) is the unbelievable, unstoppable master of the kitchen and runs it with military precision and yet lots of fun at the same time. She has a staff of 20 who work (8-9 per shift) in two shifts - 6AM-2PM, and 2PM to "Done", which is somewhere between 8-10PM. You'd expect all that chaos in the dining hall to be magnified a million times in the kitchen trying to get the meals out and the replenishing of trays, but you'd be wrong. It's so organized and calm, it's ....well there are no words, but I now know where to go for a little peace next time I visit!

In just one 24 hour period from lunch to lunch I probably have enough info to write a book, but I thought I'd share some highlights, challenges I'd never considered and some mind-boggling statistics....

If you think getting ingredients, etc., is a challenge for you....Not only is this a summer camp on a beautiful lake in rural Nova Scotia with the closest town 30 minutes away, it's a Jewish camp so the kitchen needs to be kosher, and every ingredient that comes in a can, jar or package must be kosher as well. Kosher meat and chicken are shipped in frozen from Montreal (4 giant orders throughout the summer). Just an aside...I missed it, so no photos, but I will share the recipe at the bottom of the post...Israeli Grilled Chicken was prepared the night before I arrived because they ran out of kosher bottled lemon juice they needed for the planned Greek Style Chicken and couldn't find any in any of the local stores....

...and how many chickens does it take for one dinner....85 chickens cut up!!!! and it would have been more but...45 campers were on an over-night. Not a piece was left!

Kosher kitchen means dairy and meat cannot be served at the same meal (or prepared together), all ingredients must have a kosher label, countertops are covered with butcher paper when preparing the meat meals. There are two sets of a gazillion dishes, pots, pans, utensils, fridges, sinks etc., to pay attention to (They can't come into contact with each other or they stop being kosher). Oh, and don't forget the special diet restrictions - lactose intolerance, celiac disease, other allergies and dietary issues to consider when coming up with the summer menus. This year there are 20 vegetarians, 20 who are lactose intolerant and others with different eating issues. Back in late Spring, Anne and Joanna got together to come up with some new recipes and to plan out the entire summer meal schedules so they can stock the kitchen adequately...and know exactly when to order what. I'm exhausted just thinking about the challenges. I need a cookie fix!

Which brings me back to Kathy, just as sweet as her cookies.

She makes 600-1000 chocolate chip cookies every single day - that's more than 10,000 for the summer (she works 6 days a week!) This year, she will also bake 48 individual birthday cakes for campers and staff, 55-60 challahs every Friday for shabbat dinner,

...close to 1000 muffins daily - chocolate chip, banana, and blueberry were on yesterday's to do list, plus 4 giant baking trays (17"x25"/42cm x 62cm) of never fail brownies. On Friday, because shabbat (the sabbath) starts Friday when the sun sets and ends at sundown Saturday, (there is no cooking on Saturday so breakfast and lunch are cold meals prepared on Friday), she also whips up 600 cinnamon buns that everyone loves for Saturday breakfast.

And I thought my KitchenAid was big! This monster mixer is mounted on the floor and comes up to my chin!!!

What else does a kitchen need to be able to cook up all those meals....

3 huge walk in fridges (size of small bedrooms) - one for dairy products, one for meat & one for produce; 3 huge double standup freezers; 2 store-size chest freezers for freezies, popsicles, etc., (holding 90 cases- 120 freezies per case) several deliveries throughout the summer, It would take 10 tubs ice cream just for one meal!; 3 deep fryers;

1 huge griddle (that's just the start of 300 pancakes for breakfast this morning)

Some of the 14 gas burners (here with 6 giant stock pots for lunch's mac & cheese...more later), what you can't see in this photo are the water spouts over burners so the staff can fill those giant stock pots with water right on the stove. By the way, a full pot of cooked pasta needs two strong people to carefully carry it to one of the many sinks and pour it out over the biggest colanders ever;

14 ovens that hold (altogether) 48 racks!

a bazillion pans, bowls, platters, ....

and of course a huge bbq grill for all kinds of I am with Carla, (who sometimes looks after Boaz when she's not busy in the kitchen) with some of the 400 hamburgers coming off the grill so we can start on that many hot dogs.

I'm sure your head is reeling from those numbers, but that was just to get your attention. Here's a snapshot of the day, which, by the way, was considered especially light since lots of kids were out of camp on overnights or day trips...

5AM Anne arrives to make sure the schedule and task lists prepared, each person assigned their roles, stations, etc. and to go through inventory to see what needs to be reordered.

6AM Morning crew shows up check out their tasks for the day and to begin prepping for breakfast and lunch. The campers and staff won't be up for breakfast for at least 3 hours!

But there are cereal containers to fill, bagels to be cut (300),

(just one of 2 shelves of cereal), condiments and sides to organize...

tomatoes to be sliced, cream cheese set in cups, eggs to boil, pancakes to make, lunches to be packed for the day trippers ...I need a coffee break and it's only 8AM with no sign of kids!

9AM Campers and staff finally arrive for breakfast and while some kitchen staff are managing that, others are starting on lunch...

Today it's Mac 'n Cheese, and you really do need to see the ballet in person, but here are some snapshots... (by the way...Gramma (not me this time, it's what everyone calls her. She's the one with the broken foot, which certainly doesn't seem to stop her) is making vegetable stew for those who won't be eating BBQ burgers tonight, although there will be veggie burgers. She's also whipping up the best coleslaw I've had in a long, long time, and salads for the salad bars) ...but back to mac 'n cheese...

Anne will use up all this cheddar cheese

That's Anne doing the grating

One of the staff using a huge paddle (you could use it to row a boat!) to stir one of the 5 giant pots of pasta

It takes two strong people to carry this very hot, very heavy pot to drain

"Only" 14 pans of Mac 'n Cheese being prepared for the oven (it's a light day)

Secret ingredient being mixed in after an hour in the oven

Dishing it up on platters - a precision event, too bad I didn't video it! That's Anne in the blue tank top supervising

Everyone loves Mac 'n Cheese...especially Bo

Before we start working on supper...there are a bazillion dishes to wash

tip of the iceberg

one of three dish washing stations

washer and dryer runs all day long!

In the meantime...watermelon ready for tonight's dessert.

Perfect ending for a bbq supper of hamburgers & hot dogs.

Before I share recipes...three things I must mention...
1. The kitchen was spotless and shining all day long and all containers were replenished and ready to start all over again before staff left for the day;
2. Anne spent an extra hour recording the daily much served, how much left (not much I assure you), weather conditions, staff hours;
3. My feet were throbbing and I was incredibly pooped - hat's off to the fantastic kitchen crew!!!!

And in case you want to whip up some mac'n cheese for 400 you'll need...
60lb/27kg macaroni pasta
3 litres/quarts) sour cream
20 litres milk
160 cups grated cheddar cheese
salt, pepper & onion powder...sprinkled over the top of each pan
enough slices of processed cheese to cover the top of each pan

Directions: (this job will take 6 of your friends)
1. Boil and drain the pasta...
2. Mix all the ingredients together except for the sliced cheese in 10 giant pans
3. Bake at 350F/170C for 1 hour
4. Hide the sliced macaroni in each of the pans and bake for another 30-45 minutes..or until the hungry hoard arrives for lunch.

And the ingredients for the Israeli-style Grilled Chicken...(Joanna's recipe, multiplied by a gazillion by Anne)

85 chickens, cut into serving sizes
20 cups of oil
2.5 cups turmeric
5 cups ground coriander
10 cups ground cumin
1 cup + 4tbsp paprika
1 cup +4 tbsp garlic powder
10 tbsp black pepper
2 cups salt
2.5 cups turmeric

Well, I'm pooped just writing about it. I do want to thank Anne and her equally amazing crew for letting me join in the kitchen fun. And I continue to be in awe of them all!!!

And, because I did share a pasta recipe...this will be my contribution to Presto Pasta Night. I'm hosting this week, so don't forget to email your entries to me at


kitchenetta said...

I never thought about what it took to run a camp, let alone a kosher one!

I am also impressed with how CLEAN the kitchen area is. Those look like good meals.

Do they still serve "bug juice"?

Ruth Daniels said...

It was certainly an eye opener! Busy, with quiet precision, lots of singing and joking, too. It never felt stressful!

As for bug juice...not sure. I only saw apple and cranberry right from the jugs. I did however meet the "buggies" (not sure why they're called that). Every table has them...the people who set, clear and bring out the platters of food during meals. And everyone gets to do it, including the Director.

Lulu Barbarian said...

Super interesting post, Ruth! The largest group I've made a meal for was about 40 people, and I sure could've used another oven. That wall full of ovens in your photo was something else!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wow, amazing! I've never cooked for big crowds... I'd love to experience that!



Johanna said...

fascinating post Ruth - hard to get my head around such quantities - made me think about when I had made largest quantities and probably was working in a kibbutz kitchen - although strangely kosher was never mentioned - I guess it was taken from granted in Israel!

Kurt Kuden said...

i like the cookies


what a big work

Nupur said...

I truly enjoyed reading this post, Ruth! It was like being there in that busy bustling kitchen.
At home, I have cooked for 20 people at the most (in the tiniest kitchen you can ever imagine) but in a community kitchen, I have cooked 100+ servings (of roasted vegetables, fruit salad, pasta etc) many times. I love big-scale cooking :)

Julia said...

Inspirational! I cooked for nearly 200 people at my wedding (with a lot of help!) Would love to do it again, for even more people. I wish I had an oven that big, just one of them.

Ruth Daniels said...

Thanks all for dropping by. It's always interesting to me as to who cooks what for how many.

That said, Julia...I'm awestruck and bow to you, cooking for 200 for your own wedding. That would definitely be the time I let someone else do the work!

kittie said...

Wow - this really is an eye-opener!

What an interested post Ruth. And lol at the recipes... I might go to a supermarket tonight and ask for 160 cups of cheese just to see what they say!

A scientist in the kitchen said...

WOW!!! This a lot of pasta and 20 cups of oil??? Whew!

Bargainista said...

Ruth, thanks for giving me a glimpse inside the Camp Kadimah kitchen. It's interesting to learn about what they've been eating and how it's prepared. The kitchen facilities have come along way since I was a camper in the days of Mrs. Goldstein.

AMDQC said...

Great article! Things certainly are different from my Camp days that were longer ago than I care to mention!

Anonymous said...

This article and the whole camp website this year have been great. I think my youngest girl eats better at camp than at thome. Can I get some of your recipes (for a family of 4) please.
They can be emailed to: Or, how else can I get them?
Many thanks
Faith Kashetsky

Anonymous said...

My son has been a camper two summers now and always comes home and says the meals and treat are great.. He's happy with the selection... thanks for all your hard work ladies and guys...