Over the past week I might finally have gained the Atavan-esque calm I need to cook for almost 200 people. Thank you Coop “Cooking in Harmony” Planning Committee.
People love to trash-talk the Coop for its work camp ethics. But I think it's amazing, and the problem has less to do with its byzantine rules than its transparency.
Key Food, for example, somehow organizes its staff to stock the shelves and keep the place relatively clean - I don’t care how they do it, just as long as I find my favorite brand of frozen waffles. At the Coop everyone works, so everyone sees the cracks in the overwrought system, giving tons of fodder for snarky detractors. But really: great food at amazing prices for 2.75 hours of work a month is a decent trade off. Plus I’m more and more fond of this rule-ridden, lumbering, idealistic community.
At first, this cook-off felt like the chaos of creation. Where to start? But little by little, the group came together and so did a plan. We needed advice – and the Coop gave us Katy Sparks, chef/author (Sparks in the Kitchen) and Rosewater's owner/chef, John Tucker. We needed space, and there was the walk-in freezer, the sunny and congenial Coop kitchen. Organization: a schedule, a listserv, a spreadsheet (!) We needed support, and voila, enter the FTOP-bribed volunteers for prepping and shlepping. Best of all, I can bring my dear Karren and Pete to help, bless them. A whole world had taken shape.
To get extra prepped, last weekend I built some cooking-for-the masses muscle helping my cousin Diane make a 250-cupcake tower wedding cake and confections. She had created the dessert table for Jack’s bar mitzvah last January, so there isn't enough I can do to show my thanks.
Jack at Bar Mitzvah dessert table created by Diane (you can see her in the mirror)
Photo by Julia Smith.
Under D's direction, I powerbaked deep into the night, aswirl in sugar, along with her husband my (real) cousin Greg and our dear friend Jasmine. Between batches, we caught Steve Colbert's testimony, took runs for confectioner’s sugar, sang loudly to good/bad 80s rock, and debated whether sugar pearls belonged on a cake themed for surfer dude newlyweds. It reminded me of cooking with my Mom, with Billy Joel replacing Maurice Chevalier.
By 1 am we were hopped up on buttercream icing and, with the giddy intensity that large quantities of sugar can bring on, we were uber-admiring of the masterpiece. If Diane lets me, I'll post a photo next time.
This coming Sunday, I'll be elbow deep in cilantro and red pepper, not licking spoons. Instead of sifting and dancing I’ll be dicing up mounds of lemons. I might have to wear a hair net. But if even if they let us blast Flock of Seagulls, I couldn't feel more at home.