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Daily themes and menus

Here we can discuss and make suggestions for daily themes for the food and which recipes we can use for the menus within each theme. Please note that we have nearly full freedom in deciding what theme we choose for a day, but when it comes to individual recipes, we are bound by three factors:

  • the cooking facilities we have available
  • how well recipes scale up to large quantities
  • price and availability of ingredients

This means that certain things which seem 'normal' or 'easy' to people used to cooking for small groups are highly impractical when considering cooking for such a large group. A quick overview of these factors and the limitations they impose:

Cooking facilities

Our facilities are more than capable of cooking for 250+ participants. We expect to have an ex-army field kitchen as well as the large indoor kitchen in the camp house available to us. The field kitchen consists of four large cauldrons, two heated by direct heat, the other two heated by an oil bath allowing for more careful cooking. We also have 90l barrels in which food can be kept hot and a single large burner which can either heat a 1m20 wok or a frying plate. With a bit of luck we will have a "rice cooker" available, which is basically a huge sieve that can be hung into one of the cauldrons to boil the rice and then lift it out without the water. Indoors we have six gas burners and two ovens. The burners are efficient and can be used with large saucepans. Unfortunately only one of the ovens works and its performance is rather lackluster - it took over half an hour at maximum power to bake three trays of pre-cooked bread which should be ready in 10 minutes in a pre-heated oven. We also have a campfire site. It is large enough to be potentially usefull in cookery, but not large enough to allow hundreds of people to barbecue their food themselves.

These facilities offer considerable opportunity to heat things up rapidly, but the field kitchen is not designed for subtlety. Any recipes should be robust, so not dependent on fine control of temperature. We do not have a decent oven, and although we can (stir)fry food, we do not have large frying pans in which we can keep whole dishes. Possibly we can roast a whole animal carcass over the campfire, but that aside its usefulness is limited. Remember that things that don't need to be cooked are ideal - salads etc.

Scaling recipes

Think of something easy and simple to cook. Take pancakes: mixing the batter takes maybe five minutes, then you need about three minutes per pancake, so you can feed 4 people two pancakes each in 29 minutes. Sounds easy. Now do that for 25 people (think of the eth-0 crew). It takes 2.5 hours. Now do it for 300 people. It will take 30 hours... Even if you were able to have ten people all continuously cooking pancakes simultaneously (which you can't with our facilities), you still need three hours and all you have given people is two simple pancakes.

Compare that to making chili con carne. Cooking for 4 people, you spend 5 minutes slicing onions and garlic, 5 minutes frying onions and browning the meat, then another 5 minutes after adding beans and stock to bring it to the boil, and 30 minutes to stew. If you're a decent cook, you do the rice simultaneously. So that takes 45 minutes for 4 people. Sounds worse than the pancakes? Then scale it up to 25 people. We did that at the winter-LAN. Cutting everything took maybe 30 minutes, frying onions and browning meat 10 minutes, 20 minutes bringing it all to the boil and 30 minutes to stew. 1h20 minutes for 25 people is better than the pancakes. What about 300 people? I'd guess not much longer - maybe an hour for cutting the ingredients, still only 10 minutes for the browning of the onions and meat (large wok!), 30 minutes bringing it to the boil and 30 minutes to stew. Hey presto, 300 people fed in 2h10 minutes, less time than it takes to feed 25 pancakes. That is what is meant by a recipe that scales well.

There are also other scaling issues. Some food is very sensitive to timing or temperature and becomes very difficult to manage in very large cooking vessels. Pasta is notorious for that- it is common for the macaroni on top to be hard and raw, a small layer underneath to be perfect, underneath that a large layer of mushy sludge and usually blackened stuff on the bottom, with a lovely burnt flavor spread through all the pasta. Admittedly this is a symptom of putting too much pasta in too little water, but even if you have enough water, when we're talking tens of kilogrammes of pasta at once, it's hellishly difficult to get it all in to the same, correct condition at once.

So to summarize, consider both the human effort and the food quality when thinking about scaling.

Price and availability of ingredients

Price is a simple factor. A week-long LAN party is expensive enough at the best of times. People do not want to pay restaurant prices for a week. Fortunately price actually forces us to buy simple ingredients in bulk, which is what we want to do anyway. Just don't expect we can do blinis with caviar or deviled lobster. Availability may also be an issue. Wieringerwerf is not exactly the center of the universe. Potatoes aren't going to be a problem, but for more exotic foods it might be necessary to go to Beverwijk. This needn't be a show-stopper, but it does bear careful consideration and planning.

Cultural considerations

eth-0 wants to attract a broader audience than just the Dutch. Something to bear in mind is that there are cultural differences to food, as anyone who has lived in another country well knows. There are two things international visitors typically comment on about Dutch food, and both are negative:

  • the Dutch boil ingredients to death and mash them together like baby food (stamppot, hutspot)
  • Dutch breakfast and lunch don't deserve the word "meal" and consist of dry bread with extremely thinly sliced meat or cheese. A Dutch "luxury" lunch consists of the same, but with more expensive (but still extremely thinly sliced) meat.

One should not underestimate how strongly these are felt by foreign visitors. Even Belgians consider what passes for a Dutch lunch to be a symbol of lack of hospitality. Fortunately there are many alternatives to dry bread with sliced cheap stuff that are no more expensive, fit in well with daily themes and are much more satisfying. We would do well to explore these alternatives if we want our non-Dutch guests to return.

Potential themes

  • 'Local' food - all ingredients to be sourced within 25km
  • Dutch traditional - something like stoofvlees or braadworst
  • Indian - think of what we ate the first day of the winter LAN. Scales perfectly
  • Vegetarian - meat is good, but we should realize food can be fine without it too
  • Turkish - there's more from Anatolia than just kebab
  • Fish - fish is healthy and tasty, but many people don't eat it regularly. Time to change that.
  • Biblical - eat what Moses or Jesus might have eaten.
  • Fusion - West meets East
  • Primitive - whole dead animal on spit over camp fire, cutting meat off with a sword