Aroud this time of year, home cooks come to realize the logistical challenges of assembling a memorable meal for a big group of people. For the team at Kenai Catering, it’s just called another day at the office.
It’s 10 a.m. And Steve England is thinking lunch.
In less than two hours, all that food will have to be ready for hungry kids coming to the Kenai Merit Inn from Aurora Borealis. England and wife Bobbi operate Kenai Catering out of the Merit Inn, that’s the home turf, but they cater all over the place.
As a reporter, I’ve found my self at a lot of the events they work, and from the sounds of the kitchen, they seem to always be having the most fun. Steve says the crowd they’re serving today is the perfect size.
“We’ve worked at hotels with holiday buffets serving upwards of 500-600 people for Chistmas and Thanksgiving, upwards of 1,200 for Easter and Mother’s Day. So, we’ve got the high-volume knowledge that will help us grow.”
Steve handles most of the chef’s duties, and that’s what everyone calls him in the kitchen. Bobbi handles the details. Running down the list of 15 separate items that will be presented, from the roast turkey to the marshmallows for hot chocolate, Bobbi directs the staff.
“Do me a favor, we need to make sure we have backup hot chocolate, the mini marshmallows and the cider ready to go out, because these kids are going to hit it,” Bobbi tells one of her servers.
The Englands have been in kitchens and serving food for about three decades, in some way or another. Having their own catering business means they get to really perfect some of their favorite recipes, like today’s roasted turkey, but also experiment when a client is looking for something different. Bobbi says that in the food world, new and different is all relative.
“Since we’ve been on the Peninsula, we’ve been able to bring our experience at hotels to the area. Cafe rounds. They’re now known as cafe rounds, we called it baron of beef. It’s basically the hindquarter of a cow and the first time we did it down here, no one had seen it. And we were doing those for Sunday brunch at the Red Line hotels 25 years ago.”
With about forty five minutes until lunch, things are picking up in the kitchen. The mood gets a little more serious. Sara Williams is one of the servers. She’s getting stacks of cups and silverware together. She says setting up for events is an intricately timed dance.
“When you’re new, it’s a lot of rush around, rush around, rush around. But then, once you know the deal…somebody new would take two hours to set the room. We set the room in less than an hour.”
She says it’s a chore, but a chore they all seem to enjoy.
Just after the guests arrive, before the first plate has been filled, the power goes out.
This is where that home field advantage came in to play. Plenty of candles to light the tables, and the servers donned their LED headlamps to get through the meal. Actually, with all the food prepared and ready just as the power went out, it wasn’t a terribly big deal.
“It went fabulous! Monet’s serving fresh pumpkin pie and everybody loved the food. It didn’t affect us at all.”
There’s one Thanksgiving dinner out of the way. Now, for the leftovers.