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feeding a crowd

i’ve been distracted over the past few weeks – back in march i agreed to do the catering (savoury only, cakes were left to more talented bakers than me) for a fundraising event that my aunt, vicky, was organising. the fundraiser was to support the bosom pals appeal at southend hospital, after the hospital looked after my grandma when she had breast cancer last year.

the fundraiser was yesterday, 3 july, and given its proximity to 4 july we decided on an american diner theme with a menu of:


beef burgers

veggie burgers

beef chilli

veggie chilli

hot dogs

potato wedges


having said yes and decided on a menu i pushed this out of my mind until late may, when vicky told me we were expecting 150 people. twice the number we’d originally discussed…

working out how many of each item we needed was a bit of a guessing game and we changed our mind several times, including the removal of ribs and coleslaw from our original menu - the ribs were too expensive and we decided that the coleslaw was a lot of effort given salad is often the last thing to go, even when people aren’t paying for their food.

having scaled up the recipes and worked out a shopping plan i came up with a cooking schedule that meant i could do things in stages and hopefully avoid a last minute panic or late night cookathon.

i started with the chilli, using the catering-size pans i borrowed from my friend suzette. on day one i made the beef chilli - i used my usual recipe but added tinned tomatoes to bulk it out (i wanted to maximise the profit margins so we could donate as much money as possible) and make it more like the chilli people would probably be expecting.

on day two i made the fried onions for the hot dogs (peeling a 10kg bag of onions wasn’t much fun, thankfully i could slice them with my food processor) and made the base of my veggie chilli – i wanted to use roasted aubergines and red peppers so the chilli wasn’t just about the beans, but was worried that these wouldn’t freeze well, which is why i just made the tomatoey sauce, adding the beans so they’d take on the flavour of the spices. this, plus the onions and beef chilli were stored in a friend’s freezer (thank you fran).

days three and four of my preparation were the two days before the fundraiser, so i could avoid freezing these final items (in case we didn’t sell everything so could reduce wastage). on day three i made the veggie burgers. these weren’t really veggie burgers, instead i decided to do roasted portobello mushrooms and aubergine slices which i then griddled to give them a bit of a smokey flavour. these were going to be layered up with griddled halloumi cheese and fresh pesto.

the portobellos were roasted with garlic, thyme and smoked salt while the aubergines were brushed with olive oil and a very small amount of smoked paprika. i also roasted the aubergines and red peppers for the veggie chilli and then grilled the bacon, which was an optional extra for our burgers.

day four was burger-making day. i used the jamie oliver elvis burger recipe and 10kg of beef resulted in 90 burgers, which david helped me stack, separated with greaseproof paper, in bags of five. i also griddled the halloumi which was a smokey affair!

day five, sunday, was d-day – diner day! david and i arrived at the venue just before nine and did the final preparation – assembling the veggie chilli, heating both batches of chilli, slicing tomatoes for the burgers, cleaning lettuce for the burgers, making the wedges and the sour cream and chive dip which accompanied them, grating cheese for the chilli (this was served in bowls with a handful of tortilla crisps, cheese and sour cream) plus getting the diner set up.

thankfully we had help – another david was in charge of the bbqs and my friends helen and judy got stuck in, both with the food prep and throughout the day (again, thank you, it would have been a disaster without you).

people started arriving just after noon and we finished serving around 6pm, having seen six live music acts, a doughnut eating competition and lots of people enjoying the sunshine, face-painting, cakes, pimms, bouncy castle, coconut shy, tombola, raffle and auction.

we sold out of everything except a final portion of veggie chilli. the beef burgers were most popular and we could easily have sold more, but when we ran out people happily moved onto the hot dogs and beef chilli. encouraging hardened carnivores to try the veggie burgers and veggie chilli was less easy!

we think around 300 people turned up over the course of the afternoon and on the food side, we served up 12kg of beef chilli, 8kg veggie chilli, 2.5kg roasted onions, 90 beef burgers, 20 veggie burgers 72 hot dogs and a dozen trays of wedges – only the hot dogs and (both types of) buns were not homemade. the cake stall also sold out - sadly i didn’t get any photos of that but do want to thank my friends helen and linda for their contributions.

we took just under £600 and at the moment it’s looking liked the event raised over £2,000, once all the costs are taken into account. so many people gave their time, energy and skills for free and, under the guidance of vicky, frank, thomas and rachel (the organising committee), together we created a wonderfully successful fundraising afternoon.

if you’d like to support the bosom pals appeal, please make your donation here.


Reader Comments (4)

So much effort and it was all worth it for such a good cause.
Well done everyone!
July 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermaureen
this looks great abby - a huge effort. did you have any disasters or did it all go smoothly?
July 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterann
Cooking for a crowd certainly has it's challlenges!!! You did a great job!!!
July 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbellini
hi ann - it definitely wasn't plain sailing. we struggled to get the burgers cooked as quickly as we needed, which wasn't helped by one of the bbqs going out partway through teh afternoon. thankfully helen and judy set up a production line it the kitchen to pre-cook the remaining burgers so they didn't need as long on the bbq.

i think that was the only disaster!
July 7, 2011 | Registered Commenterabby

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