Part of my internship this summer involves experiencing the many different kinds of team building activities we provide. Last week’s adventure was a Sumptuous Small Plates Challenges, our classic cocktail-style event with a competitive twist. Parties That Cook really knows how to stage successful and entertaining corporate events, so I was excited for this particular event. Taking on the role of a guest, I was assigned to help with the Boston Cream Trifle with Strawberries. YUM.
When the guests strolled in, we promptly started pouring wine, sodas, and large glasses of water. It was a sweltering day, and these guest chefs needed to stay hydrated. We were at the Montclair Women’s Club near Stanford, and since we had over fifty guests, I really appreciated the shear amount of space!
Fifty people produce a lot of body heat, so we threw open the doors and windows and settled down to listen to Chef Heather present the preliminary demonstration and safety tips. She was full of witty one-liners like “Hot behind!” or “Hot item coming through!” These are two of our signature signals for moving hot objects. (In case you missed it: The first is a compliment, and the second compliments yourself.) Our guests found the demo very amusing and was visibly excited to get to work.
As my dessert team assembled around our cooking station, we surveyed the recipe. There were three parts to cover: cake, ganache, and custard. This wasn’t going to be easy, but having tasted other PTC recipes, I knew it’d be well worth the effort. We divided ourselves into three mini teams before heading off for the all-important hand washing.
Back at the station, a few of the guys began cracking the 24 eggs going into the cake, and it became apparent that a few people on my team had never baked before. Not a problem! Between the four of them, they figured out how to separate the yolks from the whites, all the while jokingly rating each other and rearranging their assembly line for efficiency. This was teamwork at its finest: Figure out what each person’s strength is, and use it to get the best results. Seeing that they had everything under control, I turned my attention to the custard.
Now, I love making pie. Last summer was essentially the “Summer of Pie” in my house. My parents gracefully put up with an endless troupe of teenagers coming through to eat the 3-4 pies I’d baked that week. Remembering that even I had quite a bit of difficulty with my first couple of attempts at custard, I was prepared for this group to run into the same issue: namely, getting the custard to thicken properly.
With measured ingredients in hand, we began to heat the cream and sugar as other teammates separated yolks from whites. We tempered the eggs, adding a bit of the cream before stirring it all back into the the cream mixture. This was all very new for my team, and I was excited to be part of it.
Of course, the ovens were being hogged by another group, so I ran off to the kitchen for some space and temperature negotiating. After a few minutes, we realized we’d forgotten to add the cornstarch. For those of you that don’t know, cornstarch is a thickening agent. We consulted Heather, and she said the eggs had done all the thickening on their own. First time, and this group was already having more success than I had! Hooray!!!
Aside from the cake baking s-l-o-w-l-y, everything went off without a hitch. We began assembling our dish in itty-bitty dessert cups with tiny tasting spoons you’d find at ice creameries. The presentation was cute, but we were rushing to get our dish onto the judging table before the clock ran out! Though we submitted our main platter to the judges in the nick of time, we were still assembling as teams began sampling the other dishes. The pressure was on!
And that’s when something really amazing happened. Folks from other teams came over and joined our assembly line until every last cup had been filled. This group of amazing people wouldn’t let anyone in their company fall behind.
I enjoy serving at Parties That Cook events, but I really loved being a participant. It was fun and exciting to watch people who had never baked, used an oven, cracked an egg, etc. be so willing to immerse themselves in the process. We laughed, worked together to fix mistakes, and even had a fun slam dunking egg shells into the trash. Cooking brings out a special joy, and this girl enjoyed every second of it.