Tag team building

Marketing Intern Turned Guest Participates at Corporate Cooking Competition

Whisk and ChocolatePart 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.

Pies!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!!!

Chocolate and StrawberriesAside 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.

The Kitchen Challenge: A Mix Between Iron Chef and The Apprentice

Being a part of the Parties That Cook family means seeing and participating in the entire event process. Though I will primarily be working in the office this summer, I need to understand exactly what our fabulous chefs, sous chefs, servers, and dishwashers experience every day during our events.

On my second day at PTC, I was the server at a Kitchen Challenge corporate event. What is a Kitchen Challenge, you say? This high energy culinary battle walks the line between Iron Chef and The Apprentice. And let me tell you, if you haven’t yet been to a Parties That Cook event, get to one. STAT.

Let’s break it down.

The Set Up: We loaded the van and headed off along the Coastal Highway (quite the treat for a girl from the middle of the country) to one of the most gorgeous spaces I have ever seen. Our venue was Cypress Meadows, a modern building with stunning views and superior facilities. The patio looks off into a sweeping view of flowers and provides an enticing glimpse of the ocean just beyond the meadow. If this isn’t bliss, I’m not sure what could possibly measure up. It was soon time to stop smelling the roses, however, as we had a job to do. In the efficient manner of a well-oiled machine, we unloaded and set up for the incoming corporate group with no mishaps beyond a few missing napkins. Even the mystery of the misplaced napkins was quickly resolved by a hasty call to headquarters. Crisis averted. Then the real fun began.

As our guests trickled in, it was obvious who was friends with whom and who didn’t know the others as well. Clearly, this was a group that would benefit from being forced out of their comfort zones and into some team building activities. After everyone “aproned up”, they listened to Heather (our Lead Chef) go over the basics. No throwing knives (this isn’t a Ninja exercise), watch out for hot objects, these are the rules… Ready… Set… Go!

The Game: Teams are given sixty minutes to create a delicious meal that includes a specific protein, starch, and a vegetable. (Not to worry, there was a dessert, too. But unlike the other courses, we provide a recipe for the sweet finale.) The real challenge is that teams must work together, utilizing skills, ideas, and ingredients from the pantry to concoct something award-worthy. Final dishes are judged on creativity, taste, and the teamwork observed during the cooking process. With secret ingredients of chicken, green beans, and quinoa, I watched teams play on their favorite tastes and skills to come up with an appetizing menu.

I spent my time floating between stations, mingling, playing my hand at paparazzi, and helping keep the surfaces clear. What impressed me most was how even the shyest members of the group were soon smiling and laughing over mistakes while simultaneously trying to figure out solutions. The rice is boiling over?! You turn down the heat while I remove the pot until the water simmers down a bit. You love bacon?!? Ok, if you cook it up, we’ll figure out a way to work it into the dish as garnish! These are only some of the ways I watched these teams bond and listen to each other.

Both teams made our delectable Forbidden Rice Pudding with Mango and Toasted Sesame Praline for dessert. Guests did a spectacular job making sure the Praline was thin and gloriously crispy while the rice pudding’s deep purple colors and muted sweetness complimented the tart, yellow mango. Team 1 came up with an impressive meal: Quinoa with chopped vegetables (carrots, bell peppers, onions, green beans), which reminded me of fried rice, and grilled chicken with a flavorful rub. Team 2 was not to be outdone: Quinoa with nuts and green onions, chicken cooked in wine with mushrooms and onions, and steamed carrots and green beans.

The Finale: As the two teams sat down to enjoy their meal together, PTC chefs judged the submissions. Guests swelled with pride upon first bite, and there was no shortage of playful teasing. This is exactly what Parties That Cook is all about. So much of positive interaction occurs in and around the kitchen, and by helping companies connect into that space we help them draw out the best of their employees. It was amazing to see PTC in action, and I cannot wait to experience more events!