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Got a job as a 'cook' in a 'restaurant' - Need proven restaurants for a crowd!

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I just got a part time job as a cook in an art academy (It's secretly open to the public but non-profit, so it's only a semi-restaurant). I have a fair amount of home cooking experience, but I'm used to having hours and hours to prepare a meal and plenty of time to look up answers online. Now I only have 2ish hours to prepare a meal for 20-30 people.

I would LOVE to get recipes you've made before and have proven to be crowd-pleasers.
Criteria are A) relatively quick to make B) are either vegetarian or rely on cheaper types of meat and C) not soups (there's always a separate soup). Meals there are usually a main + one or two side dishes.

Many thanks in advance! I've always gotten great recs from this board before :)

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  1. What type of cooking equipment do you have to use?
    (ie - grill, griddle, oven, ?? burners, etc)
    What kind of refrigeration is available? (walk-in freezer/fridge, reach in, etc)

    1 Reply
    1. re: hannaone

      It's a pretty well equipped kitchen. Giant 6 burner gas stove and oven, heavy-duty appliances like a giant food processor, blender, juicer (don't know if they have a stand mixer or not, didn't look for one during my 'audition'). There's 3 or 4 standard home-kitchen refrigerators. Huge amounts of pots, pans, and kitchen utensils scattered all around.

    2. My first thoughts go to things like baked ziti or baked spaghetti, and there are all sorts of delicious curries that can be served over rice. However, I don't have recipes for a crowd like that, but that's where I'd start looking.

      1. I used to cater lunches for a law firm. They mostly liked pasta dishes, chili, sides of poached salmon (remember to take out _all_ the bones), stews, braises, sauteed chunks of boneless/skinless chicken breasts served lots of different ways (curried was probably most popular), really good salad ingredients and dressings that didn't come out of those huge plastic jugs, salsa with chips or different chicken preparations, plus lots of stuff I would read about and want to try.

        Basically, it was one hot dish, plus rice or pasta, plus vegetable sides. I tried always to have a nice dish for vegetarians so they wouldn't feel like "oh, he only makes good stuff for the meat eaters," but I didn't know about tofu or seitan those days. Whole Foods was probably still a single store in Austin.

        Oh, and dessert. Everyone loved dessert. I didn't do all the desserts, but I did some of them. It's really easy to make bars in either full or half sheet pans. You can make pizza in sheet pans.

        I was never trained as a chef, so it was kind of seat-of-the-pants, but it was usually good food. If you're knowledgeable enough about food that they hired you, I am sure you're up to the task. What are some of your favorite things to eat? Can you make enough of them, plus complementary sides, for 20-30 people? Do you have salad taken care of? Vegetarian offerings? Are there recipes you've always wanted to try but you never really had enough of a crowd?

        For me, it was some of the most fun cooking I've ever done.

        1. I used to cook for a similar-sized group on a fairly regular basis. Your two main challenges are going to be coming up with a wide enough variety of recipes to keep people interested and working within the time allotted.

          You may be able to address the first issue by fudging the second. For example, lasagna is always a crowd pleaser, but preparing enough for 20-30 people in a couple of hours can be a challenge. So consider making the sauce along with whatever you're serving on Day 1, then tossing it in the fridge. That leaves your time on Day 2 available for assembly and baking.

          Besides lasagna, things that tend to be popular are Thai chicken curry (use thigh meat, lots of veggies, and a good commercial curry paste such as Mae Ploy), pulled pork sandwiches (a big pressure cooker can make these happen in a hurry), chili (ditto), and casseroles of all kinds (chow.com is currently running a photo spread of 16 of 'em - http://www.chow.com/galleries/131/16-...).

          Go seasonal when appropriate - turkey and dressing near Thanksgiving (partially debone the turkey beforehand so it will cook within your time limit) and corned beef and cabbage for St. Pat's. And speaking of seasonality, if you're also responsible for the shopping, be flexible and take advantage of whatever bargains are available at the moment. For example, corned beef usually costs half as much in March as it does the rest of the year.

          Things to avoid are anything that needs to be cooked to order or served immediately. Stir fries, deep-fried foods, steaks and chops - it's hard to do any of them well for a crowd.

          Most importantly, pay attention to your audience. See what they like and don't like. Take suggestions, but make sure you can implement them well before trying them out on your diners. And understand that there is going to be a range of opinions - your job depends on pleasing the crowd, but you can't please all the people all the time.

          Good luck!!!

          1. How fun!! I cook for 27-35 frat kids several times weekly, and the way it's worked best for us is to have a "set" menu and work around that: Monday is generally whatever meat is on sale (london broil, french dip sandwiches), Tuesday is Taco tues. which can encompass anything from a taco bar to chili and cornbread to enchiladas suizas: Weds. is generally a good casserole of some type (stroganoff, stew), Thursday is chicken prepared however (peanut sauce, curry, and teriyaki and sweet/sour are good options; also cacciatore) and Friday's the grab bag: I've done everything from a hotdog bar to a pulled pork/slaw/beans meal. Just give yourself a framework about the main ingredient (the main protein purchase, which will be the bulk of your budget) and when you figure that out your options will become clearer. Also, ask for suggestions, maybe on a blackboard, and see what you can work in. Enjoy yourself. People love the person who cooks for them.