Monday, March 5, 2012

Toronto Underground Market March 2012 Installment

So where to begin? Too much prep and not enough manpower was my first hurdle. I pre-made 150 cod fish cakes and 180 zucchini fritters on Friday. It took me ten hours solo. At the booth, it took about one and a half minutes to fry, so the prep was worth it.

The thick cut chips were another story altogether. I peeled 105 lbs of potatoes in about 45 minutes. I think that must be a record somewhere. My first veg peeler was mangled about half way through, but I brought a back up. Then I had to chip them all, but being a non-commercial model, the chipper only allows a certain size of potato, so I had to re-size them manually with a knife  before chipping. Then I had to poach in water. This was where the real problem presented itself - it took forever. Then I had to poach them in the oil before storing. Somewhere in all of that I also needed to make a homemade mayonnaise for the tartar sauce, the green pea pesto, an herb-horseradish yogurt dip and a Welsh cheddar sauce. Oh yeah, I had to make a radish remoulade and fry up bacon and leeks. Well folks, I did it again. Way too much to do and not enough time to do it (also with a freakish need to try to maintain as high a quality as possible to the point of getting depressed if the level of crispiness in a zucchini fritter isn't to my satisfaction). 

Some helpful friends joined me at the eleventh hour and the pace picked up.  Potato chipping started moving quickly and the odds were turning in our favour. At the exact moment that the market opened, I was assembled at my booth and the deep fryer was hot and ready to go. Given the way the last market started, I consider this  a small triumph. Problem was - it was so cold that the crowds were thin. Eventually it picked up and we got thick into the weeds with back orders only to have the fryer die on me. Sigh.



Getting the hang of the fryer. Note the t-shirt in -10 degree weather

Me and helper Ian setting up the booth


My tireless brigade, Ian, Susan and Bruce (who was busy back in the kitchen and missed the photo op)

So there's no sense crying over spilled milk. We had a mild winter all year and one of the coldest three days of the year happened to fall whilst I was trying to cook outdoors. Other vendors suffered the same problems, but there were a few of us in the direct wind, which started to pick up about two hours into the market. Behind me there were large vinyl curtains, used in better weather as a sun shield/crowd divider. Right in front of this curtain was my baker's rack (loaded with food ready to be fried) and in front of the baker rack was me. A really good gust picked up and pushed this large curtain/divider forward, which in turn caused the baker's rack to start to tip over onto me. In an unfortunate twist of fate, it occurred at the time I was 'scorching' one of the Welsh rarebit fry-ups with the blow torch. In effort to stop the rack from falling over, the blow torch somehow ended up pointing back at me. Luckily I was wearing a heavy wool sweater, or things could have been a lot worse. So went this crazy night.

The only casualty besides a small piece of my soul was this wool sweater
I wish I had pictures of the lineup at our booth or the cooking action, but at that point cell phone cameras were failing by way of the cold (thus some of the blurriness above). I got good reviews on the fry-up dish. There was some kind of chemical reaction between the high intensity heat of the blow torch flame and the cheddar sauce along with that bacon-leek combo that people really went for.

Many lessons learned, but now I'm really looking forward to cooking for four people and not four hundred. I think I'll make sheppard's pie tonight.

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