While today isn’t Foodie Friday, it is a major food day here at the world headquarters.
Cooking in earnest for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving feast begins. With that in mind, I want to revisit a post I did almost five years ago that talks about how one gets a massive project – dinner for 20+ – completed on time with all dishes hot. As I said at the time, Thanksgiving‘s biggest challenge is time.
“Time?” you’re thinking, “that’s the biggest challenge?” I’m sure you could put together a list of this week’s challenges which would contain items such as where to stash all the coats, how to fit 25 people around a table made for 12, and how to step over Uncle Elmer to get to the bathroom without waking him up. However, as the conductor of the Thanksgiving orchestra around old Rancho Deluxe here, let me assure you that the primary challenge of the day is delivering all 39 items on the menu to the table at the same time, appropriately hot or cold as required.
The key to the entire day is a timed checklist. Seriously. I take an enormous amount of crap from everyone who sees mine each year until they realize that the meal is being served at exactly the time requested by the Mrs. which happens to coincide nicely with halftime of the football game. This list is created by using back timing – something TV and radio producers do all the time. Beginning at the desired end time and factoring in the availability of necessary facilities (ovens, stove burners, etc.), you work backwards and piece together the time required for each dish until you have a road map. Anything I can knock off ahead of time (baking, prepping all the dressings, parboiling vegetables) is done up to 24 hours in advance. It even gets down to resting time for the turkeys before carving and the time it takes for the oil to heat up in the fryer. In fact, we started frying the turkeys in part because it frees up an oven late in the process. This sounds like a silly bit of overkill to get the meal ready, but it prevents you from leaving the soup in the refrigerator or forgetting you were serving carrots and finding a 20lb bag the next morning. Which is the business point as well.
Any project needs to start at the end and work backwards. You take into account the resources you need along with the human resources to produce the final product. You need to be honest about the time each step will take and once you’ve written each element down along with its appropriate time block you need to keep checking the list to be sure you’re on time every step of the way. My list even has lunch and shower time scheduled so nothing is overlooked.
I’d be happy to share my list with you but it really would only help you with your dinner a bit. The cooking facilities here are pretty damn good although we spent the money on them instead of indoor toilets (kidding). As with every project, you have to tie your back-timed list to the list of desired outcomes, the facilities you have available to you, and your own skills, whether in the kitchen or in the office.