FORE! 🏌

Two words— GOLF TOURNAMENT. I leave Indiana, where I was doing VIP meals for Mecum auto auction straight to Dallas, TX for the Colonial Invitational. 

6am flight, 1 layover, and a 2.5 hour wait for my “shuttle” to the golf course. I arrive at the golf course, sweaty, exhausted, and mind blown. I’ve only done Toruk and now 1 week of another large event in the company, the auto auction. Now I’m participating in an event that will sell more than $300k in food a day. 

How bad can this be? Well the cooking is done in a tent with VIP events chef, concessions chef, and my team which does the media, volunteer, and a few VIP events throughout the week. It’s so hot and humid under that tent that the 90 degree sunshine feels refreshing. 

I’m helping push out a party of 600 with fancy plated appetizers and buffet style entrées (cedar plank salmon and roasted lamb racks). I keep asking for direction and who needs help, I’ve only arrived about an hour ago and I am just floating around helping where it needs to be done. It’s getting late — 830 now. 

I walk over to the “kitchen”area and realize my team has left for the day. No call, text, or smoke signal to say they are leaving. I’m now stuck at the venue until this VIP party is over. I wouldn’t care if I didn’t have to be back at 0430. 

I arrive at the hotel, check into my room and realize there are suitcases and clothes in my room?!?! WHAT? I call the front desk and ask why I’m in the wrong room. The receptionist replies 

Oh I’m sorry Ms. Irwin everyone has roommates with your group reservation.

ROOMMATE?! No. This is a lie. This whole day is a lie. I don’t even know her name. I jump in the shower, lay my clothes out and pass out. I haven’t shared a hotel room with anyone .. EVER. She turns out to be a sweet girl from Canada on her 2nd day working for the company.

The next few days are groundhog days. 430am-7pm EVERY DAY. Then the rain comes. Lots of rain…. Pouring… The golf cart ride to the kitchen tent is about 7-9 minutes without rain. The ground outside the tent is muddy, dirty and a mix of overflowing dish water and who knows what. The refrigerated trucks (all 3 of them) are outside the tent and at the top of a very steep plywood ramp. Every time we need something we have to go into the rain and mud and up the ramp trying not to fall. 

Well… You guessed it. I fell. I slipped and slid 1/2 way down the ramp. I was talking shit to the guy organizing the trucks, so maybe it was karma. Well the ramp is filthy! Muddy, slimy, smelly. I refuse to stand up until someone comes over with a hose and sprays the mud from my backside. As I’m being sprayed down I notice there are a few phones out and I’m being recorded, snapchatted, and these videos are going out to everyone. I’m embarrassed (just a little). 

This is golf. Golf is NOT cirque. Golf is not the family you travel with, but a group of mixed individuals from different venues, interns, volunteers, temp workers, and all of us are working nonstop. So hard that if we sit down we fall asleep. An intern in my kitchen fell asleep on the toilet. I fell asleep on a weight/tie down for the tent (there are pictures of this too). 

The last day of the tournament was the longest. Same amount of cooking paired with cleaning and breaking down of equipment and cleaning all 3 refrigerated trucks. Around 730 we are done and ready to leave! Someone comes by and tells us we have to clean the tent where Dean and DeLuca was cooking. WHAT?! 

We walk over to their tent, they were the sponsors of the tournament. (If you’re not familiar they are a super upscale grocery and fresh market.) They left their kitchen a mess! Opened the back of their USFOODS truck and just pushed the leftover food onto the ground. Left trash everywhere in the kitchen, pans full of cooked food in the coolers, and brand new equipment looking like it has been used for years. 

It was our last task so we worked quickly to get everything back in order and organized. Cleaned the equipment, swept the floors, took the trash out. As soon as we were tying the last bag of trash the chef of Dean and DeLuca comes over to apologize. I have to walk away before I say something I’ll regret. 

Back to the hotel to pack before my 7am flight to Providence. I’m rejoining cirque tomorrow!! I never felt so much excitement to leave an event/job. It was an experience. One for the books. I suggested to send everyone to a golf tournament and when they come back they will appreciate the job we have on cirque. 

Concession stand
map of the course. I got lost more than once.
those headphones were a life saver!

SOLD to number 657! 

Indianapolis. Home of the Indy 500 and well I’m not quite sure what else. This week flew by! Mecum auto auction was something unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Cars that make me want to be a collector of all things of the 1940-1960s. Prestigious cars in beautiful condition selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars! Where do all these bidders come from? 

I landed Monday afternoon and met up with 2 other guest chefs from NYC. Of course I’m always a little anxious about working with other chefs, we all have terrible tempers and egos at some point. First assignment was to run the VIP meet and greet with passed hordourves. We meshed well went over prep lists and managed to work well together! Success ✔️

The rest of the week would be the same. Breakfast for 50 and Lunch for 160 (realistically they ate for 500). That’s it…. Nope. Every day there is a “guest request” for something obscure. Salads for the lunch buffet… Ok got it. Togo salads for the ladies running the auction office with items that aren’t in the building… Ok got it, run to Restaurant Depot. VIP plated lunch 2 hours earlier than planned.. Ok got it. Box lunches every day with additional items not listed on the contract?! NO…..PROBLEM! Thankfully the team that was picked for this event understood the task and we communicated to get it done. 

The FOH person assigned to my team was lovingly called “BABY”. He is 20 years old and has never worked more than 25 hours per week. He was in for the ride of his life. After the first breakfast was served his head was spinning! I could see the look of terror in his eyes. He headed to lunch to set up for chicken Parmesan and pasta salad day. We prepared close to 30 pans of chicken. He called back on the radio at 1225 saying he was putting up his last pan of chicken. This instantly created panic among us…. There’s no more ready to use chicken in the building, no breadcrumbs ready, no egg wash ready and we are only 25 minutes into lunch! 

Let me double check!!! 

I ran down to the lobby lunch area and saw “baby” sweating and panicking telling me that we didn’t have enough food. I opened the bottom half of the hot box and revealed 28 more pans of chicken. At this point I lost all trust I had in him. He was with me for the rest of the week and we were going to get him up to speed on this catering thing. 

Concessions for events like the Mecum auction are crazy! It’s a whole-nother beast! They make everything there from the General Tsos chicken to the beer cheese for pretzels. Amazing. It’s organized chaos…. As most kitchens are. 

I did have a few minutes to watch the auction. Look at the cars, and see how other departments/divisions work. 


The highest selling car was a Shelby. It went for $1,100,000.00 HOW?! Who?! I watched the auction for this car and the man who bought it stood up in his seat and yelled the price he wanted to pay. The crowd fell silent and the auctioneer asked for higher bidders, no one came forward. 


I am off tomorrow so I’m planning on exploring the city! I’ve signed up for a scavenger hunt and maybe even a ride on a gondola! 
Next stop Dean and DeLuca Invitational Golf Tournament in Dallas! 
Until next week! 

The Show Must Go On

Week 3 is finally under my belt. It wasn’t without bumps, bruises, and a few cuts. It seems like a piece of cake meshing with 4 teammates but it’s not. It’s not easy to work 12-14 hours a day along side the same people and not get annoyed, upset, or hurt. Most of the time it’s beneficial to reflect, to take a moment and realize that there is a bigger picture. 

The bigger picture is that we are all here to learn and grow. We all have strengths and weaknesses. It is the common human default to cover our weaknesses and pretend that they don’t exist. With time the weaknesses are exposed, lies are uncovered and mistakes are made. Does that mean it’s the end of the world NO! 

What’s the quote about being as good as their weakest player? Well, I don’t believe this for a minute! It’s about putting the right players in the right position of the game. It’s about exaggerating the strengths of our team. We wouldn’t be successful if we each played in the weak spot. 

Ohio was a time to learn. The family vibe still exists, we still bicker at work and then crush beers at the dive bar around the corner as soon as the kitchen is cleaned up. Grudges are erased by sharing hilarious stories of the day or reminiscing past ones. We love to laugh, to recall moments that split our sides, made our eyes water and some of us pee our pants.  We are growing. 

I’m growing, my team is growing, and we are putting out really awesome food. Some days are better than others. Some days we get slaps on the back for meals that make the men and women of the show feel cozy. 

Last week it was the BBQ day: brisket, pork shoulder, 3 sauces, potato salad, collard greens, and of course corn bread. It was amazing. But what’s better than a belly full of food made with love? Being the culinary team that put it together and having the cast and crew swing by and tell you how amazing it was. Try wiping that smile off your face. 

This week? The brunch! Smoked salmon is always requested. This week the fish monger refused to sell us 60 lbs of salmon because “dude this is a retail sale store. We can’t sell you all our salmon.” So we made due. We got the next best salmon and made bruschetta. It was amazing. Then we created a French toast bread pudding with maple caramel sauce. To top it all off we finished with breakfast pizzas featuring the best cured meats and cheeses. 

The rest of my team is headed to Canada. I don’t have my work visa yet so I’ll be continuing my travling stateside. Our company is the biggest touring catering company and I’ll be working an upscale Auto Auction in Indiana followed by a golf tournament in Dallas. I can’t complain! It’s still cold up in Canada anyway! 

Until next week!

I quit my job and joined the circus…. 🎪🎭

That was my opening line at a Customer Appreciation Day party in the booming town of Burgaw, NC. (Population 3,700 ⬅️ yes that’s all.) My family and my self are very well rounded and very well traveled individuals, so to us this was a joke. Little did I know certain individuals thought I was literally joining Barnum and Bailey’s traveling circus.

Half way through my rounds of saying hello to those who work for my father on our farm and those who supply feed and goods for our animals I notice a lady, with a freshly birthed child strapped to her, gawking at me. She slowly approaches me and asks

“So are you going to be training the animals or juggling knives? “

I giggle a little thinking a family friend sent her over to talk to me. Then I realize she’s serious. She’s standing there, mouth open, waiting for me to tell her what circus I’ve joined and what tricks I’ll be performing. She goes on to say

“I’ve never been to the circus, I’ve always wondered what it’s like to see all those freaks performing.”

I decide to tell her the truth, I’m working for a performance theater group as their chef. Again, the mouth drops open and she is asking so many questions I can barely keep up with my answers. By this time a small group of people have gathered to hear my story. This is when I realize most of the guests at this party have never left NC, flown in a plane, or dined in a fancy restaurant. In fact a few people mentioned to have never left the town of Burgaw/Wilmington because they didn’t see the need.


I’ve been blessed to have a family that understands the need for me to travel, to see the world, and to explore as much as possible. In my 30 years of life I have never found a city that felt like “home”. I have become accustomed to moving frequently and never really settling down. It’s so extreme that when people ask..

“Where are you from?”

I tell them the place I moved from.

Fast forward to my flight to Kentucky. I arrive and little did I know what I signed up for. It’s like being adopted into a family. A crazy, huge family. Full of brothers and sisters who accept you with open arms. The camaraderie is unlike anything I’ve experienced. The stage managers, the riggers, the performers, the medics, the designers, and everyone inbetween has embraced me. Each person has his or her quirks and you learn them as you go. There aren’t “days off” from the family. We seek out each other and go to dinners, bars, concerts, festivals, and sporting events together.

I would say week 1 was a success. I explored Louisville— did some glass work, went to a museum, enjoyed some bourbon, and just took it all in. Tour catering is basically like cooking for your family every day. A few picky eaters, and a few adventurous kids and a mix of everything else.

 

These horses are all over the city

 

Outdoor kitchen set up! We have everything a fullsized commecial kitchen would.

 

Access ID

 

 

Surprise!!! 🎈🎉

A month ago I launched a Thumbtack account. As previously mentioned I had booked quite a few parties with the assistance of this site/app. I also spent quite a few “credits” on responses and replies that went unread or even went so far as to me sending a booking contract and the client backing out. I almost wanted to write I HAVE TO PAY FOR EACH QUOTE YOU DONT RESPOND TO, as a header to my profile, but I kindly keep to myself. It’s $2-$5 per request response and it can add up, especially if I felt the clients needs fit my services and availabilities. So this led me to Sarah. She was hosting a bachelorette party for her friends and would be in need of a chef. PERFECT! I promptly responded with my rate and suggested menu. 

We continued back and forth over email, she informed me that there was to be no “congrats, wiener jokes, strippers, or any other cheesey bride-to-be sayings”. PERFECT!!   The menu she selected was arancini  with a shrimp scampi sauce, Caesar salad, crab cakes with creole cream sauce, and a duo of sorbet. PERFECT! All of these items were so far inside my wheel house I can make them with my eyes closed. 

The day of the party… Today… Patrick and I arrive and the most beautiful waterfront house we’ve ever seen, complete with a saltwater fish tank and a YACHT who’s name is “Good Times IV”. WHAT?! There have been 3 good times before? The stove is a Viking range with a mini griddle/flat top in the middle. 

    
Sarah informs us the bride to be has no idea we are going to be arriving and cooking for her so we stay quiet on the 1st floor. The bride is on the 3rd floor suite. This suite has an entire kitchen, living area, sun deck, ect. About an hour later the bride comes down and says 

That better not be the smell of strippers. I said no strippers.

Mind you its just me and my brother and neither of us are comfortable stripping in front of each other… Let alone actually stripping. Once she realizes we are there to cook for her the wine and vodka start flowing. These ladies relaxed, kicked their fancy heels off and sat around a huge coffee table on pillows and had dinner. 

They played music, I sang, cooked and could not get the smile off my face. I wasn’t inside a hot sweaty kitchen feeding the masses… I was in a multimillion dollar house cooking with love for a group of ladies. I wasn’t getting yelled at about ticket times, I wasn’t concerned with running out of something, I wasn’t concerned that my 2 best line cooks were about to hit overtime or that my dishwasher had fallen behind. I was COOKING. I was cooking with love and passion. The flood of comfort and joy that came over me is indescribable. People say that private cooking takes away years of experience and talent… Well mass production cooking takes years off your life and I’ve already aged enough.. 😂

I’ve committed my self to 1 year of touring with Cirque. After that I can continue on another tour or crack into this realm of private cooking. 

I have been watching (binge watching) Gilmore Girls (thanks Emma) and I think Sookie has become my spirit animal.  

 
This time next week I’ll be checking in to my hotel in Louisville and grabbing a mint julep. Until next week 😘😘
#cooking 

#passion 

#privatechef 

Next Adventure

I’ll start out with a quick recap of the last few months adventures. I quit my job in Tampa. Working 80+ hours a week in an unorganized kitchen while struggling to keep staff and my self motivated caused me to question my sanity. I was so exhausted I was making my self sick. I contracted a rare lung infection and was having trouble breathing. The owner of my company had told me that “quality of life and work life balance” is what he believed in. I don’t think he had any idea of what either of those statements meant. Meetings on days off, being scheduled in the afternoon but coming in at 9am for meetings, working 6am-10pm and constantly being asked why you are so tired. I finally reached my breaking point after hearing him talk agressively towards the KM of the store and after he questioned my “energy” at the tail end of a 14 hour day. Mind you that means no breaks, no food, and begging to step away from the expo window for a bathroom break. I HAD HAD ENOUGH! I went upstairs, changed my clothes, gathered my things and left. I then decided to ponder whether or not quitting was the right thing. After all I have NEVER walked out of a job. I had a few beers at a bar near by and chatted with another Ex-Employee of the same place. I decided that my health, mental stability, and self respect was worth more than working for that man. I handed in my keys and sent a resignation email.

Driving home I called my father who said “I wanted to tell you to leave that place months ago.”  Well dad, I wanted to try to make it work and I am not a quitter.

How was I going to make money? I launched a Thumbtack account — people use this app create requests to  hire professionals. I advertised in home cooking lessons, private chef events, drop off meal services, and meal planning services. In a week I had booked over a dozen events. I registered my business in Tampa, got a tax payer ID, website, Twitter, Instagram, ect.. I was ready! (I also drove Uber nights and weekends.) I was on a roll. UNTIL.. I received an email from a very generic email address stating they were looking for a traveling chef. I believe the tag line was “Tired of long nights and weekend and working 70+ hours a week? We want someone who is creative and can shop local farmers markets and provide high quality meals.” He listed his phone number and I thought this is too good to be true. It took me 3 days to call back. When I did I found out the company was responsible for the behind the scenes food for Cirque Du Soleil. WHAT?!

I agreed to an interview. I drove down to the Amalie convention center and had a face to face with the Tour Manager. Still not believing this was a real job. He showed me around the set, introduced me to some of the lighting and mechanics and of course the kitchen crew. 2 younger recent culinary school graduates and an experienced dining room manager. They serve 150 people lunch and dinner and it is buffet style, but NICE buffet style. Everything is laid out on platters, garnished really nicely, and is all made from scratch. No short cuts here.

The next step was a FaceTime interview with the catering director for the company. He asked me my cooking style, inspirations, aspirations, and why I would be a good fit. I had to send over a week menu and adhere to strict guidelines for the performance artists (lean protein, steamed veggies, hearty grains, vegetarian options, and the rotations of each protein are very specific).

Apparently I passed the test. I was offered the position a week after my first interview. What next? Lease break, pack all my stuff, sell my stuff, GET. A. PASSPORT., sign all kinds of documents, get a Canadian work visa, drop my dog and car off at Dad’s, buy luggage (I have 1 suitcase), and finish all my catered events in 2 week!

I will be traveling the US and Canada for a year. 10 weeks of work and 2 weeks paid vacation. First stop is Louisville, KY. I’ve already jotted down a few places I want to visit.

I’ve received a few messages about continuing my blog and keeping people peeking into my chef life so here we go again. I’ll try to post weekly from each city. 4/24/16 is the start of my World Tour (lol).

https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk/tour-dates/

Check out the cities I’m visiting. If you’re near by Id like to see you. I know Raleigh and Brooklyn will be full of familiar faces! Don’t be shy! 🙂

 

Lessons Learned

Well I’ve got the first week under my belt. And man has it been a wild ride. Rewind to last week, 4 days ago. Ive had some tough meat to swallow and some hard learned mistakes. I came into my prep schedule as “how hard can this be? I’ve gotta make some cakes, some dressings, some purées? I’ve got this.” All “I’ve got” is a ton of confidence paired with not so clearly written recipes and no understanding of the tricks required to complete prepped items correctly.

First lesson- Chocolate Cake. For anyone who know me, I’m a badass home baker. I am in no means a professional baker. Cupcakes, cookies, pies, cakes… ALL DAY. I’ve got a few basic and steady go to recipes under my belt. I know how to correct simple problems and the basic techniques that would baffle most. So how is icing a cake so hard? Recipe says 2 oz HOT WATER. So I add the hot water to the cocoa power and butter icing and it looks great. Smooth, creamy, and probably the best chocolate icing I’ve ever tried. I try to ice the cake and the icing is sticking to the cake perfectly. Second layer and now the icing is sliding off the cake. Apparently the amount of hot water is “as needed” if you add too much it becomes too warm and will evenly ooze out of the layers of cake. 

Second lesson- CORN. Saturday night I have to make corn chowder. Corn chowder is in my list of favorite soups. A far cry from tomato but it still makes the cut. The day is going well so I decide to knock out the shucking of the corn before lunch. Boy was I wrong. 150 ears of corn and about an hour later I’m done. I’m also frustrated because I assumed this would be a quick task.  

Shucked corn

Third Lesson- Avocado vinaigrette. Sounds simple right? WRONG. Probably the hardest prepped item and the one that takes the longest. First you make the cilantro oil. Then you blend SLOWLY…. And I mean SLLOOOOWWWLLYYY. One misstep and you have to start over again. Drizzling the oil into a mixture of avocados, garlic, vinegar, and lime juice. Now there are no emulsification items present so we are just hoping all these items stay smoothly combine together for 12 hours. I made it 4 times this morning.

Final lesson- CARDIO. The restaurant is beautiful, the hot line is large, the prep room is a tiny pin drop and the second floor storage is gigantic. Everything from 50lb bags of flour and potatoes, 20 lb buckets of mayo, and gallons of oil are all kept upstairs. I run those stairs like its my workout. On the 99th run up I do start to slow down. I’ve also learned to grab my oils, mayo, and other items from up there before I even come down to start my day.

Julie, barista, still keeps a smile on my face. I’ve let on to the Latinos that I speak Spanish. I’ve also learned that Cuban, Puertorican, and Mexican slang are all different. So many words don’t translate to the same meaning in different cultures. Week 1 has been good to me. Lessons learned. Mistakes made. And I’m on to the next task! 
Xoxo-Kat