Yesterday my nephew graduated from 8th grade and my sister invited lots of family to celebrate the occasion. Arriving in NJ, at my sister's house, the scene was chaotic with her three kids, my siblings, and mom all talking at the same time. My strategy was to tune everyone out to save brainpower.
We all pitched in to get things set up, cleaning off the deck chairs and decorating with balloons and "Congrats Grad!" banners everywhere. My sister Maria expected about 20 people to arrive at 4:00 pm and she wanted the party outside - al fresco. My brother in-law set up chafing stands on a long table with Sterno and filled the trays with water. Maria is a very busy doctor, she works incredibly long hours and cooking for 20 people is not her idea of fun - so, she bought tons of prepared Italian food from a specialty food store.
The graduation ceremony was slated for 3:00 pm and out of simple curiosity I checked out the eight trays of food to see what my sister ordered for the party. Not surprising, the usual suspects prevailed, chicken parmigiana, baked ziti, eggplant parmigiana, stuffed peppers, foccocia pizza, stuffed zucchini, sausage and peppers and assorted paninis. The trays of food were ice cold and a little tremor of panic ran through me. It was now 2:45 pm, people were to arrive in little over an hour and the food needed to be completely reheated. I immediately flipped the oven on to 425 degrees, removed the foil covers and quickly decided what was going to take longest to heat up. The oven is pretty standard and small and I used every possible inch of space to heat as much as possible. The clock was ticking, I ended up not going to the ceremony and I was now officially in charge of the food.
As the on-call chef, I swapped out aluminum trays of Italian food to ensure everything was hot and ready. I was prepared to light the Sterno and get the food out to the table on the deck when it started to drizzle. It looked like a passing rain so I figured I'd wait it out a little longer. The rain started to come down harder, the helium balloons that were once dancing in the wind were now weighed down by the constant rain. It was time for a decision, I hustled the five chafing dishes into the kitchen and set everything up once again. At 3:45 pm I was almost ready to get everything into the chafing dishes. With just two things left to warm up I felt pretty good about what I was able to coordinate in such little time. Minutes later, a rush of family and friends flooded the house and they all had that hardened "feed me" look.
Pondering my own graduation from culinary school it's not always what you know but how you translate that knowledge in different situations. We celebrated my nephew's big day, Jersey-style, with more food than one family could possibly consume, way too many desserts and a good cup of cawfee.