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Church Kitchens...???

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
Sup Family...I have a question. I'm a member of the culinary ministry at my church. We just recently had an event, and the visitors were very happy. The other members of the staff, also believed that what came out was decent. I don't know...maybe I am a perfectionist, maybe I am snooty, I don't know...but I believe that we could have done better, and the kitchen could have been ran better. I know how to run a kitchen, but for now, I am just being quiet (I have been with the church for a short period of time).

I just wanted to know if there is a chef in here who runs a church kitchen. If you all have a charity program (Ex: Soup Kitchen), or an actual restaurant at the church. I am currently in the process of starting a charity program at my church, and I want to know your experiences in a church kitchen.

Thanks alot.

Chef MBJ
post #2 of 18
Kinda Sorta have experience with church kitchens, my catering business was in a 100 year old church for 2.5 years. Probably 8x a year groups came through to use the kitchen. It would be KEY to have:
a list of equipment
someone always responsible on site to see that shtuff gets cleaned/putback
Clear concise written directions on how to use and clean the equipment
seriously limit keys
Look into having rules (this should be a group thing)
Recipes in binders
Get the health dept to come do an sanitation inservice, most really want to do this and it'll come from a source other than you.:smoking:

Churches are different than businesses, they work on volunteers.....some are phenominal/some are horrendous. They generally have loose rules and it's not unusual for equipment to walk....
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #3 of 18
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the reply. Honestly, the kitchen we have is very good. It's restaurant quality...if it was a restaurant, it could probably do enough work to serve a 40 seat restaurant. Anyways...alot of what you're saying is right, and alot of it is what I am currently proposing. Even though they are volunteers, they still need systems in place to make sure the food is of the best quality, and that sanitation is observed (All of the people in the culinary ministry have to take safeserv classes...ironically, I am the only one who hasn't taken it. However, my fiance' has taken the course, and I am very, very strict about sanitation, actually moreso than the people who took the course).

I don't know...I feel like I am a frustrated sous chef, ready to take the reigns. I don't know...we'll see. Thanks for the input.
post #4 of 18
RUN!!! While you still can. Seriously though, they will drive you bat s**t. They'll rope you in and say how excited they are to have a real pro, and then they won't listen to a word you say. There will be Mrs. Soandso who has been making the cole slaw for forty years even though it sucks and you can't change it because it will hurt her feelings. Then you'll have the three sisters whose parents donated the land for the church and who always serve. They mess up every order and a snail would be faster, but they always do it and will until they die. They will live to be 110 just to aggravate you. I worked a spaghetti fund raiser for someone with cancer last year and I was using a french whip to stir the sauce because it was long enough and had more contact with the bottom of the stock pot. One of the old hens yanked the whip out and informed me that you use a spoon for that. Time to go outside and smoke a cigarette. Think I smoked two packs that day. I've been roped into a zillion charitable functions, and they all go the same way. An amusing side note to this is we had a severe flash flood in my area last year. I was unemployed at the time and a Baptist church from Illinios sent a crew up here to feed the flooded out people and the volunteers who came to help. They had a kitchen set up in a tent and were trying to feed 2000 people per day. I went over to volunteer as I have experience in volume cooking and also know all the resources in the area where we could borrow cambros etc. They thanked me, but said I couldn't help because I wasn't trained in disaster relief. I was familiar wih every piece of equipment they had and hold a MN food manager's license, but I couldn't help. I couldn't volunteer to deliver meals because I didn't have any money and couldn't afford the gas. I still feel bad when people talk about all the great volunteers who helped, because I didn't. A friend of mine gave me an eagle feather but told me I couldn't wear it because it was a feather usually given to an important Indian, not some half-a***d Indian who can't get a job as a volunteer during a flood. It's not easy being me.:crazy:
post #5 of 18
Greyeaglem--you are bang on the money! I am in the unique position of being a pastor's wife AND a professional chef. I volunteered to cook for a big anniversary dinner at our church and although a very tolerant woman I nearly had a few Gordon Ramsey-esque moments over incidents like what Greyeaglem describes.

The best was when one of the church ladies pulled out the "good knives"--Shabbu 2000s--and told me to use them. The thing literally went DOING and bent in half when I tried to cut cheese with it! Needless to say after that event the Shabbus went in the trash and Jason and I went to the restaurant supply store and bought all new stuff for the church. Good stuff that does not go DOING on cheese!!!
post #6 of 18

At least you had knives! The kitchen of the church I attend has all 'hand-me-down' equipment. Used stove, used refrigerators, cast-off coffee makers, all gratefully accepted in the spirit of the donation (take that any way you like). Someone gets new things for the home, and ships the old stuff to the church kitchen. Pots with no handles, knives with so many knicks in the blade you have to look twice to be sure they're not surrated, bent spoons. Then occasionally the ladies get together and fling out the really 'bad stuff' (actually, they donate it to another church or charity kitchen), and get some new pieces. But, what happens to the new things?...where do they go?...why aren't they there the next time they're needed? How do they get morphed into 'old stuff' just sitting in the cupboard? No one knows. All the kitchen 'staff' are volunteers, and we get along great, and have a lot of fun, but events would certainly go more smoothly if only the equipment were better, safer, and more of it.
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
Dear God...look at what I started...LOL!!! Although my views may not be as "cynical" as some of the other views I have seen here, I definitely understand why you have them. I have shared some of those feelings based on the two events that I have worked on.

We had a large event two weeks ago, and we had a discussion this past Tuesday on how we can make the event better. I remember the day of the event, I was so upset at some of the things that I saw and witnessed, that I literally was documenting/writing things down that need to be improved. The pastor of my church saw what I was doing, and I think he realized how "unnerved" I was. He is a good guy, and he wants the chuch to move into the 21st Century, but he is also new, so he is also trying to get a grasp of the "church politics", which can make "office politics" and the "politics of Washington" look like grade school by comparison. During this "discussion", I think 60% of it was dedicated to what the "culinary ministry" did or didn't do. Now...the people who came to the church, were happy with the food, and to what I heard...they were happy with the service. a classically trained musician, just because you beat on a drum, and it sounds pleasing to the audience, doesn't make what that musician did...correct. I raised my hands a few times during the discussion to put some ideas on the table, and the main thing that I was bringing forth to them is..."YOU ALL NEED TO IMPLEMENT A BRIGADE SYSTEM. There is no organization or accountability. You can't have everybody asking somebody what to do. You need a system in the back of the house, and you need a front of the house...and it ALL comes under the culinary ministry. That's how you will get things done and in an organized manner." Well...I was unfortunately mocked by a few people there, who thought and even said, "This is not a restaurant."

Whether you have a Michelin star restaurant or a small soup kitchen operation, an Escoffier brigade system helps. may not need a "commis" or a "Chef De Cuisine"...but set it up according the size of your group. (Executive Chef, Sous Chef, Two Prep/Line Cooks, Pastry Chef and for Front of the House...Front of the House Manager, Station Managers, Waiters, Dishwashers/Busboys-girls). That's it. Small operation, but organized and systematic, with clear roles identified. Mind you...I have never, ever, ever cooked on the line, or worked in a professional kitchen. But since 2003, I have self-taught myself, I practice technique every single day. I read books upon books upon books on the industry. Watch endless YouTube clips about the business, and the art of cooking. Create recipes. I have my own catering business as a result, and when I do something I do it 100%...never half-assing it, even if it takes me 16 hours to do it (Because I do it all by myself).

It's frustrating. These people all are well-intentioned, good Christian people. But...professional standards need consideration. Even the food choices need consideration. Butter and pork fat do not belong on everything, especially in a church where a lot of people have diabetes and suffer from obesity. Why have braised cabbage and kale? Those smells are strong, and do not need to be served up buffet style. Right now...I am just sticking in there. Patiently waiting until I may be given the opportunity to set up the kitchen and lead a brigade. Sorry this entry was so long...but I had to get this off of my chest, and especially after seeing the reply entries, I wanted to put my proverbial "two cents in". Thanks for the replies, they are all very helpful.
post #8 of 18
Well Marc, that's the whole problem. It's not a restaurant. But they try to compete with them for Friday night fish frys, etc. and the people who come don't cut much slack for it being amateur hour. Even though they get a great meal at a reduced price, they expect the service they'd get a a Michelin rated restaurant. Because they cook at home or have muddled through for years, the volunteers think they are pros. This is the equivalent of a soccer mom with a "taxi" sticker thinking they're ready for the Daytona 500. You have two choices: Use this for your own personal amusement, or start drinking. Trying to actually organize this will probably land you in the loony bin. We'll come visit! Good luck either way. Chefelle, I'll say a rosary for you, you poor thing.
post #9 of 18
This is the part I think you need to focus on for now, especially since the "customers" have indicated they were happy with the food and service provided at the event.

To accomplish what you want would take a lot of cooperation and a lot of prior planning which many people just aren't willing to participate in. They are all too glad to show up and offer to help on the day of the event in any way they can, but nothing more than that.

For most of these people its all about the fellowship and not a whole lot about preparing world class food. Trying to organize this in the manner you would like it to be will most likely lead to the looney bin as greyeaglem noted.
post #10 of 18

In my two terms as "Chairman of the Fundrasing Committee," I used my professional cooking background from restaurants and catering to advance my temple's fundraising. If nothing else, I was skilled labor at the right price -- free. I certainly understand and sympathize with your frustration and ambitions, but am in basic agreement with jbd.

The culinary ministry is a fellowship and an act of service, not an attempt to create a restaurant. Also, if I understand correctly the ministry operates more as catering rather than restaurant model. That is, the kitchen prepares a relatively small number of choices in large quantities, rather than vice versa.

You want to make the best and the healthiest food possible. But not at the expense of alienating people with years of involvement and service. That's a challenge requiring not only cooking and organizational skills but political talents as well. Work yourself into the flow without roiling the waters, assume responsibility only when offerred freely, and tread very lightly.

As to a "brigade," the system as Escoffier envisioned it is not particularly effective for catering. The brigade is all about specialization and individual responsibility bringing disparate elements together at a rate of flow. Catering is much more of an "all hands on deck" exercise with shared responsibilities to have everything ready at one time.

I've got to question whether just one person can work "hot plate" aka "the pass through" or "the pass;" or whether two "line cooks" can handle saucier/saute for a 200 sit down, while the rest of the kitchen is occupied with "pasty" and "plonge." You cater, you know it doesn't work that way. It doesn't work that way in a restaurant either. Furthermore your operation is not commercial. The system must adapt to the situation.

Suppose hypothetically: Your kitchen produces home/middle American cooking; according to a catering model; pays reduced prices for food; gets as much free labor as it wants; the labor is highly opinionated; not subject to discipline; and not particularly skilled. What system will work best?

I see what you're trying to get at, and have no doubt your church's kitchen can be made to operate both more efficiently and at a higher level of quality. But efficiency isn't at all the object of the exercise. The idea is to get as many people involved as possible, rather than limit the number of man hours. And, I have to question ("question" as in "I'd like to know," not as in "you're wrong) how much the congregation wants much improvement or any sort of change in the menu itself.

Perhaps you could build some credibility by volunteering to organize the preparation and service of a single meal.

We're a good group with whom to share your frustrations. But you really need to talk with your pastor about your ideas on how to make things better (without making them worse). There's a lot to consider from the congregational as well as the culinary standpoints.

Good luck,
post #11 of 18
Thread Starter 
You all are cracking me up with your responses...and I say that with respect, because I know what you all are saying in a lot of ways is true. But I do want to clear some things up. I am not trying to make my church's program into a world-class kitchen. I just know things can be done more effectively with regards to service and organization, and that things can be done "differently" when it comes to food selection. I am not trying to serve people foie gras. But let me give you an example of what I would serve. What about serving some braised short ribs...nothing big there. Served on top of some thoroughly whipped garlic mashed potatoes, and then with some nicely grilled or roasted veggies...some zucchini, squash, carrots. That's easy...that's something you can get at a diner. I don't know...I have a passion to cook, but also urging people to try something different, or look at something.

As far as setting up something organized...I think it can be done. Maybe that is me being faithful (Hebrews 11:1)...LOL!!! Seriously, I think what will have to happen is if I am given the proverbial "reigns" and run the kitchen during an event. If things move efficiently, and the food tastes well, then maybe people will take the concept seriously. But we'll see. Although change is the oldest tradition, tradition is the most persistent tradition, so it is a matter of convincing people that there is another way of doing things. We'll see what happens. But I do appreciate the words and the support.
post #12 of 18
Thread Starter 
Thank you, BDF. If I may ask, where do you cook? I always like to hear the stories of how cooks started.

I did want to say something with regards to the brigade system. When I say do the "Escoffier" system, I only mean in the style of it...just to have some organization and accountability. When I worked on the church's homecoming a few weeks ago, when things got really busy...for example, "Where's the salt?" or "Where is the hotel pan to put the cheese in?"...because nobody was clearly in charge, you would have to ask one, two or three people. That's not efficient. I should ask one person, they should be able to tell me, and Boom...I can get the thing that I need to get done. Another example...we were constantly trying to figure out how much food we had left. But we didn't have a sometimes the people who were cooking in the kitchen, had to put down with what they were doing and go out and see what needed to be replenished. Sometimes it was a false alarm, sometimes it wasn't. So we needed someone to oversee the area where people were eating. You can't do the full Escoffier system of course, because the ministry doesn't require that. But it needs a system...with positions based upon the Escoffier my plan, I Executive Chef, A Sous Chef, Two Preppers, and a baker (A baker is not necessarily something that we would need).

You're right, everybody in a catering operation would have to put in work. However...some people would have duties specific to their position, so there will be some level of accountability. I didn't want to give you or anyone the impression that I am trying to make the Culinary Ministry into Chez L'Orange.

You're certainly right about the "politics", and that is what I am observing, and I do keep in touch with my pastor about ideas that I have. My church is one of those churches that have a lot of families, and a few of those families run everything in the church. The pastor (Who is relatively new) knows that, and he is also observing the politics himself. I am not trying to roughshot anybody, because in the end this is about the Lord. I just feel that the Lord's people can eat good quality stuff inside church, as well as outside. That's my goal. Thank you for your input, and I look forward to hearing your story on how you became a chef, and what you do professionally.
post #13 of 18
That's the Red Cross "mass meals" certificate/card that I mentioned in the Not Restaurant Depot thread. It's quite easy to get really and my area gave the classes for free. I suppose it's like a CPR card or something... you may know how to do CPR, but they won't let you until you're certified by the appropriate certifying authority. sigh.
post #14 of 18
BDL. I don't cook professionally anymore. I cooked in the early through mid-seventies in the San Francisco Bay Area, mostly at two different places, the Blue Fox (no longer around) and Chez Panisse (still going strong).

In the mid-seventies I moved to Los Angeles and had a small catering company called Predominantly French which I operated part time, and specialized in small groups -- usually less than 30. At the time, my "day job" was as a dolly/crane grip. I'm a semi-retired lawyer now. Mostly appellate; about 50/50 civ/crim. But if you want to see what I'm up to in terms of cooking, take a look at my blog. It may interest you.

Well, I didn't really think you were going for full on restaurant, and do understand what's appealing about brigade organization. However, the best way to organize a catered event operation is usually around physical areas rather than around specialty stations; and to keep the help as generalist as possible except for runners. You don't need a saucier and a rotisseur, what you need is delegated responsibility and runners. You can delegate finding the salt to them. You mentioned not wanting a commis, but that's exactly what will end up most helpful to you. There's only so much responsibility you can impose on volunteers. I used to sharpen their knives for mine, and give little classes -- hot pan technique, or how to make quenelles, for instance.

Obviously the baking is done ahead of time -- probably the day before, and quite possibly outside of the kitchen.

The two killers in a catered event operation such as your church kitchen are plating and timing. Your biggest advantage, because you are a church, is enthusiastic numbers. Throw people at problems. Break your organization up into flow and figure out how you can have the majority of people in the kitchen working together on one task at a time. This tends to keep the salt in one area. Try and keep a large workspace as organized as possible.

There are a few serious caterers on this forum who can probably give you very specific advice on handling your specific challenges which might be better than my approach.

In any case, restaurant service is completely different. Since you're already catering, I suspect that when you allow yourself to relax and enjoy the chaos that's a part of charity work, you'll find you know a lot more than you think. Relax and let it come to you.

I figured you did, you do, it is, he does, you weren't, you did, and it was. Still, it was worth bringing up.

Now you know. A real pleasure meeting you, by the way.

post #15 of 18
While I do not work in a culinary position professionally, I have some suggestions that may make your life easier in a "family" run ministry...

Based upon a couple of our earlier comments, I'll make the assumption that you are one of many volunteers in your church's operation.

You need to get on the good side of whoever is running the kitchen. Well enough to be listened to should you ever ask questions about how they might think that things could be improved.

Your trick will be to make a suggestion in the way of a question.

"What do you think might happen if we were to ask our volunteers where they felt the most comfortable in the kitchen? Would it be a good idea to ask them to take responsiblity for that 'job'?"

Or, "Mary Makeamess seems to know where everything belongs around here, do you think she'd be happy with a title like 'Kitchen Equipment Manager'?"

Or, "Do you think we might have enough budget this month to get a couple of more salt shakers for the kitchen? They seem to go into hiding when we're jammed, and it would be handy to have one at each station."

Or, "Geraldine Bizzyboddy knows everybody in the congregation, doesn't she? Do you think she'd like to act as our hostess, and someone who could sort of keep an eye on the food levels out on the buffet tables??"

I would caution against attempting to make too many "changes" too soon. Been there, got the scars.

The menu may be based upon a certain "family's" preferrences.

The current "positions/responsibilities" may be inherited, and will possibly never change. as greyeaglem alludes to.

In short, it ain't likely to become your show until you've won over the hearts and minds of all the "insiders".

One suggestion, if you're feeling devious enough, is to find a couple of folks who are NOT deeply entrenched or connected, and have them offer suggestions to the zoo keeper as to what they'd like to see served.

Or in the alternative, think of a way to have suggestion cards made available to the 'patrons' to get their ideqas of what would make a nice change.

Or, see of there is a doctor or dietician in the congregation and ask them if they thought it to be a good idea to offer "heart smart" alternatives to the fat laden fare.

Good luck...
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
I might be suffering from CDO.
It is just like OCD, except the letters are in alphabetical order.
Just as they should be...
post #16 of 18
DMT--lots of nuggets of wisdom in your post.

If I have learned one thing in the ministry over the last ten years it has been tread lightly and make changes SLOWLY. Very slowly. I too have the scars from letting my enthusiasm and good intentions get the best of me.

Remember this is supposed to be a ministry. And people volunteer for ministries because first of all they want to serve the Lord and others and secondly because they want to be a part of something--to contribute and to have fun.

Sometimes it is almost impossible to change a leopard's spots. If they've done it that way for 50 years they won't want to change it for love or money. Even if you show them a better way. Even if you show them a more efficient way.

Be patient and use all your people skills. Bring in samples of your cooking--things you might like to try on the menu--and ask for honest feedback. When people try your food and like it you could then suggest it might be nice for a banquet some time and that you'd be willing to teach them how to make the dish. People love to be asked for their opinions and they LOVE to test free foods. I'm a Baptist--we're all about the free food--ha! ha!

I am sure you are a huge blessing to your pastor. That's great. Your enthusiasm and hard work ethic will mean alot to him.

As a young ministry wife--I remember being so eager to effect positive change that sometimes I failed to realize that the changes that I thought were for the good of the people were sometimes changes they weren't ready for. Try to be patient....give them time to grow and to time you'll see some change. It just takes time.

If I can be a help to you in any way please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sounds like you are a real asset to your church!
post #17 of 18
I would caution against attempting to make too many "changes" too soon. Been there, got the scars.


BDL.....would those be fish quenelles? the jarred ones are just wrong......
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #18 of 18
Yes, fish quenelles. Don't get me wrong, I love jarred gefilte fish. Not particularly meaningful, because I love all fish. It's amazing though how much better you can do with very fresh fish, two tablespoons, some court bullion, and a little bit of technique.

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