All jobs have their challenges, but not many involve sourcing 15 gallons of honey, plating 8,000 portions of parfait, or having a lamb carcass handed to you on a sheet pan. Those are just some of the unique experiences of working behind the scenes at “Chef Central” for Sunset’s Savor the Central Coast event.
Food is obviously a big part of this lifestyle celebration, but the general public sees only a small serving of the event’s overall culinary effort.
Individual restaurants and food purveyors are responsible for their own product in areas such as the Marketplace and the Central Coast Pavilion, but a hard-working team of Savor staff and volunteers are charged with spearheading efforts from Chef Central.
Located in the historic Asistencia at Santa Margarita Ranch, the behind-the-scenes kitchen at Chef Central is exactly that — the culinary headquarters for Savor. That includes everything from producing samples for major sponsors, to stocking the media area, to organizing events at the Farm-to-Table stage, to coordinating all the necessary logistics for daily seminars such as celebrity chef demos and a competitive themed cookoff.
The daunting task of getting all that ready involves months of detailed planning on countless levels of organization, explained Kari Kuwahara, a culinary professional who was in charge of Chef Central for the first four years of Savor and is a consultant for this year’s event.
The coordination begins several months ahead and ramps up considerably as the event gets closer. On the week and weekend of the event, Kuwahara estimated that she worked several 18-hour days, a schedule “which doesn’t even compare to (the Savor production coordinator’s) hours.”
The overall timeline involves a lot of gathering information and scheduling. That often starts with contacting chefs and their publicity agents to get specific recipes and to find out what ingredients and equipment they’ll need. From there, an overall shopping list needs to be developed for all those recipes and all the other event food needs — and the list needs to be as specific as “three tablespoons of coriander,” “one melon baller,” and “containers for 8,000 parfait servings.” Once the list is fairly finalized and procurement begins, delivery schedules have to be coordinated for everything from equipment, to dry goods, to food that needs refrigeration.
In addition to all the food details, there are staffing decisions to be made. Prep cooks have to be hired and volunteers have to be coordinated (most of whom are local chefs/cooks or Cal Poly nutrition science majors). Then all the specific seminar site details — right down to electrical needs and audio/visual setups — have to be figured out for events as far ranging as a ribbon cutting, a Chumash blessing, and the celebrity chef demos.
Kuwahara recalled that one of the most memorable problem-solving moments for the Chef Central seminars was in 2012, when local Morro Bay fisherman “Mark Tognazzini devised a way to specially lay down spot prawn traps so Rick Moonen could show live spot prawns (an extremely delicate seafood) on stage.” Moonen, a celebrated chef and owner of RM Seafood in Las Vegas, is just one of the chefs “we’ve had the great privilege of working with,” said Kuwahara, and others have included Tyler Florence, Cat Cora, Cindy Pawlcyn, Nathan Lyon, Aarti Sequiera, Ted Allen, Susan Feniger, Margo True, Michael Voltaggio, Marcela Valladolid and Jeff Anderson.
Another daunting challenge was how to create 6,000 portions of a honey mocktail that required 21 pounds of gingerbread tea specially created for the Savor event by Spice of Life in Paso Robles.
“The recipe required 15 gallons of honey, which is extremely difficult to source,” said Kuwahara. “After 15 phone calls, four people hung up on me and three people laughed at me, so I called a friend who is a farmer who directed me to his beekeeper. This kind gentleman drove the honey over from Fresno, and we made the honey deal in the Target parking lot in cash.”