Add to this that Master Drake and I wanted to make a Mongolian feast for a full board, large (by Australian standards) war and you have a recipe for disaster.
From the onset of this article, I will say that the feast was well received and mostly successful but that we produced the feast in June of last year and that I am only now, in January, writing the blog about it, might give you, Dear Reader, and insight into just how overwhelming it was to me.
So, now that I am able, grab a nice salted milk tea, sit back, and let me tell you a story.
This was not the first time that Master Drake has cooked a Mongolian feast nor was it my first time to work in his kitchen, redact Mongolian/Chinese recipes, or feed my redactions to friends. Yin-shan-chen-yao (YZCY) by Hu Szu-hui and Cloud Forest Hall Collection of Rules for Dinking and Eating by Ni Tsan are my favourite ‘cookbooks’ (yes, pity my husband and my child).
However, this would be the first time that we had cooked a Chino-Mongol Feast for 200 in a bush kitchen on a very limited budget. Amongst the guests at the feast there were intolerances/allergies to a wide variety of foodstuffs. We had vegetarians and vegans (yes, to a Mongolian feast; and they went away fed). We had several guests with food neophobia (including one guest who we were told would only eat chicken and potato. This was a hard one and we eventually had to tell the guest that we would not be able to cater for them. However, this guest did decide to try a few of the offerings and found a new way forward to feasting in the SCA. So that was a win for all involved).
Willow Steamed Lamb (from YSCY)
Seu Soup (from YSCY)
Chicken cooked in Bean Sauce (from YSCY)
Meat Cakes (from YSCY)
Steamed rice with cinnamon, cardamom, and clove
Cooked millet with caramelized onion and butter
Muslim Beans (adapted from YSCY)
Fried Bread (from Charles Perry’s article on Central Asian Breads)
Green Bean with Sesame (adaptation)
Fire-roasted Onion (adaptation from mention in William Rubruck’s Journal)
Cabbage Soup with Honey (adaptation from mention in William Rubruck’s Journal)
Eggpant Manta (vegetarian adaptation from YSCY)
I will be uploading the recipes that we used for some of the items above later in the month. I will include why we decided to make them the way we did and what I would do differently if I were to do the feast again. So, keep an eye out.
Ultimately we had a kitchen staff of Master Drake, his five apprentices, and five adventurous souls who volunteered to help us. Ten people verses the menu and nearly 200 diners.
As soon as the kitchen was cleaned and vacated after lunch, we began the preparations for dinner including making bread dough, chopping onion, and the cooking of large chucks of meat. As time drew closer we began the finer details of chopping meats for the dishes and serving, frying bread, and making the large grain dishes. Ultimately, it all worked well. And, although I had great faith in my apprentice brothers and sisters (and our hardy kitchen helpers), I was surprised that we had so very few mishaps…well, Master Drake did try to burn down the kitchen, but that was only the one time. We did have one burn (which was amazing given how tight quarters were and the number of hot pots moving around). Communication was on point.
Serving was slow given the number of allergy/intolerances, but everyone was fed in the end. If I were to do this feast again, I would need to rethink the way we served. Perhaps having a double service line (one for people who had allergy/intolerances and one for everyone else) or serving to the tables (though I know that this is problematic as well).
Menu: I liked our menu. I would have adjusted our grain dishes down a bit (lots left over) and would have liked to include a bit more of the chicken. I am currently searching for more vegetarian friendly dishes (there are rumours of a Buddhist cookbook from the period that contains many vegetarian dishes and I am trying to track that down), as I would have liked to include a better variety of vegetable dishes and would love to substitute actual dishes rather than adapted dishes. Ultimately, I was happy with what was served. It met my requirements of accessible and achievable (and tasty).
Kitchen: It was a manageable feast in a bush kitchen but I would have liked to have had a full kitchen as I think that it would have made the preparation of the food easier (that or I would like to go fully period and cook over open fires…but not for 200). I could not have asked for a better kitchen crew. A special thank you goes out to Nermal, who washed dishes for 8 hours. I love that man! That is real service!
Service: As I mentioned above, service was slow. I, even after all of this time, still am not 100% sure how we could have improved that given the constraints of space, number of allergies/intolerances, and the time of day that the food was served (on dark so we would not have been able to post signs labelling food).
Ultimately, we came in within budget, those in attendance went away happy, well fed, and interested in Mongol cuisine, and we had a great time in the kitchen (with lots of laughing and good times). It was definitely a bonding experience for those in the kitchen and I am so happy that I got to participate in it.