Posted on: May 15, 2013 Posted by: Cole Ruth Comments: 0

I stood in the bright lights of the catering truck, taking my first break in twelve hours when he walked by. “Hi!” I said. It was all I could get out. I, who rarely pass an opportunity to make new friends, stood intimidated and tongue-tied as I watched the editor of my favorite magazine head to his waiting taxi.

What a dufus.

Into the desert
Last weekend I ventured to the outskirts of Palm Springs to help cater a wedding for 160. This was not the interesting part. The bride, a producer for Top Chef, had hired a celebrity chef – and I got to work on his crew.

When my neighbor, Chef, asked if I wanted to join them, I did hesitate. It meant sharing a room with him and the Caterer. Originally they had discussed leaving for the desert days ahead of time. And I wasn’t on the payroll. If I got paid anything, it would come out of Chef’s pocket.

On Friday morning, Chef texted, “Leaving at noon. Are you coming?” I started packing.

Not too hot to handle
It was 105 degrees the day of the wedding. Thank God for air conditioning. We cranked it up and started cooking. The Celebrity Chef joined us for a little while to sample the food and make sure the processes were per his specifications. The mac and cheese I was baking off came under particular scrutiny, but in the end it passed muster. (It was really gooey and good.)

I want to eat mac and cheese and mashed potatoes on a 105 degree day about as much as I want to cook in 105 degree heat, but about 100 of them disappeared post-haste. Though I had hoped to stand at the potato bar and make small talk with Top Chef producers as I scooped heaps of mash, I spent the entire time running back and forth to the kitchen, ushering trays of the little potted wonders from the oven to the eager guests.

My mashed potatoes bring the boys to the yard
Whenever I follow along on these adventures I learn something. If you’re a home cook, you may learn something from the next paragraph. I’m sorry to the professionals (who will yawn), but I had no idea that Real Chefs pass their mashed potatoes twice. The idea is to put them through a ricer or mill first. THEN – and here’s where it gets fun, especially if you’re making two kinds of mashed potatoes for 160 people – you pass them through a chinois or a flat sieve called a “tamis.” As the starch cools, this task becomes harder and harder. Chef Alaska and I used flat plastic hand scrapers to press it through. If I did this once a week I might have some muscle tone in my arms.

Stirring liquid gold (in the form of Yukon mashed potatoes).
Stirring liquid gold (in the form of Yukon mashed potatoes).

Funnily enough, when I googled “perfect mashed potatoes” up came a page with some tips from a certain relevant celebrity chef (note that he does not mention passing them twice).

Sure, the texture is incredibly smooth. And the mashed potatoes we made represent the two keys to making all your food look professional: a ton of butter and the use of a sieve (or in this case two). But was it worth all the effort? Chef and I debated this almost all the way home on Saturday night (a 2.5-hour drive). In the end, you’d have to ask the guests.

But then, you’d have to get up the nerve to talk to them.

Sometimes you get what you need
I did, however, make one connection that paid off. After we moved all the pre-prepped food from the catering van into the house on Friday night, we stood around discussing the room arrangements. I looked at the only other girl, who handles PR for the Celebrity Chef. I didn’t want to assume anything. I didn’t want to come straight out and ask. Then Chef Alaska did it for me. “Why don’t you two girls share a room?”

And that’s how I met T-Dog (pictured below).

T-Dog stirs the horseradish mashed potatoes.
T-Dog stirs the horseradish mashed potatoes.