The Kitchen Disasters That Should Have Been

by Emily Torgrimson

We were inspired by Organic Valley‘s Earth Dinner cards, which encourage all of us to celebrate the earth one dinner at a time – and to ask each other questions all about food. This card struck us:

What was the biggest kitchen disaster you can remember? 

By the nature of what we do, there are many kitchen disasters that could have – or should have – been. First, we’re working in a home kitchen, with never enough oven space, or counter-space, or pots and bowls at hand. Next, we’ve got a moving target, trying to prepare a feast for anywhere from 50 to 150 to [at our record] 230 peopIe. Also, we may have never made the menu before, since each meal is themed around the organization and we’re using seasonal and organic ingredients wherever possible. And then, we’re preparing that meal with the help of volunteers with a range of skills [they may be former pastry chefs or recent college graduates who’ve never made rice before]. It’s truly a small miracle each time we manage to pull it off.

I hosted Eat for Equity dinners in my home in Minneapolis for a year before we had our first rotating host. And it was definitely an experiment. I showed up to my friend Jane’s house to make six apple pies and fifty homemade buns. And she had one baking sheet and no rolling pin. So, we found a half-full bottle of wine, drank the remainder, and used the empty bottle to roll out pie crusts. We let the buns rise on plates scattered around the house on every horizontal surface we could find. Meanwhile, the kitten got in the flour and tracked white paw prints across the kitchen floor.

But it was a good experiment, because people came to that event at Jane’s house who might not have come to my house. And once they came for the first time, they became part of Eat for Equity.

Then there was the time we planned an incredible harvest feast of roast chicken, roasted vegetables, apple pies, green salad, and homemade bread with pesto butter. Apparently distracted by how delicious that menu sounded, I failed to realize [until it was too late to change] that the menu was also all roasted and/or baked, and would require either three more ovens or three more hours than we had. So we sent the free-range, organic chickens off with a friend for him to cook at his house, and set about roasting fifty pounds of vegetables. It all came together somehow and only a little later than planned.

Or the time we needed to marinate 25 lbs. of local pork overnight in a mix of red wine and herbs. Not having a bowl large enough to safely contain the pork and saucy marinade, we poured it all into doubled-up [clean] garbage bags – and behind the scenes, dubbed the dish “Trash Bag Pork.”

Or the hot summer afternoon, when our cooks had the electric stovetop and oven going full-blast on pork carnitas and rice, with electric roasters cooking black beans on the countertop. It was so hot that they also had a million fans going, and that was the moment that the fuse blew. The fridge, the roaster, the electric stove, the oven – all off. It must have been fifteen minutes before they realized that nothing was cooking, and everything was turned off.

And you know what, they were fine. They figured it out. These are the moments – created out of necessity – where you have to laugh, and then get resourceful and creative. Grope around in a dark basement for a fuse. Find the friend with the oven nearby. Macgyver a tupperware, jerry-rig a rolling pin, and make it work.