Cooking dinner for holidays is often overwhelming for most people. But planning 7,000 meals for one event? That's turning up the heat – and it's exactly what UC Davis Health Executive Chef Santana Diaz and his team did for the health system's staff.
Despite the wet weather, everyone from nurses to physicians to administrative staff joined together Wednesday to be recognized for their hard work at Thank Goodness for Staff.
Days before this staff appreciation event, the Food and Nutrition Services team began prepping and planning to feed thousands over a three-hour period with locally sourced and sustainable foods. This was on top of the 6,500 meals a day the hospital kitchen regularly turns out. So if you're counting, that's a grand total of 13,500 meals in one day!
Now you might think that for an event of this magnitude, the kitchen would be serving easy-to-cook items that come in bulk, like hot dogs or hamburgers. But in fact, it was the exact opposite.
The menu included dishes that you might see at an upscale restaurant: cherry glazed grilled chicken breast, chilled smoked sturgeon, warm polenta and garbanzo panisse cake, sweetened red chili purple sticky rice, as well as a vegetable mix and salad.
Diaz and his team had their hands on every ingredient, all of which were locally and sustainably sourced from farms and ranches in and around the Sacramento region. In fact, 95% of all the ingredients were locally sourced.
For example, the white corn flour for the polenta was bought from Nevada City, the sturgeon was brought in from Passmore Ranch in eastern Sacramento County, and the spinach for the salad came from Full Belly Farm in Capay Valley. All other vegetables used in these plates were sourced from our partner Produce Express. They helped the team get the vegetables from local farms, such as Riverdog Farm in Yolo County.
The planning for this massive event began about three months prior, when Diaz and his staff took a look at what would be in season. Diaz noted that sometimes it's a gamble on which fresh produce to incorporate, depending on how the crop season is going and if the weather is cooperating.
Once the food was bought and delivered to the kitchen, the culinary team worked its magic, beginning with food preparation five days before the event. Staff portioned the sturgeon and staged ingredients, in addition to pouring out 48 sheets of polenta and making all the sauces and dressings in house.
Diaz and several staff arrived at about 3 a.m. on "Game Day," as it's called. That's 8 hours before the event was set to kick off. This early start time ensured the last-minute preparation and plating would be done in enough time to get all the food over to the event for employees to enjoy.
"This can be crazy, but it's fun – at least we think so," Diaz said.