Just like our Dolma and Zereshk Polo ba Morgh, my partner, Vehik, and I are fresh off our theme meal. Although we personally weren't baked, sauted or fried, we definitely felt the stressful heat of the kitchen.
Our theme meal took place at a retirement community in Silver Spring, MD and was titled Armenian Summer. With Vehik's Armenian heritage plus the Riderwood residents' interest in travel and culture, we came to find Armenian Summer to be the perfect theme meal.
When the planning process began we were given a few parameters by the executive chef. We needed to have beef, chicken, fish, and vegetarian options, accompanied by one non-starchy green vegetable and one non-starchy non-green vegetable. We also needed a salad, a soup, two different starch options, and at least one dessert. In addition, we were instructed by the restaurant manager to provide at least one no-sugar-added dessert, to accommodate the residents' needs. This list seemed daunting, but once Vehik began reminiscing about her favorite meals that she, her mother, and her grandmother prepared in Armenia and Iran, we created a menu in no time.
It was very important to us to maintain an authentic Armenian menu. This posed some difficulty when presenting our potential menu to the executive chef and restaurant manager; they worried whether the residents would eat the food or not due to its unfamiliarity. However, after some convincing and defending of our options and Armenian food culture, we were able to keep our menu. We used the "Authenticity" of the meal as our main marketing leg, and described each menu option with enthusiasm and wonder. Speaking with the residents about the meal and teaching them about Armenia, while learning their interests, life experiences, travels, and meal choices, was one of our favorite processes of creating a successful theme meal.
This is one of our Table Tents, which was placed on each dining table to advertise our meal.
To be sure the theme meal would run smoothly we created a production sheet. The production sheet was a wonderful map, guiding us from Tuesday through Friday, without which we would have been terribly lost and unorganized. On Friday, the day of the meal, we arrived bright and early to begin chopping, mixing, and sautéing. All our efforts throughout the previous four weeks, such as creating a detailed grocery list, pre-measuring ingredients, and befriending the kitchen staff, lead us to a successful theme meal that we were extremely happy and honored to present.
Although it was a long process, the four weeks of planning flew by, and the seven hours of the theme meal day felt like seven seconds. We were fortunate to have learned the depths of the planning process for just one meal and to have gained the experience of contributing to a fast-paced, successful kitchen. Best of all, we experienced the joy and pride of commitment and dedication; to each other as partners, to the residents, and to the meal.
Annie Gallagher (me) and Vehik Nazaryan at the front of the serving bar.