Thursday, January 28, 2016

How We Escaped to Hawaii before #Blizzard2016

co-written by Valerie Agyeman and Kelda Reimers

It was the night before #blizzard2016 when we were decorating for our theme meal at Riderwood. As we were blowing air into balloons, putting up colorful streamers, and hanging tiki totems all around the dining room, our biggest concern was how we were going to host a successful theme meal before we got snowed in at Riderwood. Thanks to the snow gods, we were able to “escape” to Hawaii and back to our homes before the historic blizzard arrived in Silver Spring, Maryland.

It really feels like we just began our rotation at Riderwood. Six weeks goes by very quick when you are having lots…and lots of fun! We have learned so much during our time at Riderwood -- we practiced our culinary skills, planned and marketed a theme meal for residents, and managed our time to make sure all projects and tasks were completed. As we began to brainstorm ideas for our theme meal, we came up with several but we were encouraged by Chef Chad, and John Porter to come up with a theme that had a unique history, unique food, and could attract the residents! After a lot of brainstorming, we finally decided to host a Hawaiian theme meal. Why Hawaii? With cold temperatures in Maryland, our goal was to get resident's minds of the weather and escape to a warm, fun, place… which was Hawaii! That wasn’t the only reason why; we felt that Hawaii had very unique foods, and with Hawaii becoming the 50th state in 1959, residents would recall that amazing event. After our theme meal was approved, we ran with it and put in all the effort that we could to make sure it was a big success! 

We had so much fun looking at recipes, but it wasn’t until we started working in the kitchen that we realized how many variables are in play at each meal service. Working in the kitchen allowed us to practice our culinary skills and become acquainted with the staff and environment. Leading up to our theme meal, we had to work diligently to stay on top of our tasks and keep organized. Developing production sheets and maintaining to-do lists kept us on task and helped lower our stress. Challenges occurred along the way but the kitchen staff helped us overcome them! We are so grateful to have worked with an amazing team in management as well as the kitchen. We have gained many skills that we will use in all aspects of our careers and personal lives. Thank you to all who played a role in making our time here at Riderwood a huge success.


TV Commercial:
We produced flyers, handouts, and even a TV commercial to help market the meal to the residents of Riderwood. The week before our theme meal, we went to three restaurants: Windsor, Seasons, and Fireside to market our theme meal before dinner time. With Hawaiian leis around our necks, we got festive as we sampled pineapple upside down cake (one of our theme meal desserts) and some Hawaiian punch each night. This allowed us to interact with Riderwood residents, and get some feedback on our dessert. We even got to hear a lot of great stories from residents about the time they visited Hawaii.

Theme Meal flyers, handouts, table tents
Sampling pineapple upsidedown cake at Windsor restaurant

   Week of Theme Meal

During the week of our theme meal,  we performed a thorough inventory of our ingredients in dry storage and the walk-in freezers/refrigerator to make sure we knew where everything was in advance. We then received our produce and meat orders from the vendors, prepped and cooked our dishes following our production schedule. Some of our prepping included: cutting banana leaves and wrapping around the fish, chopping onions and hundreds of garlic cloves (!!), peppers, and chicken for our Hawaiian kebabs, and cutting and washing baby bok choy!

Day of theme meal

The event was a hit! Our goal was to serve 100-120 people and we ended up welcoming almost 160 guests -- many of whom showed up wearing their own Hawaiian attire. Residents enjoyed the different dishes we offered especially the teriyaki-chickpea loaded sweet potato and the mai tai punch we made! We administered surveys out solicit feedback, and chatted with many of the attendees while they dined. After the whirlwind of our week, we were able to hop into our cars to race home just as the snow was beginning to pick up....and #blizzard2016 officially arrived.

  The entire process of planning a theme meal required flexibility, a lot of patience and hard work.
  We now have a new perspective on how much planning and cooperation (not to mention man-      hours!) go into food service production at such a large scale. Thank you for welcoming us,    Riderwood!

A quick selfie with our fabulous hairnets!



  1. I am so very grateful to the Erickson Riderwood Dining Services Team and Staff for making this possible for both you (Valerie) and Kelda.

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