Welcome to the World of Camp Food Service

Viki Kappel Spain, M Ed
May 2015

If you’re new to the food service staff at camp, then the first week may feel a bit overwhelming. There are a lot of mouths to feed! But rest assured, the camp administration wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t believe in your ability to be a productive member of the team.

 

Know the Basics

Before diving into your first meal prep, though, be sure you can answer these five food service basics for each task in the kitchen and serving area:
 
  1. Do you know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing?
  2. How are you expected to complete the task at hand?
  3. Do you have the necessary tools and equipment to accomplish the task as requested?
  4. Do you have the necessary skills and safety training for each tool or piece of equipment you’ll be using?
  5. How much time do you have to complete the task?
 
For example, if you are given the task of slicing four tavern hams (boneless and approximately ten pounds each) for dinner in 20 minutes, to answer the additional preceding questions in the affirmative, you’d need to have knowledge of the following:
 
  • Proper knife handling and safety training for the varying sizes and types of knives used in commercial cooking (and/or a meat slicer if your camp is equipped with one)
  • Proper determination of creating a safe work space/station, including:
  • Mise en place (the French culinary term meaning to have all necessary foods, tools, pans, pan spray, etc., ready before you begin a task)
  • Setting up a cutting board safely (by placing a wet bar towel flat under the cutting board to keep it from moving)
  • Slice thickness expectation, with the understanding of getting the maximum number of slices from each ham.
 

Defer to a Higher Authority

No one expects you to have all the answers on day one, except maybe hungry campers with seemingly logical food requests for particular condiments and such. Many individuals have strange (to some people) little eating habits, such as enjoying maple syrup or salsa with every meal, or bread, butter, jelly, cottage cheese — or any food item at all that is not on the menu or regular routine included in salad or side bars. You may occasionally run into a seasoned camp staff member who will take advantage of your “new” status and ask you for something that is not offered to the general camp population in the dining hall. He or she might think you’re easily persuaded or more willing to say yes than the kitchen manager might be.
 
Rather than hightailing it to the kitchen to retrieve the requested food item, look for the kitchen manager or another suitable supervisor to appropriately answer the question. Chances are, in the best interest of the overall food service operation and budget, the kitchen manager will remain on the premises until the meal and cleanup is concluded. Consequently, he or she should be readily available to help you.
 
Remember, communication is your most valuable resource as a food service employee. It’s important that you follow the proper and ethical channels of communication, protocol, and behavioral guidelines.
 
Don’t ever be afraid to ask for guidance on the proper steps to prepare something. The duty procedures and guidelines given to you during staff training will give you a general overview, but working side by side with your supervisor or another seasoned employee trained in a specific task often can show you technique and help you visualize the final product.
 

Take Full Advantage of Training Opportunities

Many camps know one of the most impressive things an employer can do for you is provide training opportunities. And you shouldn’t consider training just a requirement for the job, but an opportunity for you to do the best job possible. Training helps:
 
  • Teach and promote basic food-handling safety
  • With the continuity of food preparation and presentation
  • Make you feel a valued part of the food service staff, and more enthusiastic, positive, and energetic about cooking
  • Improve the overall quality of food (which all of camp, you included, will appreciate)
  • Save money for the camp, as less food is burned and/or wasted, and time is better managed
 
It you have truly taken advantage of any pre-camp training you were given and jump at any training opportunities to come, you’ll learn new ideas; develop better skills, efficiency, and a concept of budget and cost awareness; and gain the confidence to do a better job and be invested in preparing good food. In addition, learning in the company of your fellow food service staff provides the opportunity to develop a team framework and improve cohesion in the kitchen.
 
Viki Kappel Spain, M Ed, is an author, consultant, and speaker, and has been cooking in the camp industry since 1985. She is an active member of Northern California ACA field office and frequent presenter of essential information in the camp food service arena. Viki can be reached at vkspain@sbcglobal.net or visit her website at www.campcookbooks.com.