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The controlled frenzy behind Founders’ Day

April 4th, 2010 Posted in Arts and Life

By Jess Allen
Photos by Whitney Peterson

The soft click of heels on the tile as a trickle of couples exited the ballroom and then a crowd slowly swelled out like a wave on a beach only to recede again as the 300 attendees either made their way to their cars or to the TSC International Lounge, where cupcakes and tea light candles awaited them.

The sit-down dinner was over for the well-fed, fancy-dressed attendees of the annual Founders’ Day event at USU, but it was far from over for those who were making the seemingly flawless event go down.

“It was crazy,” said Kaden Coil, one of the caterers, as he bustled around the tables grabbing anything he could get his hands on. “It was a mess.”

Serving a three-course meal to hundreds of VIPs—including the university’s top administrators and most important alumni—can be just a little stressful for those putting it on.

“It’s busy,” said catering supervisor Spencer Larsen. “It’s always harder to feed 300 people at once.”

But as those in formal dress sat at the 9-top tables covered by a blue table cloth, the catering staff moved with ease from table to table, refilling glasses and checking on the guests to make sure everything was all right.

“The good thing is that it’s crazy behind the scenes,” Larsen said, “but the people out there don’t see it, so they think it goes so smoothly.”

Preparation for the big event started months in advance, said catering manager Craig Wright.

USU Catering prepared a list of menu choices for the Founders’ Day planning committee and let them pick out what they wanted.

But the actual food preparation started two days before the Friday night gala and continued right up to the actual meal.

“We can tell you pretty much down to the minute how long it will take to cook everything,” said chef Jeff Woolley.

With large slabs of beef packaged and shipped fresh from Iowa, Woolley said it takes him about eight hours to trim all the meat for cooking.

Even with all the preparation that is done it’s hard to please everyone, Woolley said as he sliced another piece of fat off and lightly tossed the meat into a container.

Sometimes people will call in before the dinner to let the catering staff know about special dietary requirements, he said, and a special menu is prepared for them in advance. But even with getting the food ready and prepared on the designated start time, sometimes things don’t always go smoothly.

“The problem is timing,” Woolley said. “People take a while to settle down and sit down.”

But out in the ballroom, as the dinner attendees chatted and dug into their elegantly presented main courses, none of them knew about the controlled craziness and stress back in the kitchens.

As the kitchen staff prepared its hundreds of entrees, the program started in the ballroom to a theme of “My Blue Heaven.” USU’s 122nd Founders’ Day proceeded with musical entertainment, awards for outstanding alumni, remarks by alumni association and administration officials, the Alma Mater Hymn, and finally the dessert reception.

Before going out to cupcakes on the small round tables in the dimly lit International Lounge, the crowded ballroom had to do one final thing: The Scotsman. With the familiar tune trumpeting out the speakers, many of the older participants tentatively raised their arms in the air and swayed back and forth while mock-milking a cow.

As soon as the crowd started to leave the ballroom, the catering staff and waiters spread out and pounced on the tables. It was impressive.

Plates were scraped and stacked beside silverware and lines of glasses, awaiting removal to the dishwasher

“I expect to be out of here in an hour,” said Rhett Keaton, part of the catering staff. “But it depends on the kitchen. The Marketplace is cleaning up too so it can get crowded.”

In the back, the catering staff formed an assembly line next to the dishwasher. With music playing as they worked, some of the staff dried dishes and others organized the clean silverwear.

While some worked the assembly line, others rushed around putting things away as quickly as they could.

But there are perks in putting on such a large event. Leftovers.


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