Class Adaptation: Culinary Services on the Road

This is a written adaptation of my Culinary Services: On the Road class.

Planning

Since travel limits your ability to improvise, thorough planning is essential.  Here’s where to start.

  • Physical resources: what you’ll need to provide the service.
    • Type: items by category. 
      • Appliances—what appliances will you have access to?  A microwave and a mini fridge are common hotel room amenities.  There might be more in other accommodation types, like an Airbnb. What are you bringing with you? Things like a crock pot or waffle iron travel well in many circumstances. 
      • Food.  Your actual ingredients.  Once you have your recipe list, make your ingredient list.
      • Drinks.  Don’t forget the beverages.  At the very least, make sure you’ll have cold, filtered water.  This might not be provided by your venue. 
      • Oils, seasonings, condiments.  Don’t forget these mini ingredients.  At the least, salt and pepper can make almost anything better.  Consider other condiments and oils, too. 
      • Cleaning supplies.  You won’t just be cooking on the road; you’ll be cleaning on the road.  Housekeeping probably won’t cover this in a hotel and might not in other venues.  Remember your dish soap and sponge, and other needs. 
      • Kitchen essentials. Servingware, measuring tools, plates, bowls, cups, silverware, napkins, all that. Poke around your home kitchen.  What needs to come with you or be accounted for? 
    • Where: where do those resources come from? 
      • Provided by the venue?  Are any of these items provided by your accommodations? 
      • Shop? Can you shop when you get there, heading out to a nearby grocery store, convenience store, or restaurant? 
      • Delivery?  Could you have items delivered or shipped to your venue?  Think Instacart, DoorDash, and PostMates.  
      • Bring it with you?  Can you bring the item with you easily? 
  • Restrictions: what might stop you from providing this service in certain ways? 
    • Time.  Time to shop, time to cook, time to clean. Do you have enough of it? Can you plan for this better?
    • Money.  Expensive ingredients, especially if you’re going to a place with higher prices than home, or trying to buy small quantities of things you usually buy in bulk (especially spices).  Can you check out coupons, sales, other options, price comparisons, or bring anything with you?
    • Transportation. Can you get to the stores you need? Can you get a ride, use public transit, walk, bike, or use a cab/rideshare service?  
    • Space.  Do you have the space in your accommodations to cook these dishes? Can you safely repurpose spaces or move things tighter together? Do you have space in your luggage or vehicle to pack?
    • TSA.  Things you can and cannot bring on airlines.  You usually have more wiggle room in your checked baggage.  You could also consider shipping items, or getting them when you get there.
    • Permissions. Any restrictions set by the person you’re serving. Have you communicated about what will allow you to provide the best service?
    • Dietary restrictions.  If you’re providing your own culinary service on the road to help the person you’re serving or yourself adhere to a certain diet, you’ll need to, of course, stick to that diet. There are many resources online for all types of situations.
    • Health. Similar to the above. If you’re doing the cooking yourself for health reasons, that needs to stay in mind. 
  • Other info.  Other knowledge to gather.
    • How many people? How many people are you cooking for each time? Does this change for any meal? 
    • Meal times.  When is food expected to be on the table? 
  • Information on anything you’re not cooking, and options.
    • Restaurants. Are you going out anywhere?  Are there places nearby to your liking (or the liking of the person you’re serving), or plans already made?  Going out with someone you’re visiting, perhaps? Remember reservations. 
    • Room service. Anything you can order from the hotel to the room that’s suitable? 
    • Free breakfast. Many hotel like venues provide a free continental breakfast. Is this suitable, or is there anything provided there you can bring back to the room to be repurposed? 
    • Others cooking.  Especially if you’re visiting someone, they may cook you a meal at some point.  If you’re traveling with another service type or anyone else who’s also doing the cooking, you’ll need to coordinate who’s doing what with them. 
    • Delivery. Any delivery options that are useful?  This could be restaurants or stores. 
    • Snacks. Snacks you can make or buy ahead of time or on site for between meal times. 
  • Make a meal plan and backups.  Things to consider: 
    • Is the meal filling enough?  Just because options are limited doesn’t mean a meal shouldn’t be satisfying.
    • Plans for snacks and drinks. Outside of just meals, remember things to munch on in between, and beverages for meals and outside of them.
    • Plan for leftovers.  Can you reheat them the next night, use them in a different dish, or pack them for lunch? 
    • Make a packing list/prep ahead list/shopping list.  Shopping list for home and when you arrive. Packing list of every single item.  List of foods to prepare ahead of time and then pack. 
    • Check for sales and coupons.  To travel cheaper, keep these in mind both where you’re starting and where you’re going.   
    • Compare shopping options. Compare prices between the venues at home and at your destination, and the prices between those cities in general. 
    • Pick good and few items.  Use as few items as possible without making the same dish over and over again.  Use more versatile cuts of meat, a very basic selection of spices (salt and pepper are really your friends), etc.  And when you do shop, pick quality cuts of meat, pieces of produce, etc. 
    • Make a master plan.  If you repeat this trip often, make a master version of the lists and info above to easily reference next time. 
  • Location alerts.  With your partner’s blessing, especially if they’ll be out and about and you’ll be minding the room, consider setting up location alerts so you’ll know when they’re heading back.  Then, greet them at their car with a fresh beverage, a smile, and anything else they’d like. 

Top Allergens

Top allergens to be aware of in the needs of the person you’re serving and their guests.  There are many other dietary restrictions to be aware of (whether they be moral preference, religious, sensitivity, weight loss, medical need, etc.) but these tend to be the most common, and sometimes dangerous. 

  • Milk.  Note that most of the adult population is lactose intolerant to some extent, though this is different than an actual milk allergy.  A cow milk allergy is, however, one of the most common childhood allergies, though most cases outgrow it.  Many products contain dairy that are not labeled with “milk” as an ingredient, but contain dairy additives, so know what to look for on a label with this allergy and all others.
  • Eggs.  This one is again common in children, though it’s frequently outgrown.  Also, some are allergic to only egg whites or egg yolks, or are okay with cooked eggs in another product (eggs in baked goods, for instance). Be aware of the distinctions.
  • Fish.  Fish is a common and serious allergy, and it also sometimes surfaces later in life, with adult onset. 
  • Crustacean shellfish.  This tends to be a lifelong allergy, and it’s recommended that people with this allergy are also not around the product while it’s cooked. (This is true with some others, too. Bear in mind, especially in small spaces.)
  • Tree nuts.  This is a particularly deadly allergy and a particularly common one, and definitely something to be very aware of. 
  • Peanuts.  Peanut allergies are also particularly dangerous and particularly common.  It is also more common in children.
  • Wheat.  Wheat and gluten are not exactly the same, though the words gluten free and Celiac’s have become more and more common.  Wheat allergies are also more common in children. Note that those with wheat allergies (and others) can have a reaction from cross contamination, not just eating the item directly.  If you cook a regular pancake, and then cook a wheat free pancake in the same pan, the person eating the wheat free pancake can still have an allergic reaction. This is especially a risk with limited resources.
  • Soybeans.  Another common childhood allergy, soy is a common ingredient even where you might not expect it, so read labels carefully. 

Always talk to the person in question about what is okay for them.  

Basics

Basic advice and some safety considerations. 

  • When handling uncooked meats, remember to wear disposable gloves and not cross contaminate. (One more allergy to keep in mind here: latex.) Keep long hair pulled back if possible. 
  • Heat and surfaces.  Remember that you’re improvising a little here, and the surfaces you’re cooking on in a space like a hotel room might not be meant for cooking.  Evaluate surfaces before you do anything on them with heat, and keep an eye on the situation at least the first time.  (Say, if you set a crock pot in use on a counter.) 
  • Bear in mind the rules of the venue.  If you can’t have, say, an open flame, at least make efforts to abide by the rule or break it as safely and non disruptively as possible if truly need be, and be aware of the risks.
  • Outlets.  Use electricity safely, being aware of how much power something needs, how much the outlet is providing, outlets that may be near sources of water, all of those things.  
  • Use knives and cutting boards safely.  Keep your knives clean and sharp, and know how to use one properly, and the type of knife to use for what.  Use separate, clean cutting boards for raw meats (preferably plastic) and for everything else (preferably wood).  Keep wood cutting boards hydrated/oiled. Don’t slack on this just because of travel. 
  • Trust recipes.  There are few “fake recipes” or “alternative ingredient lists” floating around the Internet.  If you’re new, try to trust the recipe first before you make your own modifications.  You’re much more likely to get good results from the method that was tested. 
  • If you do need to substitute items, especially with the restrictions of cooking on the road, do so carefully.  Know what items can be substituted for what (ye olde “baking soda and baking powder are not the same thing”).  Also know if it’s substituted for the exact same measurement or not. (For example, there’s “cup for cup” substitute flour, especially gluten free varieties, but also many that might substitute “a cup and two tablespoons” per cup, say.  Be aware.) 

Temperatures

Nothing ruins even an otherwise perfect trip like food poisoning.  The best way to avoid it: cook everything to proper temperatures.  No slacking just because you’re traveling! Check everything properly with a thermometer.  The USDA recommends minimal internal temperatures of: 

  • Ham/Beef/Veal/Pork/Seafood/Lamb: 145*F/~63*C.  Now, there’s definitely a range here on some things, especially for items like medium rare or rare steaks (and good for you if you’ve done that in a hotel room).  But this is the official recommendation. 
  • All Poultry: 165*F/~74*C.  There isn’t really wiggle room here.  Don’t get salmonella.  You can still cook juicy chicken with an internal temp of way over 165*F.
  • Ground Meat (Non Poultry): 160*F/~71*C.  Grinding up meat redistributes bacteria that is usually surface level, and means it must be cooked to a higher temperature.
  • Final note: don’t forget to pack the thermometer so you can check those temperatures!

Presentation and Service

Mostly aesthetic considerations around mealtime itself. 

  • Make it look like home.  Take the time to customize the space as much as you can.  Bring key parts of the table or room from home where practical.  Tuck venue flyers and leaflets and such into drawers.  Remake the bed the way you would at home, and ask for the extra pillows or whatever touches of comfort are desired.  Make it look a little more like your normal space. 
  • Tidy/restock.  If you’re the one doing housekeeping, tidy up the space yourself, and as housekeeping services are usually the ones restocking amenities, get in touch with them or the front desk for any items you notice are low (towels, soaps, paper goods, etc.)  Empty trash containers into larger bins out of the room where available, and at least create a hamper for used laundry.  Also, still remember tipping customs.
  • Eat at a table.  If at all practical, eat at a table.  Even small hotel rooms usually have a desk and a chair or two.  Even a nightstand and one person sitting on the end of the bed will do. But don’t sit around in chairs or on the bed; create a table just like at home. 
  • On that note, add a tablecloth (easy to pack) and even a centerpiece (flowers or a decorative item provided the venue, perhaps?) if practical.  Even a towel can at least spare you some cleanup hassle. Place cards even for two are at least a cute touch. 
  • Lighting and music.  Experiment with the new space and adjust the lighting to something functional but intimate.  Electric candles or string lights aren’t hard to toss in your bag.  Use your phone or electronic of choice (many rental spaces even have compatible speakers or a TV with a music service) to play some low instrumental music or background noise (fireplace crackling, falling rain, what have you—search for ASMR, white noise, studyscapes, sleep soundtracks). 
  • Remember drinks and condiments.  Both when packing or shopping, and when setting the table.  
  • Getting into plating: use any sauce (you probably have a lot to work with if you’re using something like a crock pot) to create visual texture and interest. Watch the moisture content, and remember you’ll want the most moisture at the bottom of the plate, so on, so that it doesn’t drip down through dryer layers.  Create interest with colors. 
  • You can create height on the plate for an attractive design, stacking items, or, in the case of sliced meats, fanning those slices looks nice, too.  Plate in odd numbers, as this is more eye catching than even numbers.  Three or five slices of meat, not two or four, so on. Eating in the room doesn’t have to make your vacation meals any less Instagram worthy. 
  • Remember “the clock plate”.  Imagine your plate as the face of a clock. This is a principle that says that your protein or entree should be from three to nine, starch from nine to twelve, and veggies from twelve to three.  At the least, putting the protein/main dish closest to the diner is a popular recommendation, though if it’s a protein and one side dish, realistically a lot of people will turn it so the two dishes are at six to twelve and twelve to six.
  • Presenting condiments: ideas for butter.  Even on the road, it can be easy to dress this up a little.  A butter knife drawn along the top of a stick of butter is all you need to create butter curls, and a dasher/melon baller in a tub of whipped butter is all you need to create butter balls. 
  • Even on the road, wherever possible, use real, clean, matching dishes and table linens. 
  • Hug the guest.  Especially in those tight spaces, remember the important part of the “serve from the left, clear from the right” principle: use the hand of the side you’re serving from.  Right side of the guest, serve with your right hand, wrapping around slightly or “hugging” the guest instead of knocking them with your elbow, and vice versa on the left. 
  • If space at all allows, set the table properly. Consult a table setting chart; you can find mine here.

Napkin Folding Guide

The Rosebud

1. Lay napkin face down in front of you.

2. Fold the napkin up in half diagonally. 

3. Point open end away from you. 

4. Fold the right corner up diagonally to meet the top corner. 

5. Repeat on the left.

6. Flip the napkin over, left to right.

7. Fold the lower corner up most of the way.

8. Flip the napkin over, left to right.

9. Curl both sides in, tucking one into the other.

10. Stand up. 

The Envelope

1. Lay napkin face down in front of you.

2. Fold napkin in half downwards.

3. Fold top left corner to center of base.

4. Repeat on the right.

5. Flip left to right. 

6. Fold in corners evenly.  Tuck in menu, card, favor, or whatever is desired. (Bottom will be open.) 

The Cutlery Holder (Good For Smaller Table Settings)

1. Lay napkin face up in front of you.

2. Fold in half upwards.

3. Fold in half to the left.

4. Peel one layer of upper right corner back to lower left corner.

5. Flip over vertically, downward.

6. Fold lower third in.

7. Fold top third in.

8. Orient vertically and insert cutlery/whatever is desired.

Conclusion

So there’s “Culinary Services: On the Road”. I hope it was informative or inspirational.  You can find my top recipes (travel friendly recipes are starred) here.  Safe travels!

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