About three weeks into his new gig, executive chef Chris Park is preparing for arguably his most important meal of the year — serving 300 people Thanksgiving dinner at the National Park Inn in Mount Rainier National Park.
Park, 38, has been a chef for about 23 years and prepared holiday meals at his previous job at Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah.
Now he’s in charge of the meals for the National Park and Paradise inns at Rainier, the latter of which is closed for the winter.
By his guess, Thursday’s holiday buffet will bring about three times the customers he sees on an average day this time of year. That means long days preparing the meals, and a whole lot of food trucked up the mountain for visitors.
Many of the diners make an annual pilgrimage to the restaurant for the holiday, wanting the annual staples on the menu, such as the inn’s roasted root vegetables.
Park talked to The News Tribune about what it takes to serve a holiday meal for 300.
Question: What’s on the menu?
Answer: We have turkey, obviously. We’re going to have a hand-carved baron of beef. We’re doing a walnut and potato stuffing. Yukon gold whipped potatoes, giblet gravy, creamy horse radish sauce.
We’re doing a creamed spinach, oven-roasted root vegetables and rosemary-scented orange and white sweet potatoes. One of the salads is pretty nice. We’re doing a wild arugula salad. It’s with pickled fennel, pine nuts, feta cheese, and Dijon vinaigrette.
Q: What are the challenges of putting on a holiday meal like this, especially up there?
A: It’s a lot of food and it’s buffet style. It’s a little different than a la carte. It’s a smaller kitchen, so we have to really move stuff around and start preparing probably Monday or Tuesday. We’ll start cutting the vegetables. We’ll brine the turkey. Cure the beef a little bit.
Q: There’s not a store nearby if you forget anything. Is that tricky?
A: It’s definitely a challenge being so remote. Definitely can’t run to the store if I run out of something. I have to order up for that reason.
Q: Do you make one big grocery run? How much food do you need?
A: It’ll be delivered in one big shot Monday. Turkeys, I have about 125 pounds coming. Barons of beef, 70 pounds. Starches like potatoes and root vegetables, it’s 100 pounds of each.
Q: Do you think guests look for anything in particular in a Thanksgiving meal?
A: They look for the traditional items. From what I understand, the guests who come for the brunch here have been coming for a number of years. We get a lot of repeat business. People make a special trip from all over Washington to come up here. It’s kind of a neat setting. It’s pretty intimate.
Q: How long will you work Thursday?
A: Between 9 a.m. and probably around 8 p.m. The day before and the day of is probably a 12-, 13-hour day. We want to have everything ready to go.
Q: Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving dish?
A: We eat the leftovers that come back from the buffet. We definitely don’t want to cook for ourselves after doing that (feeding 300 people).
Q: Is it special to share a holiday with guests who celebrate at your restaurant?
A: It is, especially for us in the kitchens. We don’t generally get to spend it at our house with our family, so this is our family – the staff and the guests.