Two weeks ago I headed down to Kennedy Space Center to help our culinary team prepare for the thousands of people who would be in attendance to see the launch of Discovery. The shuttle launches are truly wonderful events and its something that’s beautiful to see. Since there are only a few left, even more people than usual are attending. Here is an overview of what the chefs did over those few days.
This shuttle launch was honestly one of the busiest I’ve ever seen. We had a quick meeting in the late morning hours the day of the launch and there were already 12,000 people in the park. They just kept coming and coming…we were jammed. I tried to move from one location to another a little before noon and it was crazy. I needed to get to another kitchen to help with preparations and I couldn’t get in the building because there were so many people waiting to get food. It’s hard to imagine if you’ve ever been to Kennedy as the park is very large, but there were people everywhere. Eventually, as it became closer to time for the launch…the spaced cleared a bit.
I’ve done 18 to 20 launches in my career and this is probably the busiest one. It is understandable as there aren’t many launches left. People who haven’t seen it want to see it. People who have want to see it again. Plus, it was absolutely perfect weather (not that I had much time to enjoy the weather). Seventy five degrees, sunny and clear skies.
The chefs worked so hard to prepare that I was glad we were all able to step out about five minutes before the launch and watch it occur from the Rocket Garden area. It was still crazy to see how many people were there…the launch was beautiful.
But the time leading up to the launch was all work. We didn’t have much time to talk of relax, it was just crank, crank, crank. Wherever you could help – you did. Our people did a great job to serve that many people and produce that kind of food.
Our preparation started about two days before the actual launch. Along with preparing the different food items we would cook Thursday, we had to help with such events as our Lunch With An Astronaut opportunity and some other parties. When we weren’t handling those immediate events, we were washing lettuce, slicing tomatoes for hamburgers – we sold thousands and thousands of hamburgers. You prep for two days really and it does come together, but they are long days – 10, 12, or 14 hours.
It was a tiring experience. Everyone runs themselves ragged. As soon as you get done you get going on something new. But, through all of that, you become a team and can take so much pride from your work.
I later heard that there were 1 million people watching the shuttle launch in the area. Clearly, they weren’t all at Kennedy Space Center, but I’d believe it as our 30-minute ride home on launch day took us more than three hours. Just cars and people everywhere. People have great appreciation for the shuttle launches.
And, when you see that many people enjoying the launch and enjoying your food, it really makes it worth it. We’ve been doing this for a few years now and we really have a system that has become more efficient over time.
The one thing that didn’t happen this time and I’m so grateful for is that the launch wasn’t cancelled. In the past, we’ve had our team do all the prep work and all the food ready to go…and then weather or mechanical difficulties with the shuttle cancel the launch. It’s really awful. We give the food away to the local food banks, which is nice. That’s just a chance you take with the shuttle launches as the weather needs to be perfect.
In all, it was a great trip. Even after almost 20 of these, I still love seeing the launches. They are special, special events. I’m hopeful we will have a few other chefs chime in on their time at Kennedy as well.
In Good Cooking Always,
Chef Roland Henin, CMC