A Trip To Kennedy Space Center (7/5-7/10)

Dan Thorington recently traveled to Kennedy Space Center to assist our culinary team with preparation and execution during the final shuttle launch. His thoughts, memories and experiences are recorded below.

Tuesday July 5, 2011

I arrived at Orlando International Airport this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. and proceeded to Chef Charles at baggage claim. From there, the two of us headed to pick up a rental car. Chef Charles had already taken care of the paperwork for the car as he had arrived in Orlando a few hours before I did. We drove to the hotel we were staying at for the week – the Best Western in Cocoa Beach. After settling in, we met up with Chef Roland Henin and went to Sushi Tai Tai for dinner. It was a very uneventful first day in Florida.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Today I met up with Chef Charles for breakfast at the Best Western before we were to head up to Kennedy Space Center to begin work for the day. We left at 7:30 a.m. and it only took a half hour to get there. We first had to get our ID badges before heading into work. It only took a couple minutes to get our badges since we had both been there before and they already had our information on file.

I met up with Chef Gidget and Chef Aina. We went over what was going to happen over the next couple days. Chef Henin met us there rather than riding with us. One of the first things I noticed while working was how much less workers there were than the last time I had been at Kennedy. This shocked me because everyone had already been there since at the earliest 7 a.m. and dishes piled up quickly because of all the guests that were coming to the park for the shuttle launch. They were able to overcome the difficulties of this by working just as hard to catch up and stay on top of everything.

Today was mainly a prep day although we did have to prepare a lunch buffet for about 150. The menu was a simple one: roasted chicken, steamed vegetables, mac and cheese, rice and mini corn dogs. Vicky, who is one of the cooks at Kennedy, was able to do this party by herself. Most of what I prepped today was sliced deli meats – enough for about 500 sandwiches – on a slice that was really old but we were able to overcome it. After slicing the meats I helped Chef Henin to prepare fruit for fruit platters. Watching him work is amazing because you don’t think he’s going to get done but he’s just so precise and clean that you realize everything is timed out. He taught me a few tricks when it came to cleaning fruit, such as using a whole lexhand tub with a perforated one on top and then shaking the fruit in the ice water so not only does it shock the fruit, it clean it and all the dirt settles to the bottom of the whole tub.

We broke for lunch about halfway through the day. It’s a good thing to stop every once in a while in the Florida heat to sit down because even though the kitchens are cooled and have fans, if you are not careful the heat can catch up with you. After lunch we finished off the day making 350 turkey wraps which were to be used for paninis at Orbit. We left a little after 5 p.m. for the day.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I began this day the same way I began Wednesday by having breakfast with Chef Charles. We arrived at Kennedy Space Center at 8 p.m. We kicked off the day with a brief sit down with Chef Gidget and went over everything that was going to happen between that morning through Friday afternoon when the launch would take place. I started my day off traying up enough cookies for 400 box lunches and another party for Friday afternoon. This came out to be just over 950 cookies.

Once they were trayed up I started baking them off. Their ovens temperature gauges were a little off so they tended to cook a little hotter then they should have. As the cookies were baking I washed a couple cases of oranges and apples. While cleaning the fruit they had another buffet going on and one of the things that stood out to me was that there was a breakdown in communication between the buffet runners and the cooks. We were able to overcome this hurdles as a team and finish strong on the party. Chef Charles worked on cleaning vegetables for the next couple days and Chef Henin started making fruit trays with the fruit he cleaned the day before. After finishing the cookies and cleaning the apples and oranges, I made up a couple vegetable platters for a BBQ they were doing that night. The last thing we did for the day before leaving was take all the cookies I made and bag them up for the box lunches. We left for the day at 4 p.m. because we had to get back to the park at 1 a.m. since it opened at 1:30 a.m. for the launch.

After leaving we went back to the hotel and Chef Charles and Chef Henin got some sleep in before heading back. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to tough it out the rest of the day and just get some sleep after the launch went off.

Friday, July 8, 2011

I met up with Chef Charles at 12:30 a.m. and met a couple of people who had come all the way from Australia just to see the last shuttle launch. We headed to Kennedy and because it was launch day security was extra tight and we had to go through three checkpoints just to get to the kitchen. After arriving in the kitchen, a group of chefs arrived from Tampa Bay. This group was part of our Sportservice team and it was nice to have them to help out. It was full steam ahead once we settled in because they were expecting to max out the park at 18,000 people that day. The first thing I did was work with Chef Charles on cooking bacon and sausage for the day. After that was done, Charles started prepping food for lunch buffets. I helped out Chef Aina with breakfast sandwiches. These were really easy to make – croissant rolls with sliced ham, eggs and cheese.

The only problem was that they were using the breakfast sandwiches faster then we could make new ones so it ended up taking longer than we wanted because we constantly had to keep making eggs. The chefs from Tampa Bay worked a live grill outside the kitchen in the park and made sandwiches for box lunches later that day. Chef Henin arrived at about 4 a.m. He finished up his fruit trays for the last of the parties. I have to say that because he is so precise with everything he did he made everything look so easy and I have to thank him for showing me a few tricks to make things easier that I wouldn’t have thought of before.

Around 8 a.m. I started to hit a wall because I had been in the same kitchen the whole time and hadn’t had a chance to see the rest of the park. So when a chance came up to deliver food to the employee center, I jumped on it because it got me out of the kitchen for a couple minutes and I would have the chance to drive one of the golf carts. It felt good to be able to drive back and forth delivering food. I was able to meet a couple of the workers there as well who just happened to be from New York. Everything between 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. is a blur because it was a combination of making breakfast sandwiches, bagging cookies and prepping food for a lunch buffet.

Once 11:15 rolled around everyone stopped working and headed outside because it was time for the launch. There had been a 70% chance the launch wasn’t going to go off but at that time the sky was clear and the launch went off at 11:28 a.m. It was quite breathtaking because that was the final one. There are no more launches scheduled for the foreseeable future.

The rest of the day was extremely tough because I was exhausted and tired and everything was starting to annoy me. I was getting annoyed because it seemed like people stopped working since the launch went off even though we still had a lot to do. We finished bagging cookies, slicing sandwiches, and making box lunches. At about 2 p.m., Chef Gidget recieved a call from Orbit saying they needed help. Since I knew where Orbit was, I walked one of the Tampa chefs over since Chef Gidget wanted to get us out of there. After arriving there and seeing the line was out the door, I realized I needed to start as well. The first thing I noticed in the kitchen was just how unqualified some of the people working there were. The kitchen was a mess. People didn’t have a direction on where to go or what to do. I started by helping restock the food in the freezers because they were going through a lot of fried foods, which didn’t surprise me since people love fried foods. I hopped on cooking pizzas because that was going just as fast and no one was cooking any pizzas. I did this for the remainder of my time there since the other chefs from Tampa arrived and were helping out wherever they could. Eventually Chef Gidget kicked me out because Chef Charles was my ride and he wanted to leave. I said my goodbyes to everyone since I didn’t have to come back on Saturday because the launch went off as scheduled.

Afterwards I had dinner with Chef Charles and Chef Henin, at the pier where we talked about everything that had happened over the last couple days. We enjoyed a nice meal and had a few drinks. It was nice because I didn’t have to pay for anything. That is always nice.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday was a very easy day. I spent the day at the beach where I proceeded to get sunburned. I arrived back to my hotel just in time to see Derek Jeter hit a home run for his 3,000th hit. I had dinner with Chef Charles since Chef Henin had left for Washington early that morning.

This was my second trip to Kennedy Space Center since I started working for Delaware North. Each time I went to KSC I was able to experience history which I will not truly appreciate to the fullest until I am much older and NASA has begun deep space exploration. Seeing the last ever shuttle launch in person, as well as the last night launch on my previous visit, is something I will always be proud of and I can’t thank Chef Gidget enough for inviting me down and allowing me to help out on this special occasion. I took a lot away from this trip, such as working with Chef Henin for the very first time, and being able to ask him questions and having him show me new things in a kitchen I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Working with Chef Charles, Chef Gidget, and Chef Aina is always a great experience because they make working fun, exciting and they aren’t afraid to give you helpful tips or insight. Even though the shuttle launches are finished and that part of history is over, I would still love to go back down to KSC and help out again if they ever need the help no matter the event.

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