Help me get wonderful food to our guests.
July 24, 2013 10:40 AM   Subscribe

I am organising a specialty holiday in Malaga, Spain for a fortnight this September. An awesome chef has come on board. Now what?

A. This is a niche private group holiday of between 8 and 12 people in a Spanish style villa. It has a nice big kitchen with four hobs, two ovens, two fridges and freezers, and lots and lots of aluminium workspace. Basic knives and cookware are available.

B. A talented head chef is coming on holiday with us for free, and is really generously doing food for free. He will be directing the cooking for everyone and will have 2-3 unskilled assistants potentially available when needed. He is a lifelong cook and has a solid record of head-chefery, although he has a good case of the ADHD.

C. I want to provide wicked awesome food. This is such an important thing for getting people to come back. I want to provide thoughtful, ethical, delicious food - breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks - and great local beer, wine and the usual soft drinks, juices, veg, etc. and packed lunches available for those venturing out. There will also be the odd party or reception with a few more people.

D. A budget of 75 euros per person per week has been posited. Lidls, Spanish grocery stores, and a big open market in Malaga are available. Is this realistic? Local information would be helpful, as we have drivers, time and Spanish speakers available.

E. I want the food to be delicious, but accessible to a broad variety of palates, particularly UK palates. I want to have capacity to cater for gluten free and other special needs when required.

F. How many days do I have to get there before the holiday with chef to pull this off?

G. What should I instruct chef to do, what information do I need to give him to come up with a meal plan? He is stuck cooking on a beautiful island with sporadic Internet all summer, so I want to help with the info-prep as much as possible.

H. Any other advice is welcome. Except for don't do it. I am going to do it once, and if I don't like it I won't do it again. If it goes brilliantly, it's going to happen a couple times a year.
posted by Mistress to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you can't discuss this with your chef? He's the food professional.
posted by bearwife at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Indeed, bearwife, I assumed that he would be able to come up with something off the top of his head, but he's looking for some direction from me.

Upon reflection, I suppose a t.l.d.r. of my question might be, "If people are going on an all-inclusive holiday that costs over 600 quid a week, what kind of food do they expect?"

Don't want to over-moderate the thread, so stepping out to read now :)
posted by Mistress at 10:50 AM on July 24, 2013

How many days do I have to get there before the holiday with chef to pull this off?

One. You're going to shop every day or at most, two, so you only need to be there one day in advance. The first day before guests, you want no obligations beyond loading up with the first day's food and the week's staples, which includes a lot of very heavy booze.

Pro Tip: Rob Lidl for staples (olive oil, vinegar, tea, coffee etc) first, and burn* the bags when you've unpacked. Then hit the more upmarket grocery stores. Expect to buy fruit and veg fresh in the markets.

"If people are going on an all-inclusive holiday that costs over 600 quid a week, what kind of food do they expect?"

Breakfast; lunch (but get a headcount at breakfast); dinner with wine; a drinks hour with cheese, fruit, olives and very light canapes (mezzo-style is grand); and most importantly, the ability to request a packed/picnic lunch for day trips. I would also expect "hand snacks" out all day for munching, like fruit, nuts and though I hate to say it, individual bags of crisps.

*metaphorically speaking.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the great things will be fresh, in season ingredients. So go a day ahead of time and get what you'll need for the first day. A good chef will be inspired by ingredients. Plan on going to the market daily for the absolute freshest and most delicious ingredients.

Here is a list of Malaga dishes, let this be a guide for what you can expect to find in the markets.

So for breakfasts, do a buffet of sorts, egg fritattas with local ingredients and potatoes, fresh bread, yogurts, fruit. Nothing too fancy, but a nice assortment of things that people will enjoy.

Lunches can be a gazpacho, open faced sandwiches, salads and fresh fish. Light, cool, yummy. Bread, cheese, wine, olives can be a nice picnic.

Perhaps a tea in the afternoon, with sandwiches/canepes, biscuits and light nibblies.

Dinners can be grander and later affairs, a starter, a main, a soup, a salad, fruit and dessert.

Let the market dictate what's on the menu. Be sure to have lots of seafood!

You don't really need to do a whole lot with food, if it's top quality as an ingredient.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2013

I'd also expect locally influenced cuisine and drink. When we head to Spain, for example, we assume tapas and Spanish wines and beers are in store.

You'll definitely want to do a survey of your attendees to make sure that special issues like vegetarianism, diabetes, gluten intolerance, and similar issue are also accounted for.
posted by bearwife at 11:33 AM on July 24, 2013

Best answer: I have a chef friend who does this in North America. Right-off, the food budget you're proposing seems very, very low for 3 meals per day plus snacks. If you want to include beverages (including alcoholic) as well as a party with that budget, I think you'll have a big problem.

My chef friend has done this for a similar-sized group for a week at a time in a resort setting and she has the entire week's menu planned with recipes and detailed supply lists (based on what's in season and available) and prep/cook timing before arriving. She also brings all of her own spices and favorite tools/knives. She gets there a day or two before the guests, gets initial supplies, inventories the kitchen for tools and available serving dishes, and starts on whatever pre-prep can be done. She's exhausted after a week of doing this - two weeks without dedicated help and days off would be quite challenging.

Scheduling chores and prep tasks for the 2-3 unskilled assistants in a formalized manner would help. Are you expecting the chef to also do all of the clean-up/dishes in addition to most of the prep and cooking?

This will not be a holiday for the chef. There won't be much down time when prep, clean-up, and/or shopping isn't being done. It's work and should not be confused with a vacation. When my friend does this her travel/accommodation is paid for and she is paid handsomely in addition.
posted by quince at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone so far. Chef is not expected to clean up and one of the assistants will be doing dish.

Chef is coming in as a partner - we're all going to be working like dogs. :)
posted by Mistress at 11:54 AM on July 24, 2013

Agree that the budget seems unrealistically low if it's meant to include alcohol.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:57 AM on July 24, 2013

Maybe your group is really different from groups I've traveled with, but we almost never eat three meals a day on these kinds of holidays. Not at the house, at least. People sleep in, so breakfast is more like brunch-time; then there's the going out and doing stuff, which generally happens away from the house, and so lunch is elsewhere. There might be late afternoon snacks and drinks, and then there's dinner. Maybe poll your group, and definitely take into account how many outside-the-house activities people are likely to do.
posted by rtha at 12:04 PM on July 24, 2013

Best answer: Some ideas in addition to what DarlingBri said:

-Wine tastings by region (Riojas, Sherrys, etc)

-Olive oil tasting

-Fresh fish! You're right on the water, so this is a must

-Tapas, especially Andalucian tapas (vs things you'd find in Basque country)

-Have guidelines for the chef, but task him with the meal plans based on his own inspiration from the ingredients (e.g. say "one vegatarian option, one meat entree, 3 course meal" or "a warm soup, then a chicken entree"); research local dishes and suggest those as a starting point (arroz con pollo, sopa de lentejas, fritura/paella, caracoles, etc).

-Ask chef in advance for what staples to stock, and any specific brands, as well as any specific cookware he may need; arrive 2-3 days before to get these things.

-Adhere to the Spanish dining schedule to give people an 'authentic' experience (light pastries or fruit for breakfast, coffee and snack around 11am, big lunch around 2pm, tapas/happy hour at 5ish, small dinner at 9/10ish). Serve lunch in courses (soup/salad followed by the main dish followed by cheese or fresh fruit). This schedule is also great for people on vacation (miss the breakfast, hit the coffee hour, go out for a bit, back for big meal, afternoon nap, then drinks, dinner, then out).

-Espresso machine

-Most things can be made naturally gluten free. However, if using a fryer (many Spanish dishes are fried), be aware that frying one item with gluten will taint the whole batch of oil. Pre-ordering a stock of gluten free all purpose flour may be worthwhile (availability may be limited there).

-Fresh bread should be purchased daily before everyone wakes up

-Fresh OJ is an absolute requirement - don't even consider buying store packaged OJ.

-Many grocery stores are closed on Sunday and close by 8 or 9pm. Also, closing stores for the duration of a holiday week is not uncommon. Many places close for siesta. Scope out your local stores when you arrive and take note of closing/opening times and plan accordingly.

-If people are interested, maybe you can arrange (a) a fishing charter where the chef cooks the fish when they get back or (b) a cooking class/demonstration for a classic spanish dish (salmorejo/gazpacho on the easy end or tortilla espanola on the more complicated end)

-I would also stock some British snack foods or snack ingredients so people have something familiar at hand. If there's El Corte Ingles in Malaga, they have an international foods section that has a ton of stuff.

-Definitely offer picnic/beach packs. A small sandwich (on fresh bread), a bottle of wine or OJ, and a pre-peeled orange should be fine for a basic pack. Spaniards generally peel oranges with a knife (unlike us Americans who rip off the peel with our hands like heathens), so peeling an orange in public is frowned upon.

-The local beer (Cruzcampo) is not that great; stock some (including the 0,0 beer if any non-drinkers are in your group), but spend your money on wines.

-Make sure the house has wifi.

$75 (or 75Eur or 75GBP) per person per week is low, especially if this includes alcohol. Since you're going for variety of meals, you can't buy a lot of things in bulk (like a restaurant could b/c they're serving the same thing to different customers every night). This is much more like home cooking. Make your own nice-ish meals 3x/day every day for a week and see how much you spend; use this as a guide for costs.
posted by melissasaurus at 12:10 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some years ago, I did this - as the chef, and in Italy. Actually everyone cooked, and the only failed dish during the week was one of mine! But I supervised shopping and helped organize the kitchen.
75 € pr head is not enough. Beverages are not expensive in Spain, and if you know where to look, you can get high quality food very cheaply as well. But you don't know where to look. In Italy, I found the market we should have used on the second last day. I have only visited Malaga briefly, but it seems very touristic to me, which means there may be traps. In the touristic place I am right now, the same fish will cost exactly ten times as much for tourists as for locals, and even from the same vendor - even when people are standing in the same line.

Are you eating at home every night? we did, because our villa was very remote, but we had lunch out every day, as we wanted to try out the local cuisine.

For inspiration, you might look at the El Moro cookbooks. If your chef-friend is OK with that. A fusion of Southern Spanish and Northern African traditions, which are already interwoven, makes a lot of sense, and is economical.
posted by mumimor at 3:01 PM on July 24, 2013

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