Monday, June 30, 2014

Herschel's Highway, Chapter #1, on the MorningstarFarms road with Rocco.

It's been over two years since I have written a new post. I guess I felt like I ran out of interesting things to say and I didn't feel the passion. I did two "best of" blogs highlighting some of my favorite posts then I just stopped. I'm restarting the blog with a 3 part series on my recent trip west. Part one will cover the work aspects of the trip, part two I plan to cover the foods and beverages that I enjoyed along the way, and part three will likely be a rambling stream of consciousness on the road in general and my great experiences this time around.
Katie & Josh, serving up the veggie burgers in Boulder

I recently was offered the opportunity to travel around the country to help one of my favorite catering clients, Innovative Catering Concepts, manage the food sampling at major consumer events for Morningstar Farms and their vegetarian burger products. It was an extremely attractive offer to me, not so much for the work, but for the travel. It would allow me to spend almost 3 weeks on my own traveling through California and Colorado with most of my expenses paid. But before the real fun started I had plenty of work to do. After helping ICC plan what towns to get hotel rooms in (such as Louisville CO instead of Boulder, saving almost $150 per night per room), helping book all the flights for the traveling crew, and hiring local staff for each market, it was time to hit the road on May 21st.
Starting the trip right at PHL Express Spa
The tour would take us first to Colorado and the Boulder Creek Festival, which started in 1987, two years after my graduation from the University of Colorado, which is located right up the hill from where we would be serving. To do the sampling, Innovative had eight of their top staff travel to do the kitchen and infrastructure and I was responsible for hiring local staff for front of the house and a few extra to augment the kitchen. Lucky for us, daughter Katie attends college in Denver and even though her culinary friends at Johnson & Wales were all busy with graduation weekend, her Boulder gang came through big time, especially my boy Josh Seeherman.
Yes, Rocco, those are the Flatirons, the geological icon of Boulder.

After arriving in Colorado on the 21st team ICC rented our van, which would be my home for the next month and headed to our hotel in Louisville, about 7 miles from Boulder. We had a free afternoon and after a nice lunch and hanging out and napping I went to see my daughter in Denver and we had an excellent Mexican Dinner. It was really great to see Katie and I was excited about working with her over the weekend.

The MorningStar Farms trailer, a wonder of modern food service technology.
Thursday the 22nd was the beginning of preparation for the event and since this was the first stop on the tour it would be the longest set up time. I actually began the day with a favorite little trip. I drove to Flagstaff Mountain for the sunrise over the plains which is always nice. Back to reality and the ICC gang was off to Restaurant Depot for supplies, small wares and some of the food we needed. We had what seemed like a full load with the five of us that all had to take the trip plus the items we purchased. But we had one more stop, at FedEx to pick up the hand washing station, a necessary item to keep Health Departments around the country happy with our personal sanitation. Against all odds, Rocco fit the equipment AND all the Depot purchases in the vehicle with all our staff. This was truly a site to behold as virtually every square inch was taken up by stuff or flesh.
There are two people to the right of Stevie with the shades, they are totally covered in stuff
Loaded for full on sampling war, we headed for Boulder to see the site, unload and begin set up. Upon arrival we met the Onboard Experiential Marketing (the marketing company that oversees the sampling program) team that would be the tour managers for the summer. Nick and Megan are from New Hampshire and they were very professional and a true pleasure to work with and for. Shortly after unloading we had a huge thunderstorm come through complete with tornado watches and hail. This was to be a daily occurrence until our last day in Colorado. I even called Katie to see what kind of tornado arrangements she could make in her apartment.
Aunt Em, Aunt Em!!!
The Boulder Creek Festival began on Saturday the 24th at 10 am. A non stop barrage of swarming humanity yearning to be free and eat veggie burgers. It was actually really fun, working with Meg and Nick to create excitement, giving people yummy free food, listening and laughing to Rocco as his alter ego "The Man with the Microphone", and most of all working alongside Katie. We handed out Quinoa, Chick Pea and Black Bean Burgers for 3 days and the total was somewhere around 40,000 samples. Our local crew was stellar and the traveling ICC team did a great job. Here is a little about the sampling process for those that are interested. ICC had about 10 chefs/assistants in the back of the house which was a complex of tents, grills, refrigeration and storage areas. They were arranged in teams to grill, then assemble and cut the burger samples into quarters. These were then put in disposable hotel pans, put in warming cabinets and awaited my front of the house team (usually me) and we would pull the pans as needed for distribution on the trailer. Once in the trailer my team of 4 servers put the pans in chafing dishes from which we would take one quarter of each of the three types of burgers, put them in a sampling "boat" and hand them to the consumer. As we handed the samples out we had to tell them a brief description about each burger.

We actually had to close early on Sunday due to a nice violent thunderstorm, but all in all it was a really nice festival in a beautiful spot. We packed up on Monday, returned all the equipment that needed to go back, gave leftover food away and prepared for the drive to California via Las Vegas.
Ace road warrior, Julius "Jay" McKnight, wished he could fly to Vegas instead of Drive
We hit the road at 6am the morning of May 27th, bound for Vegas and made it in amazing time, right around 5pm. Thanks to the Death Race 2014 team of John & Jeff and no police interference we got in hours before we thought we would. A couple days in Vegas of which the details are still cloudy, and we were off for Menlo Park California and the Sunset Magazine Celebration for more MorningstarFarms hijinks.
Did somebody say Vegas?
Except for the Alien Beef Jerky incident, the ride to the Silicon Valley on Thursday May 29th was uneventful. About 8 hours from Vegas to our destination at our hotel in Mountain View. Set up on Friday and show days on Saturday and Sunday. Pretty similar to Colorado except fewer people and an inferior local staff. It was tough for me to find locals, I don't think we offered enough money and June weekends are tough for the food service labor pool. But we lived to tell about it and the addition of Barb Gustafson's guy Roman on Sunday was a godsend.
Two of our local staff in California
The Sunset Magazine Celebration was very cool and there was lots of great Western US travel destinations, artwork, landscape installations and assorted other fun stuff to see. Like the trailer below. I want one.

Who will get me one of these? Someone please?
The Innovative Catering portion of the Western Swing came to an end on Monday as we toured San Francisco, seeing some touristy spots as well as a stop at the Marin Headlands below. I put the team on the eastbound plane at 2pm on June 2nd and began my 19 day Odyssey through California and back to Colorado before meeting the team in Chicago on June 21st. Where should I go? Where would I go? Where did I go? Why the hell did I come back? It was to be my first solo vacation since I left for Colorado and California as an 18 year old stoner and proceeded to destroy my left arm a week into that trip.
Back in Marin. Nice.
I hope I can get to the next installment of the story this week. It gets better. Much better. Lots of laughs. Great food & wine. Hot tub frivolity, PG rated unfortunately. Beaches. Mountains. Family & friends. Stay tuned.

Love to all and a special thought and prayer for Jeffrey Hamilton, The Marquis of Debris. He will be missed.