Friday, April 18, 2008

Side Dish: Golden Jubilee requires caterer to fill large bill

Web Posted: 04/15/2008 04:01 PM CDT
Bonnie WalkerExpress-News Staff Writer
Consider your grocery list for feeding a group of more than 30,000 people over a long weekend.
Greg Kowalski, owner of The RK Group caterers, had such a list in hand as he and his staff, as well as volunteers, prepared to serve the event last weekend. It was part of the Golden Jubilee celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the Aga Khan IV. Other Golden Jubilee events will be in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles.

The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of the Shiite Ismaili Muslims and direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.
Two examples from the food list were 9,000 pounds of basmati rice and 200,000 bottles of water. These qualified as out of the ordinary, even for this seasoned caterer.
"This event is so big — and it happened so quickly. It's really amazing," said Kowalski last Thursday as he contemplated the magnitude of his job. The group would be convening at the Alamodome and the Convention Center.
Originally, the event was planned to be in Houston, where the population of Ismaili Muslims is far larger than the number who live in San Antonio. It reportedly was moved here because of unavailability of convention space in Houston.
The RK Group's chef and vice president of culinary operations, Jeffrey Magatagan, had been working "around the clock" since the catering company got word of the event the previous week, according to Kowalski. "He's (Magatagan) an incredible logistician."
One challenge was that there had been little notice before the announcement that the Aga Khan would be in attendance, which pushed the numbers into the stratosphere.
Contrast this to another event coming in October. The RK Group will be serving the American Dental Association at the Convention Center, with an estimated attendance of between 40,000 and 50,000, he said.
"But I knew about this convention six years ago," he said. RK won't be serving organized meals for the dental association, though. Food service for the Golden Jubilee attendees of last weekend's event started at 9 p.m. Friday and went through Saturday and Sunday, including tea breaks in between meals.
Volunteers from the group, more than 300, were to be on hand to help with the food service, said Kowalski. Part of Magatagan's job was to organize and manage these people, who all were "eager and anxious to help."
Some of the dishes included chicken "naan-wiches," sandwiches made with traditional naan flatbread, the spicy chicken tikka masala and sweet snacks such as bundi ladoo, fried balls of bean and rice flours and nuts.
Back to that grocery list: Kowalski said that his group worked directly with purveyors in New York and New Jersey to obtain the right products in mass quantity.
Side Dish appears on alternate Wednesdays in Taste.

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