This article first appeared in the January 18 edition of the Lethbridge College Endeavour.
Finding a solution to the age-old question of "what's for supper?" can be a challenging, time consuming task.
Even for domestic kitchen goddesses, the need to plan around schedules, picky eaters, and big appetites can cause a headache from time to time.
Now try creating a complete menu for breakfast, lunch and supper for four days in a row, adding in enough options and quantities to satisfy a large number of people. More than 3,000 people to be exact.
In July, Lethbridge College culinary arts instructor Chef Charles Parker will be doing just that.
This summer Lethbridge plays host to the 2012 Alberta Summer Games, a four-day long event taking place from July 26 – 29. More than 3,000 athletes aged 11 – 17 from across the province will be present to compete in events that range from baseball to mountain biking to canoeing.
The last time Lethbridge hosted the Alberta Summer Games was in 1981.
More than 3,000 volunteers, officials, and games staff have been recruited for the event. Including spectators, Lethbridge will be welcoming an influx of anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 people.
Participants will spend the duration of their stay in athlete villages, located across Lethbridge.
These villages will be stationed at several local high but all meals will be prepared within the college's culinary facilities. Food will then be transferred to the Val Matteotti gym, also at the college where everyone will be fed.
To the average person, preparing three meals a day for over 3,000 people on a strict schedule and high energy needs seems daunting, if not terrifying.
For Parker, born and raised in England, high profile culinary challenges are nothing new. His experience includes cooking for the Royal Family, and successfully participating in six Culinary Olympics that took him as far as Germany.
For his most recent endeavour, Parker was contacted by George Virtue, the game's chairperson.
"Our culinary team here has done quite a few fundraising dinners in the past and George knows about our operation and students that get trained here. He wanted to find someone who had recent experience with working with large volumes," said Parker.
"I think this is the first time I would have fed 3,200 people breakfast lunch and dinner. I've probably done banquets for 1,500 to 1,800 so it definitely will be a good test."
A combination of paid staff and volunteers will assist in the production of meals on a daily basis. More than 40 volunteers and eight college chefs will be involved. Former Lethbridge mayor Bob Tarleck was responsible for organizing the event's volunteers.
"We have an excellent committee. It takes a lot of detailing in terms of organization, timing, planning and pre-planning," said Parker.
Work shifts during the event will begin at 4 a.m. and wrap up around midnight. Depending how smoothly the day's events run, that time could be even later.
"We expect to get some surprises. We plan to have supper between this period and this period but what if an event, because of weather or transportation, can't make it at that time. What do we do to help them? We're going to have to be flexible.
"I think that will be out biggest challenge because if we knew we would be feeding this amount of people between this amount of time, we should be able to handle it. If that time becomes an hour and half later there is a challenge of keeping people on and working with chefs and volunteers.
"Everyone needs to realize our plans are well developed but we're going to have to be flexible," said Parker
The budget for the culinary component is approximately $330,000. The event's entire menu will be focused on energy-rich foods, using as much local produce as possible.
"We work with a lot of local suppliers in and around Lethbridge. Everything from local producers to local dairy farms to local manufacturers. As we already have a local network of people we deal with, we're just going to purchase items from them."
Parker says the current planning stages are truly a combined effort.
"We've been working with a sports nutritionist at the University of Alberta to create a menu. Once we made the preliminary menus we sent them to her and she critiqued them and wrote back with suggestions. From an athlete's point of view, she put things on there that a chef maybe wouldn't think of.
"For example, toast for breakfast. You wouldn't think of making toast for 3,000 athletes but we're going to have toasters all along the side of the room because apparently athletes like toast."
The volunteer rally, wrap-up dinner dance and opening ceremonies will be catered by an alternative source.
Parker says organizing the games is challenging him in different ways compared to previous events.
"First of all I was asked to design menus and find a caterer. That I got comfortable with. Then when the college agreed to use this as a location, then I became then I became the caterer. That was a bigger challenge because that takes a lot of co-ordination."
Parker insists a strong team will define level of excellence achieved at the event.
"This is only going to be successful if our team all works together and we make sure our structure is well organized and our volunteers are well trained."