I’ve been running the kitchen at my game, Doomsday for three years and cooking for large larps for over five. We provide breakfast and dinner on Saturdays free of charge. Cooking for a well attended larp can be an epic level challenge, both rewarding and maddening. New gamers will flock to the kitchen, seasoned players will congregate there to talk out of game, injured people might go there seeking help; the kitchen and therefore the people taking ownership of it are apart of the face of your larp. Extreme patience, assertiveness, good natured attitudes and decisiveness are necessary to keep it from turning into a disaster.
Plan ahead, have time to enjoy the game.
Whatever you can do, try and simplify your prep, cooking and clean up. There are plenty of simple and delicious meals you can make that don’t require you to be in the kitchen all day. Get disposable plates, set up volunteer shifts, post your menu on your forums or FB groups so picky eaters or extremely limited diets can plan on doing something else. Keep hot sauce, salt and pepper handy for seasoning (you will not please everyone, be prepared to accept that early on and move past it).
Camp kitchens are quirky.
If you’re new to a kitchen, you’d better plan something simple and be prepared to have nothing to work with. I’ve had to make due in the middle of winter at a camp once that had no running water inside or equipment other than one stove. I knew going into the event weekend that the kitchen conditions were going to be minimal and we made due as best we could, coming out with successful meals regardless. If you can call the ranger or owner and ask questions ahead of time, do it. Surprises in the kitchen = stress.
It’s okay to be picky about who you let help.
Volunteers are great, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy events without the help of other players. Not everyone is a good fit though, don’t hesitate to turn away people who cause you more work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just keep an open air of communication with your staff and plot. If you have dinner the same time every game and you can see you’re running late for service, let whoever is running plot know in case they need to adjust mods.
Feeding the masses
Running out of food is a strong fear of mine. One thing I would never recommend is going to a website like allrecipes and just changing the serving size to get your shopping list. A hungry gamer serving size can’t be measured like that and you run the risk of not having enough food. I will pick a recipe ahead of time and cook it as instructed, seeing what a dinner sized portion might be. I’ve seen players who don’t bring any food for the weekend and may only eat what the kitchen provides, so they’ll eat enough for 2-3 people. Whatever your anticipated attendance, add 20 or so servings onto it to cover people who don’t respond to invites or pre-register. Another way you can ensure you’ll have enough food is to check how many people are in attendance on Saturday morning.
As stated earlier, the way you run your kitchen is a reflection of your game. If you want to be seen as welcoming and inclusive, you prepare for all sorts of food allergies and preferences. A good rule of thumb is to stick to chicken or beef for your main dish (avoid fish, even cooking it can set some people’s allergies off) and have a option vegan/gluten-free as a separate main dish for those with allergies. It can mean the difference between a bad weekend and a good weekend just by how someone’s needs are addressed come dinnertime. Asking people if they’d like to disclose their food allergies or food preferences and then doing everything you can to ensure you’re not intentionally poisoning them speaks volumes. Don’t bend over backwards trying to make a separate meal for each allergy, instead look for recipes that incorporate or can be adapted to cover a wide variety. Take pictures of possibly questionable labels for people to see later if need be.
There are thousands of details to keep track of while running a larp kitchen, but not a ton of resources that specifically address them. Do you have tips not mentioned above that help you in your larp kitchen?