Kitchen Stories

All in a Day’s Work

I simply couldn’t believe it, it was exactly two weeks to the day. This last Thursday, Chef Husband and I were on our way to Fall River to cater a four-day weekend retreat for a small group, about an hour and a half away from Redding. As we drove along Hwy 299, nearing Fall River, we rounded a bend and up ahead we could see a billowing plume of white smoke in the forest. Is that? No. This is not happening.
With the events of the Carr Fire still extremely fresh in our minds, we were now driving toward another fire. Exactly two weeks earlier, Thursday July 26, 2018, friends and family were suddenly evacuating and none of us slept, not knowing the fate of our city. Now, as we passed by the smoke, just blooming on the horizon, we wondered what lie ahead of us. Within moments, emergency vehicles began passing us. OK. They’re on it.  And we kept on another 15 miles to our destination.Immediately upon arriving, we stepped into our role of personal chefs and dove into prepping for the first night’s dinner. I was on task to make almond Florentines for the dessert, while Chef Husband went on an errand to fetch a couple locally sourced ingredients from the store (i.e. Fall River Wild Rice).

A very long hour later, he returned. Hwy 299 was now closed and the fire was growing. Nevertheless, we were most likely a safe distance and we pressed on, with hungry travelers arriving at their retreat. Things were finishing in the oven, all four burners of the stove were glowing and filled with hot sautée pans and sauce pots, the refrigerator was wide open as chilled items were being pulled for the dinner, the air fryer was heating up…and the power goes out.

My first thought, we popped a breaker. Nope. Breakers look good. Chef Husband goes to check the main house, where we will be serving. We further discover their power is out also. After experiencing the power outages from the Carr Fire, we can easily surmise it is fire related. The kicker is, now we have no power, no lights, no A/C, no water, no phone, no cell service, and no information.

We can still do this. The hot items have been started. Chef Husband has a tabletop butane burner and there is a propane BBQ available for finishing the hot items. I had just finished the last of the three dozen Florentines and have all of the rest of the ingredients pulled. It’s time to adapt to our new conditions.

We moved everything out onto the back deck for Chef Husband to work off the BBQ (that had a broken leg and kept tipping sideways). I set up in the main kitchen with candles, and a pen light shining on the cutting board, so I could start making the appetizers. And so we began our flurry of working in the dark with no appliances and no running water. Promptly the property manager arrives, as she has been officially evacuated from her lodge, back closer to the fire. She says we are a safe distance and she will return in the morning.

We proceed to line up the dishes on the deck benches and plate and serve the duck with raspberry sauce and wild blueberries. Inside, the guests are literally eating their courses by candlelight. Finally the French chocolate mousse is piped into the almond Florentine taco shells and topped with a fresh strawberry-mint salsa. We wrap up what we can, and bid a “good” evening.

That night, over in our guest house, in a complete blackout, we functioned by the flashlights on our cell phones. And we waited for daylight. Every noise, every creak, every car that passed, every barking dog echoed. How quickly could we evacuate if we needed too? What would tomorrow bring?

At daylight, after a scant three hours of sleep, Chef Husband ventured out to Burney in pursuit of ice to further keep the ice chests cold, only to find the outage had completely shut down gas stations and markets, everything for miles. As the smoke hung in the air, Chef Husband returned, gathered some ingredients and again headed to the BBQ to make scrambled eggs, pork belly, marinated chicken thighs and breakfast burritos for the guests.

The retreat came to an abrupt end with no indications of power returning, and the extent of the fire yet unknown. The property manager advised we all leave. The guests packed up and headed home. We cleaned up and left a couple hours later. Once we had access to cell service and information, we learned that the Hat Fire was 1,900 acres, and thankfully had not moved in our direction at all.

Almost to the minute, 24 harrowing hours later, we returned to our driveway back in Redding. We are grateful to have power. We are grateful to have our home. We are grateful for air conditioning. We are grateful for phones that work. We are grateful for all of the emergency responders that have put their lives on the line to protect our cities and towns.

Chef Husband has much experience in surviving chaos. This was my literal trial by fire. It was my personal catering boot camp. On the sweeter side of life, I did get to enjoy one of our chocolate mousse filled Florentine tacos, delicately served on a paper towel by twilight.

#ShastaStrongThank you First Responders!