How to cook for 300 people in the middle of nowhere

If you were planning to dine in the middle of nowhere, 200kms north of Cloncurry you might think you’d be lucky to get a can of beans or a snag in bread.

It’s no wonder then that the organisers of the prestigious Burke and Wills Campdraft National Finals Dinner in April were dubious that a catering team could produce a three-course fine dining experience for 300 people.

But that’s exactly what Discovery Parks, NW Queensland Area Manager Hamish Griffin and his three-person catering team achieved, pumping out three courses in just two hours – all from a mobile kitchen hired from the Outback College of Hospitality.

Mr Griffin said it was an enormous undertaking.

“First getting fresh food, including fruit and vegetables, meat and fish from the east coast, battling flies and getting it to the table hot,” Mr Griffin said.

“We hired a mobile cold room and we brought in 150 serves of 300gram steak, 150 serves of 200g barramundi, 30 kilograms of potatoes, 10 kilograms of cherry tomatoes, 30 kilograms of prawns and 5 kilograms of smoked salmon. We made 25kg of coleslaw and the same quantity of a pumpkin salad and we had salad greens which we had to keep fresh.

And then there was the heat.

It was 36 degrees outside and 46 degrees in the mobile kitchen and it meant a gruelling day from 6am to midnight, packing, travelling, prepping, delivering and cleaning was rewarded with a meal that that had people raving, with photos of the meal shared more than 300 times on Facebook.

Supported by a team of 12 kids from the School of the Air aged from 10 to 17 as wait staff and kitchen hands, Mr Griffin’s team blew the sceptics out of the water.

“The key is moving quickly… you need a production line – you had one person on the plates, another putting on the salads, another the protein and another adding the potato – I was at the end of the line adding the garnish and making the plates presentable,” he said.

It’s this adventuring spirit that has taken Mr Griffin from his Kiwi hometown to managing over 55,000 meals a day for troops in Afghanistan, to catering for up to 3000 refugees on Christmas Island, and now building a new income stream for Discovery Parks.

The event catering which started as a sideline during a lull in work stay business has grown to be a significant earner for Discovery Parks, and has earned Griffin an award for business innovation.

“We really lifted to another level though on this one at Burke & Wills – there were people with their jaws on the ground. The feedback was incredible,” he says.

He admits the team is not saddling up for another event of that scale any time soon.

“I was ruined the day after. They might have to call in the frozen sausage rolls for a while,” he laughed.

The menu at Burke & Wills

Entree

Fresh Salad of Smoked Salmon and Karumba Prawns with Avocado Salsa with a Lime Vinaigrette

Handmade Steamed Dim Sim with a Honey, Soy and Ginger Drum Stick with a Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

Mains

Fresh Caught Karumba Barramundi with a Lemon Butter Sauce

Grilled 300gm Warrenvale Black Angus Rib Fillet with Beaujolais Jus

Both served with a salad boat of Mesclun Greens, pumpkin, Pine Nut and Baby

Spinach Salad and green apple slaw, stuffed  Idaho Potatoes

Dessert

Selection of Queensland Cheeses and Petit Fours