Doing the lazy blogger thing and reposting a message I wrote on a Portland Food thread regarding my experience at Taste of the Nation. I hope I don't come off as too gripe-y, as I did manage to have a good time, but it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, that's for sure. It's also informing and shaping my ideas about catering in Portland (TBD in the future). Let's just say I'm starting to dream about other areas of the industry, mainly food writing, a lot more.
Also, I got my grade back today for Culinary 110, and I'm very, very happy. That and dinner with a good friend made today a good one.
So here's the repost:
Just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents as a volunteer and OCI student. There were about 20 of us students there. We spent the first 2-3 hours helping load in restaurants and wineries, and then during the event we shared duties bussing tables, dumping trash, sorting trash, refilling waters, getting extra plates/forks/etc., and doing whatever else needed to be done. A couple of lucky students got to do some actual plating with a few restaurants, though I was not one of those lucky ones this time.
I have to say that though there weren't any major incidents, for an event that's been going for as long as TOTN has been (21 years!), it seems kind of disorganized. The people we worked under were really great and super nice, but I felt off-kilter all night. It felt way understaffed for one, and they said they've done with as few as 10 volunteers in the past, which just seems nightmarish. All the 1000+ attendee events I've ever worked in the past had at least one server per 10 people. They definitely could have used more hands with the addition of the champagne reception tables in the middle of the room. And like Pyrofemme said, the "sustainability stations", though a great idea in theory, got to be a total mess at some points. They need way more than 2 or 3 people working each station with the amount of trash to go through.
Meanwhile, though I enjoyed myself for the most part and got to chat with some Portland Food folks, as well as meet a few prospective externship opportunity chefs, I was so busy busting my ass with bussing tables that I feel it was almost not worth it. I've got some blisters on my unhappy toes! Granted I could have been a little lazier about bussing and done more with the networking, and other students who took that path were more successful in their networking, but I felt awkward bothering some of the chefs whose tables were totally slammed about externing at their places. There seemed to be a lot of confusion about what exactly everyone was doing, and it would have been helpful to post up a schedule for set up and breakdown points and the specific tasks to be done. Also, I agree about the lighting being too dim, and that back pathway where Pho Van, Russell's, etc were was a cluster****.
By the time I got my break, Toro Bravo was totally cleaned out, so I missed out on their pig. But I did have Simpatica's sliders, so I got my pork for the night. My favorite has to go to Meriwether's - not for the shrimp and grits, which were good, but for their focaccia with foie gras butter crostinis. I'm surprised no one else has mentioned it. Absolutely delectable--I went back for thirds. Also loved the St. Cupcake toasted coconut cupcake. Mmmm.
All in all, unless they have more volunteers to share the workload, I might consider paying for the ticket rather than volunteering in the future. Or maybe I need better shoes!