2016/05/06 Leave a comment
The Perl QA Hackathon in Rugby from 21 to 24 April 2016 kept me busy with regards to catering. Not the warm catering, because I am not a good cook, because I have never made hot meals for more than 10 people, and because I don’t have a diploma to work in a professional kitchen. That last bit was also why I was not allowed in the kitchen of the Rugby Hotel, the venue of the QA Hackathon (insurance reasons mostly).
I think the approach by the organisers this year, to have the Rugby Hotel to be both the venue and the place to stay, was a good one. No need to walk a distance, nice possibility to go on as long into the night as you want, and/or to start as early as you can. Also good was to have the hotel take care of breakfast and lunch. A bit more attention to vegetarians and vegans would have been nice, and a bit more attention to the international character of the group (I am quite sure that Dutch people are not the only ones who would welcome cheese at breakfast). Oh, and tea and coffee in larger quantities, and earlier in the day.
At the QA Hackathon of 2014 in the Booking.com office in Lyon, I had a bit of a kitchen to my disposal. That was nice and handy: all the things I needed were just there. Colander, cutting board, knives, cups, bowls, plates, cutlery, glasses. I did bring some things myself, but this kitchen made it easy to work, and to not disturb anybody. No stove, so I could not boil eggs, or fry eggs or sausages or other things. Well, I am just as happy to do just the cold things to eat.
The QA Hackathon of 2015 in Berlin was a bit more difficult. No kitchen, I had to use the ladies’ restroom, and keep hygiene in my mind more than ever. And I had to buy some things that I didn’t bring, like bowls. Fortunately the open workspace of the venue allowed me to have to big tables to fill with a lot of stuff.
In both 2014 and 2015 I also took care of breakfast and lunch, with bread, baguettes, juices, some salads. That was no problem, with plenty of space, and shops in the neighbourhood. In 2016, there was no need for that, since the hotel provided it.
The hotel people told me that they were impressed nonetheless with all the things I did: fruit, vegetables and other things. They could have done it, but the cost might have been prohibitive.
For anybody who wants to do the same thing (provide healthy food and a-bit-less-healthy snacks to 30-45 people), some thoughts.
Keep in mind that a hackathon differs in some important aspects from a workshop. A workshop follows a tight schedule, a hackathon is mostly an organised chaos. In a hackathon, people move freely from group to group, or sit for hours at the same spot. In a workshop, the time between talks mean a rush to the tables where food and drinks are served, and timing is important. I think my approach works best for small events, not for big conferences (I don’t want to prepare 30 kgs of strawberries for 100+ people).
Hygiene is key. Make sure you bring (or buy) dishwashing liquid, kitchen towels, disposable kitchen paper, a colander, and thrash bags. There should be a hygienic place to work (or pay the venue to do all the things I describe), because you really don’t want any food poisoning. Keep your working area clean at all times.
To work with the food, you need knives (a small one for small fruit like strawberries, and a larger one for bread and carrots), bowls in different sizes (including bowls with a lid), a cutting board, some cutlery (forks and spoons), plates (paper plates are often good enough).
For shopping, make a list, and bring enough money and shopping bags. I like to arrive at least a day early and find nearby shops. I love local bakeries (hackers also smile when they smell fresh bread!) and greengrocers and small “biological” shops. In Rugby, the best place to go to was ASDA, and I could not find a decent bakery nearby (and since the hotel provided breakfast and lunch, I did not have to take care of the bread, even though I did not like the “factory” bread they provided), or other useful small shops. It did cost me too much time and it was just too much of a hassle to go on a bicycle for shopping (which I did twice).
A group of 30 – 40 people will consume 2 kgs of strawberries in less than half an hour, it’s an amazing sight. In 4 days time, I bought and prepared 12 kgs of strawberries, 12 kgs of grapes, 6 kgs of blueberries, 6 kgs of raspberries, 4 kgs of blackberries, 12 kgs of plum- and cherry-tomatoes, 10 kgs of radishes. Fortunately some fruits don’t need any preparation, but still, the hackers ate 8 kgs of apples, 12 kgs of bananas. 8 kgs of oranges and tangerines, 2 kgs of plums. This year, the 4 cucumbers did not go fast, and neither did the olives, mini-corn and nuts.
Pick food that is relatively easy to handle. Pineapple is lovely, but handling makes a real mess of your workplace. Peaches in addition of apples and so are also lovely, but when they are soft, your hands will get wet and sticky, so only provide peaches when a restroom is nearby, or when you provide wet towels for your hackers.
- strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes (and if you’re lucky and in the right season, other berries)
- apples, pears, plums, oranges, bananas, kiwi
- juice: orange, apple, plum, mango, grape
- plum tomatoes or honey tomatoes, radishes, cucumber, carrots
- milk, yoghurt, maybe even buttermilk, chocolate milk, and for the vegans please buy almond milk (or rice milk, soy milk, or another non-diary milk)
- sodas (this year the Pepsi Max was popular), and maybe even energy drinks
- cheeses, sliced meats (cold cuts, luncheon meats: salami, ham, roast beef, corned beef, ham, bacon, etc), peanut butter, chocolate spread, hummus, tapas spread and other spreads, honey
- olives, pickles, nuts (peanuts, cashews, etc), sultanas (raisins), dried tomatoes, dried plums
- butter, margarine, mustard, mayonaise, veganaise, pesto, tapenade
- muesli, cruesli
- bread, baguettes, rolls, crackers (e.g. Wasa)
- cookies (chocolate chip cookies, almond cookies, etc, and for the vegans the non-diary cookies like Oreo cookies, look mom, they have no milk nor eggs)
- bars of chocolates, chocolate bonbons, chocolate candy bars, cruesli candy bars, other candy bars, candy (they really seem to like the Haribo stuff)
- sometimes you can ask the people at the venue for boiled eggs; in case you can’t, bring eggs and a cheap egg boiler ( https://www.amazon.co.uk/Egg-Boilers/b?node=11713161 ) and boil as many as you can at a time
- if the venue does not provide it: paper plates, plastic cups, plastic cutlery (knives, spoons, forks), plastic bowls (small ones for the cruesli/muesli + milk, and larger ones for the fruit and veggies), colander, cutting board, sharp kitchen knives, cheese-slicer (yeah, the typically Dutch thing, also very handy to peel a cucumber), paper kitchen towels, napkins, zip-lock plastic bags, garbage bags
- even if the venue provides it, think of bringing several types of good tea (Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast) and coffee (at least instant coffee), cocoa powder (or even Ovaltine / Ovomaltine), and an electric kettle (our French friends often bring a portable coffeemaker (Nespresso)
Again: hygiene is the key factor. It will cost time anyway to prepare everything, especially the strawberries, grapes, plum-tomatoes, radishes, cucumbers, radishes. It cost me several hours a day to do shopping and to prepare all for the food table and to clear & clean afterwards.
Every bit of fruit and veggie went through my hands. I picked the grapes of their stems. I cut the crowns of the strawberries and the radishes, and sometimes cut off a bad spot. I took the plum tomatoes of their stems and removed the crown. I felt and inspected every blueberry, raspberry and blackberry, and disposed of the bad (moldy) ones. I peeled the cucumbers and carrots and cut them in slices. I washed and dried the plums, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, radishes, and in some cases also the blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. I used the colander and kitchen paper extensively.
I found that serving all the food in a bit more attractive way makes things easier and quicker. Leaving things in their packaging is not a good idea: the hackers will make a real mess of it (somehow their mind is set to hacking, and not to open bags and packages, and certainly not to keep things clean). So, really, open all packages that you put on the table, and place it for grabs in bowls and on plates. Open every bag of cookies and candy and chocolate bonbons and chocolate bars too. Add plates, cutlery, napkins. Make a nice display.
Stand back, and let the hackers attack. It’s a bit like feeding a pack of hungry wolves. I love wolves.