Taking the knife to crap carveries

A decent carvery can be wonderful

John Fraser

It is dry. It is brown. It is nasty. And you find it at mass-catering events almost everywhere.

I am not talking about dog poo, although my current complaint is about something which almost as unappetising.

I am talking about carvery cremations.

Recently, I have noshed at a few large-scale events, the most recent being a disorganised energy conference at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Lunch break on Day 1 came after a horribly-tiresome morning and an insultingly late start. After sprinting from the hall, we were told the grub could not be served until some unknown God of the buffet table had given the all-clear.

This is an immensely irritating trend which one sees at several conferences.

Presumably, it is the view of the organisers that if there is a choice between almost-digestible food and horrid, tedious, morale-sapping speeches, the delegates will vote with their stomachs and head early for the nosh. So no food is allowed until there is confirmation that the food for thought is halted.

Q: Please Sir? I want my lunch.

A: Fxxx off

So what of the carvery itself? Well, after a frustrating wait, we were given permission to eat. There were rolls. There were relishes. And then there was the meat. Dry, chewy, way, way, way, way overcooked. Such a waste. Horrid.

In contrast, the curry was good. So they can cook. If they try.

I have been to great carveries. To magnificent ones. Not recently though. If done well, a roast of beef or lamb will retain some pink shading, some moisture, some taste. Will belong on a plate, not in an urn.

It could be the incompetence or inattention of the chefs at so many SA events; it cannot be that people actually want to eat this shit.

So a plea, please? Learn the cooking times for meat. If you are working in a professional kitchen and can’t cook a joint of beef or lamb or pork properly, then you should go back to catering school. Or be thrust into an oven and yourself be charred to a blistered, inedible mess.

Of course, the catering industry does not just get away with murder; sometimes it gets away with genocide.

Many great cuisines of the world involve delicious stuff on sticks – the succulent satays of Malaysia and its neighbours, the oregano-flavoured kebabs of the Mediterranean, the assortment of braai delights on sticks which you will find at all good butcher’s shops in SA.

But I recently endured the horrid, tasteless, gristle-infused, burnt offerings at the AVI analysts’ presentation at the JSE. I honestly think that the sticks on which the once-meat had been brutalised would have been nicer and more digestible than the meat, if it deserves that description.

And this occurred at a (booze-free) buffet hosted by one of SA’s largest food industry companies. How could they let this happen? Yet they did.

Why was the chef not summoned to be hung, drawn and quartered in front of the much-abused guests?

In my case, I spat out the crap on the kebab, phoned for a huff and left in it.

Sadly, this sort of gastronomic horror happens time after time after time after time. I remember a Tiger Brands’ presentation at the same venue where they were showcasing some of their sliced breads.

Had I done the catering, I would have ensured that the fillings of the sandwiches were 1) tasty and 2) identifiable. The best thing on sliced bread, so to speak.

They were neither tasty nor identifiable. A marketing mishmash of shameful proportions. The worst thing Tiger did before dozens of its customers were poisoned in the recent listeriosis scare.

So one bit of advice to hosts everywhere. Instead of delegating the supervision of the catering to the least-experienced, sensory-deprived intern, the one who does not know nuffin, instead take some pride, some care. Put a proper chef or experienced organiser in charge.

And if you dare to risk staging a carvery, ensure they cook the stuff properly, and not for too long. In a nation of meat lovers, we should expect nothing less.

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