July 5, 2021

Singing the Foodservice Blues at Camp…..

Camp is GREAT! Our campers are generally super-delighted to be here on the shores of Tepee Lake, doing the activities they love… together with their cabin-mates.

It’s great, except when it’s not.

And when it’s not has been in the area of foodservice. We’re really struggling with this, and it has impacted the speed, quantity and choice of food. We’re hearing from our colleagues who run the other camps like ours that everyone is similarly struggling.

Normally Arowhon is known for our fabulous food, and the great variety of food choices.

Not now.

Why are we struggling with foodservice? It’s a collection of COVID consequences. Not to whine, but we’d like parents to understand, so here’s the list, in no particular order:

  • Public Health rules say no buffets unless a chef serves every item individually. AND everyone has to line up 2 meters apart. We have neither time at meals, nor kitchen labour nor space in the dining hall for the distanced lineup a staffed buffet would necessitate. So no fabulous salad bar or yogurt/granola/oatmeal breakfast buffets.
  • Special diets are suffering the most, because cooking and serving them is the most labour-intensive and lineup-intensive things the kitchen does.
  • Camp lost 60 of our hired staff between March and mid-May, when camps were told we could open. We lost some of our most experienced kitchen staff, because they legitimately couldn’t wait to know if they had a guaranteed summer job.
  • For many years, the backbone of our kitchen has been three highly skilled Mexican sous-chefs who work hard and fast. Camp did what we do every year re getting them into Canada: Paid lots of money to an immigration lawyer, filed the paperwork, and expected the 3 sous-chefs to arrive as usual in late April. There was no word from government all spring, despite our frequent frantic pleas. Other camps we know were in the same boat. Leon stopped sleeping from worry about this.
  • By mid June, we were frantic. We hired some replacements, with very mixed results.
  • Our Mexican chefs finally got permission to enter Canada They flew to Toronto today and will be with us after the required 14 day quarantine.
  • Other issues in the kitchen:
    • Public Health (and common sense) dictate that camps have kitchen staff broken into TWO cohorts that neither work nor live together. This is because if there were ONE COVID case in a cohort, Public Health might well force the entire cohort to isolate and not work. If our entire kitchen staff were one cohort, we’d risk losing them all… and not eating.
    • Do the math: We have 23 kitchen staff. Factoring in days off, that means in a normal summer there are 19 kitchen workers serving every meal. These days, thanks to cohorting, we have 9 kitchen workers serving every meal. That slows serving down and makes it work less well.
    • Even Sysco, the huge food supply company that delivers to camp in big trucks three times a week, is suffering from COVID-related supply-chain challenges. A week ago Chef Stephanie ordered enough breakfast cereal for the whole camp for a week. None came until today! Sysco said they were short. So we didn’t have cold cereal at breakfast except for the Juniors. The cereal finally arrived today. Phew!
  • It’s getting better day by day! Our green kitchen staff are starting to shape up. We sent Leon to Orillia Costco yesterday. He spent $3000 to fill a truck with granola bars and other snacks to supplement meals for kids.
  • We’ve switched up how we serve both regular food and special diets, to make it go faster and more efficiently.
  • We’ve hired yet more cooks, to the limit of our staff accommodations.

Most of all, we know that this too shall pass. Because, like so many COVID mitigations, the foodservice challenges, while tough to anticipate, are just another problem to solve. And problem-solving is what camp people do! Every day! With a smile!

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