It’s week 9 and the time has come for the first job for Mamas to Market. The group has been hired to serve lunch to 200 people over two days at a psychology festival in Central London. It’s a big job, but also a good challenge for the women that will hopefully give them some of the experience they currently feel they need to be able to run a food business.
We meet up as normally for the Thursday session to prepare as much as possible for the next two days. The menu is crunchy salad and summer rolls, with my favourite chè trôi nước for dessert. We’re catering halal and vegetarian, so one option will be prawn rolls and chicken salad, the other tofu rolls and tofu salad – and there’ll be three different dipping sauces to make sure we cover all bases.
The group is working hard to get everything ready, but they also tell me they feel a bit worried about tomorrow because it’s their first job and they are not sure they can do it. Sarah reassures everyone that she and Kye will be there to help the whole time, and that it will be an easy first job because there won’t be any money handling or dishing out – the festival’s lunch break is so short that all the food will be prepared and dished into little takeaway boxes before arriving at the venue, so the actual serving is just a matter of asking for the customer’s choice and handing the box to them.
The group works hard, shredding lots of carrots and cabbage, rolling quite a few dumplings, and juicing about 50 limes, before serving the ESOL group a test lunch for their feedback. We then meet early on Friday morning to get everything properly ready. Lunch is not being served until 3pm, so we do have quite some time to prepare the 100 lunches and desserts. It takes a while to roll 200 sticky rice dumplings for Saturday though, and I am discharged from the photography to give Diep a hand here! The rest of the group gets a routine going for the summer rolls, and everyone is chatting away.
As the kitchen is filling up with summer rolls, Sarah starts setting up all the lunch boxes we need to fill. There are loads! The women keep completely calm and work thoroughly and quickly so that they have a couple of minutes left to eat their own lunch before we get in the taxi. We stuff everything and everyone in – a big cooler box in the back and the hot boxes on our laps. We’re lucky Kye is already at the festival and can help us out when we arrive.
Once we get to the venue, a church on Shaftesbury Avenue, we need to get to the kitchen, write our menu boards, and decorate our serving table. Sarah has prepared pictures showing Mamas to Market in action in the kitchen and step-by-step preparation of today’s menu. While the group is busy setting up, one of the organisers come over to ask if the women would like to go on stage just before lunch to introduce themselves and today’s menu. Kye has already presented Social Kitchen and the project while the group has been preparing everything at Fellows Court.
The women ascend the stage, and Thi takes the microphone to present the menu. “We hope you like the food”, she says and everyone applauds. We’re all sure they will. Now is the time the group has been waiting for and working towards over the past couple of months – lunchtime! A long queue of customers snakes through the room, but the women keep their eyes just on the next in line, ask them which of the three options they’d prefer, and serve everyone with big smiles and “enjoy your lunch”. After a quick and very successful service it’s time to sit down and relax for a bit. The group looks absolutely chuffed with themselves, as they realise they’ve passed this hurdle that seemed so tough. It’s a massive confidence boost, which makes everyone smile, giggle, and joke in the back kitchen while waiting for the taxi.
It’s so great to see the women being happy and proud of their achievement. Now they just have to do this again tomorrow – this time with even less time for preparation at Fellows Court! I personally miss the Saturday event, but am told it goes absolutely smoothly, with the group working on the confidence boost and momentum from the first day. They bring in cake and breakfast to the kitchen, work at an impressive pace, and even take time to joke around and create a bit of mischief before lunchtime. And after a long, hard weekend they all celebrate with a bit of karaoke sing-along on the way home.
Next up is Roman Road Christmas Market on 7 December, and I have a feeling that Mamas to Market are going to wow us all once again!