Thursday, June 24, 2010

How to Feed Many: I used to be a rock star

For all the VBS workers at CCC

In my 20's, for one week a year, I was the lead singer for my own rock band.  I had a bass player, lead guitar, keyboardist, drummer, and even a few backup dancers.  I would perform five nights in a row to a room of screaming, jumping, energetic kids.  I was the Vacation Bible School praise leader at our church, and I would rile up and get a group of 200+ children singing songs at the top of their lungs while dancing the night away.  The feeling of joy was wonderful and it was something that I enjoyed doing for that one week every year.

But it was also incredibly draining.  I was working full time as a teacher back then, so I would rush down from work to go and serve during Vacation Bible School, often without having a moment to eat dinner.  I would jump up and down, sweating, moving my body, all the while starving for some food.

But I was always comforted, because I knew in the kitchen, that there would be a crew of hardworking women putting together a fantastic feast for all the Vacation Bible School workers.  These were just women at our church who wanted to serve those who were serving the kids, and they would come together and make fantastic meals for all the workers to enjoy.  The women always were especially kind to me and the band, and would often sneak us tastes before the rest of the workers got to eat.  One such occasion was the meal that was prepared for us by a woman who was the former head chef at the Korean embassy in Japan.  Her spread was a fantastic meal of spicy tuna rolls, California rolls and different cuts of sashimi, all for the VBS workers.

All the meals were fantastic, but I remember hers, because I walked into the kitchen and she started shoving spicy tuna rolls into my mouth.  I ate them, and then my eyes popped out of my head when I saw the incredible display of sushi and sashimi she and a few other women had prepared.  I said to her, "Why would you spend all this money on us?" Her response was, "When I feed you all well, I am satisfied.  I want the teachers to feel loved and appreciated by eating this food.  They don't need to know who I am, but they will remember a good meal."

A decade or so has passed since the last time I had my own praise team and had an opportunity to lead the kids in that way.  Instead, another opportunity presented itself - and that is feeding the VBS teachers at my church.  I had done a meal last year as well and I knew that this year, I really wanted to feed the teachers very well.  I wanted them to leave the table satisfied and even if they didn't know who I was, they would eat, and eat a lot.

The tricky part was planning a meal that I can prepare alone.  I didn't have the luxury of a few extra hands to help, and really it was going to be up to me to put together a meal for about 50 people.  I asked my pastor if he would be willing to grill, and he readily agreed.  (He's a bit passionate about grilling.)  Once I had established that I would have some help in that area, I decided very quickly.  A noodle dish that could be prepared ahead.  A salad that I could wash and have ready to go.  Marinated chicken and then grilled the day of.

I was unable to be present at church for the actual serving of the meal, but many hands helped prepare and serve the meal to the workers.  And thanks to friend JJ who announced to everyone that it was a Joanne Choi meal, everyone knew who prepared it.  When I showed up today, so many people came over to tell me how good it was, and thanked me profusely for their dinner.  It felt good to be thanked but it felt even better to know that people had eaten well and had been cared for.

The key to feeding many is to keep it simple.  A few dishes, done in bulk, things that can be prepared the night before and then cooked the day of make it easy.  I marinated 20 lbs of chicken thighs...

dipping each piece individually in a huge bowl of marinade...

The bok choy salad was simply a matter of washing everything, and having everything chopped and ready to go.

The noodle salad (I made one with cilantro and one without) was made the day before and left marinating in the fridge.

Ginger Soy Chicken
Bok Choy Salad
Sesame Noodles

Steamed rice

This is how I transported everything....tubs for the chicken, long flat tupperware for the noodle salad and the bokchoy salad..  Big containers definitely help when cooking for a large crowd.


Margaret and Anna said...

I am a brand new recipe blogger...having a great time sharing my recipes. Tonight while finishing a quick post on pasta salads, I really wanted to share my current favorite...your Sesame Noodles with Cilantro and Scallions. Instead of reprinting the recipe, I simply gave your site address. Hope that is ok. While I am a confident cook and photographer, my computer knowledge is lacking and I have a lot to learn. My best to you and your family and thanks for the wonderful recipe! Margaret French (

angie said...

hi joanne! i just started reading through your blog recently, though i've heard it mentioned by a couple of mutual friends before and seen it posted on friends' fb posts. as i was browsing through different posts and recipes, i came upon this one and realized that there were one or two summers that i served/sang with you at vbs! i was in youth group at ncbc, so i doubt you'll remember me.. but i do remember you rocking out and having lots of fun, and i also remember those amazing ca roll/sushi spreads we'd finish those vbs nights off with! :) i really enjoy your blog and i'm so happy to see that you and your family are doing well!

Joanne Choi said...

ANGIE!!! Trying to remember which year you sang with me!!

angie said...

hmm.. i think i was going into my senior year maybe? and maybe the year before college? so probably 1999 (WHOA sounds like forever ago, and maybe 2000? i guess that was over a decade ago!!) i don't remember the themes, but the first vbs had a song that had something about brushing our hair and waking up in the morning (i vaguely remember the motions, but i know it was really fun to sing)... and the second time we were in the main sanctuary and we sang "white as snow" and "He's changing me" a lot.. :) i was one of your "backup dancers/singers" haha good memories :)


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