Saturday, 26 July 2014

The pop-up tea shoppe

Visitors to the monthly DecorativeVintage Fair came in two categories.  Firstly, there were the avid vintage-hunters firmly focussed on tracking down the most beautiful and useless of vintage knick-knacks available. For them, food was but a distraction from their noble cause.  The second and larger group, were those that regarded a trip to the fair as a chance to indulge in some highly calorific, sugar-saturated and unhealthy treats.  The lure of the pop-up tea shoppe was like that of a rancid, water-logged tennis ball to a Labrador, totally irresistible.  The organisers of DecorativeVintage knew that if the cake ran out there would be revolution in the ranks of Middle Englanders but finding reliable and professional caterers was a challenge only slightly less difficult than balancing the National Debt.

In the early days of the fair, the local WI ladies had been persuaded to come and run the catering operation.  Their cakes enjoyed legendary status in the village. The gremlins in the tea urn were too much in awe of the WI Dragons to play their usual tricks and jinxes.  All had run smoothly, with slick sandwich preparation, fabulously flaky pastry for the sausage rolls, and sumptuously iced sponge cakes on display.   That is until the issue of crockery had arisen.  The WI insisted on using the crested china supplied by the village hall - probably orginating from the 1890s when the hall was built.  Unfortunately, due to excessive breakages of the precious china, the over-officious Village Hall Catering Sub-Committee had insisted that paper tableware be used for the event.  This did not sit well with the WI, who to a woman refused to serve their tasty creations and carefully stewed hot drinks on anything less than earthenware, with bone china the preferred option.  The Committee were inflexible on this issue, causing a schism in the village,  not seen since the days of The Great Drama Society Feud.  Thus, the WI resigned as event caterers leaving the organisers in a dreadful panic with only weeks to go before the next event. 

The vacancy was filled by Cressida, a wannabe Vintage Wedding and Party Caterer who started her business, having collected together a mass of pretty china for her own wedding and needing an excuse to use it.  Cressida had done a Cordon Bleu course after leaving school and had run the Directors' Dining Room at a private bank whilst living in Notting Hill .  Her new business, Let Them Eat Cake, was just so exciting - she loved meeting all the brides and visiting all the wedding venues.  She was simply dying to get out her lovely baking books and fuscia pink silicon bakeware to create marvellous treats for the vintage fair - it would make a change from all the seafood vol-au-vents and mini-Yorkshire-puddings-with-beef.  Cressida was a School Path mummy and coffee-morning friend of the fair organiser, who had little choice but to give her the job.

Cressida had not anticipated the sheer volume of customers that would be lining up for her exquisitely made Pomegranate Drizzle Cake or Roast Vegetable and Quinoa tartlets.   Whilst her food looked stunning, service was tortoise-slow, as her only helper, Jacintha, dithered and flustered under the pressue of the ever-mounting queue.  Jacintha had only been roped in at the last minute and was rather peturbed at the vast mountain of washing up that was already building on every available clear surface. None of Cressida's other girls were available.  Cressida clearly had no intention of doing anything such as washing-up or clearing pots,  her role as "chef" precluded such lowly work. Grimly, Jacintha set-to, handwashing all the lovely vintage bone china, with Cressida frequently reminding her to "be careful with that".  The working relationship between the two ladies was finally severed when Jacintha managed to break the Royal Doulton milk jug that had been Cressida's grandmonther's wedding gift.  And the fair organisers could no longer countenance such massive queues of frustrated and hungry customers blocking the aisles to the vast irritation of the sellers.  Cressida stepped-down from her tea room duties, before she was asked to resign and honour was duly saved on all sides.

The next tea shoppe incarnation came in the form of two sweet but rather ineffectual girls from the village.  These were not School Path mummies, but younger girls who were keen to earn some extra money.  Chloe and Lara had boundless enthusiasm, but with little or no catering experience were as useful as a chocolate teapot.  Luckily, the organisers brought in mounds of food and all the girls had to do was serve it up, make the drinks and clear the decks.  Unfortunately, neither girl could add up in their heads and without the benefit of an electric till or calculator, their sums were somewhat erratic.  The profits were considerably down, as customers were either under-charged or given the wrong change. A lot of giggling and chatting, and fiddling on mobile phones, impaired the speed and efficiency of service.  Both girls were more than happy to use paper plates and had no concept of cleaning as they went along.  By the end of the fair, the kitchen was knee deep in rubbish.  As a social experiment on "how the young would survive if left to their own devices" it was interesting; but a bit of a failure in terms of customer service and profit!  Back to the drawing-board.

The poor fair organiser's quest for the impossible was finally resolved, when the services of a very efficient, friendly and competent caterer were secured.  The details of how this paragon was located were kept closely guarded, for fear of poaching by other organisers.  No more broken crockery, snake-like queues of hungry punters, over-cooked shop bought quiche or insipid tea.  Just the hum and buzz of happy people, enjoying delicious homemade cake washed down by a nice cup of tea.  Finally, the organisers could relax and enjoy a piece of coffee and walnut sponge - truly, a just dessert.

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