The granddaddy of them all – and the largest event hosted in the West Belmont Ballroom in 2017 – was the Marine Corps University Ball. Combining equal parts formal ceremony and birthday bash, planning for this event was months in the making. Our Executive Chef, then Todd Goldian, and members of the staff served 1,350 meals simultaneously. Here’s how the magic happened:
August: Our War Plan for the Marine Corps Ball
On a giant white board wall, the National’s event team mapped out a plan for the evening. We knew the event would be big but we needed to see just how many plates, how much cutlery, how many servers we would need. The War Plan became a giant chart with numbers and quantities so I could start thinking about hot boxes to transport food from the kitchen, suppliers for the food and additional specialized training for the front-line servers for that evening.
October: Order’s In
We hosted a tasting for 30 of the Marines planning this event and they approved the final menu and my presentation, so I’ve now placed food orders with select vendors. It’s a process to make sure we have consistent, top-quality filets and chicken for a thousand people. We also have ordered food for special dietary needs and allergies.
Week of the event: Consuming details
The food has arrived and we’ve prepped some of the ingredients. In the ballroom, the tables are set and we’ve detailed a system with the servers to silence the room. One person will stand on a step ladder, visible from every corner of the room. When she holds up a green flag, we can move and serve discretely. When she holds up a red flag, all noise and movement stop, to allow for the ceremonial parts of the evening to go on without distraction.
Day of the Ball: It’s go time
We start cooking a few hours before the ball. Serving a thousand perfectly cooked medium filets is all about precision timing. I have eight cooks, 15 stewards and 165 servers ready to go. We run through each element of the meal to make sure we’re fully ready. Then I make the first plate while two lines of cooks look on. At that point, that place erupts into a frenzy of action. We use that first plate to compare all others.
The cooking and plating process takes more than two hours but each dinner is artfully arranged, covered and loaded into a labeled hotbox for serving.
The journey from the kitchen to the ballroom is 1,000 steps, so it takes an army to move the Marines’ food. The dinner is served and as I greet those sitting at the head table, I receive compliments on the food and even a few challenge coins, a sign of service well rendered!
The pinnacle of the evening for me was the cake ceremony, where a huge layered cake is carried out by a Marine formation and cut with their sabers. It’s spectacular and historic and our cake, the piece de résistance, looks awesome!
Once the dinner service is complete and the party and dancing started, I returned to the kitchen, grabbed one last plate of the dinner and savored my meal alone, in my office. Our largest event of the year had gone off without a hitch.