And They're Off!
by R. Colby Janowitz
business and hospitality student
The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is a unique experience from any perspective.
For me, it has been a culinary perspective. This year was my second year venturing out to Louisville, Kentucky, along with other Penn College students who helped feed thousands of mouths. While many of us think of the Kentucky Derby to be one race on one day, it actually includes many events throughout the week.
Both years I’ve gone to work, it has fallen on the same week as our finals week. This means if we want to go, we must finish all of our projects and finals early. While this is a very difficult task, many students agree that it feels good to be done early. After all our schoolwork is done, all we have to worry about doing is work, work and more work.
On Monday, we load a charter bus with luggage and leave early in the morning. The long bus ride ends around 6 o’clock in the evening. We all unpack the bus, check in and have a short meeting with the executive chef of Churchill Downs. At the meeting we share pizza, go over some rules and receive bus schedules. School busses transport us from the hotel to Churchill Downs and back for work every day.
There are many kitchens within Churchill Downs, so we are all assigned specific areas for the week. My first year, I was assigned to the main kitchen, and my second year, I was in the Turf Club.
When I worked in the main kitchen, I participated in some of the biggest projects on the entire property. Some tasks included: cooking bacon for hours, cutting pallets of carrots, preparing thousands of pounds of pot roast, roasting pork loins and New York strips, assembling hundreds of sandwiches, pickling watermelon, and filling lots of hot boxes. One day, we cut 833 pounds of baby carrots and tossed them in olive oil, honey, salt and pepper. That task alone took about six hours for three students to tackle. The days get longer as the week goes on. If I remember correctly, 12 hours seemed to be my shortest workday.
This year, working in the Turf Club kitchen, was different, yet very similar at the same time. It was the same with long days of work and mountains of prep. It was different because it was a VIP section, where al a carte dishes were offered. It was very interesting to see mass production of individual dishes that were made for specific tables to order. With a team, I helped complete tasks such as cutting nine cases of fingerling potatoes, slicing hundreds of Brussels sprouts, dicing squash, opening and arranging salmon fillets, roasting vegetables, and filling chef tables. The last two days, I worked with two other Penn College students, and we were in charge of plating the salad platters. On these days, we pre-plated specific components of the dishes ahead of time. We set up over 200 of each platter and continued to make more to order when we ran out of setups. Some of these cold salad platters included: a burrata melon salad; arugula tomato and beef tenderloin salad; seafood pupu platter; and asparagus and prosciutto salad. This was my favorite part because we were slammed for hours!
Overall, working at the Kentucky Derby was an insane, amazing, life-changing experience.
This short blurb doesn’t even begin to explain what the literal tons of food looks like. The amount of staff that gets together for this event is beyond outstanding, and it takes a true team effort to make it happen. As students, we are lucky to have the opportunity to work this event, and I’m grateful I experienced it!