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When off-premise, set up the sanitation station first

LOUISVILLE Ky. A golden sun sets over a verdant field, while birds lazily pick at the leavings of a just-harvested vegetable patch. Fat dripping into a wood fire sends out smoke-signal clues about the night's meaty main course, and the clink of glasses ends as 85 place settings are completed for this evening's bucolic farm dinner setting.

But such an affair has its ugly side, too. Like most farm fields, this one has neither plumbing for dish washing or electrical power for refrigeration or cooking. A 200-foot-long extension cord stretching from a nearby house powers a food warmer, the only manufactured heating device outside of Sterno-fired chafers.

Though much of the food for this dinner was just picked at the farm, food that wasn't required preparation either back at the restaurant. A country potato salad and some lemon cheese are stashed safely in a cooler, but only so many coolers can be transported and iced safely by Park Place on Main executive chef Jay Denham's lean crew of five.

"You've really got to be careful in a situation like this to keep everything at the right temperatures," says Denham, who grew up on a farm in Maysville, Ky. "You don’t bring anything out here before you have to because there's no place to store it and keep it cold."

Like the 220-pound dressed hog Denham started smoking the night before and timed to finish not long before dinner. It, along with a beef hindquarter, arrived buried in ice on a refrigerated truck just before he put it on the fire.

Interestingly, when he arrived the day before to set up his tent kitchen, one of the first tasks was to set up his dishwashing station.

"We want to establish where we're going to drop everything (dirty) so we don't cross-contaminate anything," he said. "We set up bus tubs just like you'd do a three-compartment sink in a kitchen. It's one of the most crucial places to get organized."

To keep guests from cross-contaminating foods at the buffet line, Denham brings 20 percent more silverware and plateware than necessary.

"If people want more to eat, then they can come back and get a clean plate and a fork," he said. "They're not thinking of those things, but we have to."

Though he has a sizeable labor pool to draw on at the restaurant, Denham likes to take the same crewmembers to off-premise events, people he knows are trained to follow sanitation standards reliably. When the staff arrives, everyone goes through a walk-through to establish a safe flow of cooked and uncooked foods, as well as soiled cookware and plates.

"We've done much bigger and much more difficult events than this, like three-course plated meals for 550 outside," he said. "But I still like to do this over and over with the same group because I know they know what they're doing."

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