Yes, a Cooking Sabbatical. to learn some new techniques in the kitchen. And have guests over. A lot of guests. Just for a month (more on that later).
It all started with a string bass.
But first, some background. I've worked for Magenic Technologies for ten years, and every ten years of service earns a three month sabbatical (yes, a very generous program). I can take the time off to do anything I wish, or cash out all or a portion of the three months. After 37 years of gigging on Paul Henry's already old and decrepit Kay string bass, I thought I'd cash out a month and get a decent instrument. After trying numerous entry-level basses, I finally found one that I love. A two month cash out, then.
So, what to do with the third month? After considering many options, I realized that I'd like to expand some skills. I must have been hungry at the time, because I started thinking about cooking. I looked into cooking schools - ouch! That would be the whole last month cashed out, and with no time left to actually attend (in honesty, I was looking at some really cool destination schools in Boston and Napa). But I like experiential learning, so I really wanted a hands-on approach. Why not do what I do for work - find a project or task, research on the interwebs, and start flailing around until stuff starts working? Frugal me thought I could just watch some Food Network and YouTube videos and take a few local classes. With the money saved, I could buy ingredients and equipment and get some real hands-on.
So I came up with some menu ideas, and then the snowball slowly started rolling downhill. Wouldn't it be fun to have friends and family over to subject them to my kitchen experiments? But I didn't want the responsibility of assigning them to a particular meal. It would be cool to have a reservation system, so invited guests could choose which meal they want to attend. It would be even cooler to allow them to see who is already going to each event, so they could also choose an event with someone they'd like to spend time with (or avoid). So I started work on a web-based reservation system in late November 2014 (sorry, it's what I do).
The core of the reservation system was done by mid December, and had some automated email capabilities so I would know who had logged in and made a reservation. The snowball's about the size of a large dog by now, and the event list had grown to nine meals, including two larger parties (up to 18 guests). The guest list was pushing one hundred. Kris was of the opinion that it needed to be pared back, while I thought that a 25% participation rate was pretty optimistic (we ended up inviting 162 individuals, who could each bring a guest. In all, we had 128 invited guests attend my sabbatical events, plus some crashers - you know who you are).
By Christmas week the reservation system was complete to the point of my wanting to test the email stuff live on my web site (snowball about the size of a Volkswagen). For development, I had a small number of email addresses I was using for testing, but I pared the list down to just me. I put it out on the live site, logged in, made a reservation, and POP - got an email saying I made a reservation. Excellent! So I started working on the mass invitation email, and testing that. Perfect!
Then about five minutes later, POP - I got an email from my manager at Magenic. He had made a reservation for the first event. Huh? First thought was "Rats, another bug" (typical developer outlook). Wait. Oh, yeah - I had added some code to automatically add users from a different file, so this wasn't a bug. My mass email had not gone to just me, but to the eight test emails I had been working with earlier (thank goodness it was just eight). After another five minutes, POP - I get an email that my Mom has made a reservation for the first event. So, the site was now truly live. On December 23. What a stoopid time to send out invitations for something like this.
I finished the guest list, put it out in the wild, sent out the real mass invitation, and started getting emails. Lots of emails. Within two days, every event was filled. Not so surprisingly, almost every musician I invited didn't respond (they're often a bit busy Christmas week), so I added a couple more large events in March, and by the first week of January everything was filled up again. Sheesh - I guess free food is popular. And the snowball's the size of a Norwegian hytte.
So that's some of the back story. Now, let's talk food!