Pancakes for 40 — a lesson in design
At the age of 16 I had a job as a counselor on a two month, cross-country camping tour. Starting just outside of New York City, we took forty teen agers across the country for the entire summer, sleeping out at National Parks.
For me it was a chance to flee the steamy city, take on new responsibilities and as it turned out, learn some early lessons in design.
The campers traveled in a large air conditioned bus and supplies were lugged along in a truck and trailer. The whole thing was impeccably organized with not an inch to spare. For me, loading up our supplies, tents, bags, everyday was a terrific lesson in space planning — a foreshadowing of my later career.
All meals were prepared by us counselors and the campers. Being an early riser the organization and preparation of breakfast often fell to me. Growing up a pancake snob, I had a vision of bringing my Dad’s pancake recipe, perfected in our tiny kitchen, to our hungry campers.
As any of you know who have cooked in restaurant kitchen’s, pancakes can be the bane of any chef. They take up a lot of griddle real estate and can slow the rest of the line to a crawl, making for an interesting problem in logistics, “manufacturing” and production.
I was keen on seeing if I could make effective use of our gas fired griddles and serve up something extraordinary. I didn’t know it then but this was clearly a systems design problem yearning for a solution. My early design thinking went something like;
40 hungry campers
4, 18” x 30” griddles
flour, milk, eggs, butter, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, vegetable oil, maple syrup
4 pancakes each = 160 pancakes
6 pancakes per griddle x 4 griddles = 24 pancakes per batch
160 / 24 = 6.6 batches
5 mins. per batch = 33 mins. cooking time
45 mins prep time
How to make this happen without any help? It was my challenge, I wanted to surprise and delight them.
Getting up in the dark one morning, having thought all of this through, I got to work, warming up the grills, making the batter and whipped out 160 pancakes. It felt like a ballet of batter, butter, spatulas, syrup where time stood still, the sweet aroma of cooking pancakes filled the air, mingled with the smell of surrounding pines and brought smiles to many faces.
Thinking-through the “system” was helpful and gave me a plan, but discovering how to get the rhythm, stirring, pouring, flipping, right was the art. It soon became something that I used to challenge myself, to see if I could get it better, faster, add blueberries, bananas!
The pancake experience out in the woods comes back to me to this day as I work to bring nascent ideas into tangible reality.
Sizing up a complicated situation and intuitively knowing that something exceptional can be created is great challenge.
Checking out what we know and what we don’t, thinking through the process, adding a healthy dose of heart can deliver a tasty design victory!
I still remember the sizzle of that batter hitting the griddle.
Want some pancakes?