From batter masters to servers, pancake breakfast a culinary challenge
It’s not exactly the invasion of Normandy, but the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast the Kiwanis Club puts on on Memorial Day morning is a complex enterprise requiring many hands on deck.
The breakfast starts at 8 and runs until 10:30, but the plates of pancakes and sausages enjoyed by diners belie the choreography that goes on behind the scenes.
Dave Hapke and Don Drummond are this year’s “batter masters,” a position they have held for the past two years.
“The batter masters are in the kitchen mixing the batter,” Hapke told The Bulletin last week. “The secret is to get the consistency correct. It can’t be too thick and it can’t be too thin,” he said. “After mixing the batter to the correct consistency it must be used within a certain time so it doesn’t get too thick.”
The batter is prepared from a “secret brand” of premade mix in a three-quart vessel but carried out to the griddle in one-quart pitchers by the “batter pourers.”
“They are the ones who put the batter on the griddle,” Hapke said.
Once the batter pourers get to the griddles, they are in the territory of Tierney O’Hearn, who is in charge of the flippers. O’Hearn, a native of Wilton, joined Kiwanis in 2001 and was an understudy of the late Tom Fleming, who was in charge of pancake production for many years.
Flipping the pancakes “is the hottest job, and not in a good sense,” O’Hearn said last week. “We do try to make them look good.”
The griddles, which are outdoors, are fueled by propane gas, and maintaining a constant temperature can be tricky on a breezy day. There are two griddles, a smaller one that can accommodate 20 pancakes and “one is so huge you can have a couple of people working on it all at once,” he said.
In previous years, the flippers also poured the pancakes, and that could lead to some inconsistencies. The optimal size for a pancake is about seven inches, but sometimes they might come out as big as a plate.
Flipping the pancakes is a team of Kiwanians, some of whom have their own style. “Everybody does it differently,” O’Hearn said. “You can’t tell the old guys how to do it.”
There are no special skills for flipping the pancakes, “but you try to do it quickly,” O’Hearn said. “I’ve definitely gotten good at going fast.”
Accidents do happen. “Sometimes when flipping they’ll end up falling or dropping, but we do not serve them,” he said a laugh. “I’m adamant about that.”
The most important thing is that they are cooked through. “I am adamant about having them cooked,” he said. The trick is “knowing your griddle. You want it to be hot but not so hot it burns the outside and doesn’t cook the inside.”
O’Hearn estimated the number of pancakes made is in the thousands, and it is important for the flippers to be in communication with the batter masters.
“We are constantly talking to the people on the grill,” Hapke said. “Is the batter too thick and the pancakes not coming out right? If the demand slows down and the batter gets thicker, we make a mid-course adjustment.”
For the men on the griddle, “it is an endless supply,” O’Hearn said, “and people come up as often as they want.”
The pancakes are served with sausages, and manning that grill will be Greg Chann, a position he is familiar with. In fact, Hapke said, he overheard Chann turn down an offer of help, saying, “I’ve got this job down.”
On the tables are bowls of homemade blueberry syrup and bottles of regular pancake syrup. Orange juice, coffee, tea and decaf coffee are also served.
“The most appreciated position is the person who serves hot coffee to those waiting in line,” Hapke said. “I had done that for a couple of years before getting promoted — I’m not sure that’s what it is but that’s what they told me,” he said with a laugh. “But to have a Kiwanian walk up and ask how would you like your coffee is a big plus. It changes the mind-set of those waiting in line.”
That line starts forming at 8 when those marching in the parade stop by to fuel up for the walk to Hillside Cemetery. The busiest time is from 8:30 to 9:30, but pancakes are served until 10:30. The cost is $10 for adults, $5 for children. If the weather is sunny, diners may eat inside or outdoors at the Wilton Congregational Church on Ridgefield Road.