Team of a thousand lays on intimate dinner for 5,400

SEASON 370 gallons of consomme with 150 bunches of coriander and 70lbs of ginger. Add a (generous) pinch of salt and 20,000 chicken quenelles. Then take 1.4 tons of Scotch fillet beef, 180lbs of fresh garlic cloves, 280lbs of shallots and wild mushrooms to garnish. Marinate dinner guests in 6,000 bottles of wine and 4,000 bottles of champagne. Recipe serves 5,400.

Martin Joyce, the catering manager at Gardner Merchant Town and County, faced 5,400 diners at Earls Court in London last night with the support of 800 waiters and waitresses, 128 chefs and 120 porters.

It was Britain's second largest sit-down dinner - the biggest was in 1925 for 8,000 Freemasons at Olympia to raise pounds 1m for a war memorial. Last night was Ford and Fiat's celebration of the success of their joint agricultural machinery venture, New Holland.

Mr Joyce was unfazed by the logistical nightmare. 'I do the catering at Wimbledon each year. This is just a little winter job for me,' he said. He might have added that his company also caters for Battersea Dogs Home.

Earls Court's number two exhibition hall was transformed from aircraft hangar to dining suite. The hall was divided into eight areas, each served by its own kitchen and team of waiting staff. Each area manager was linked by radio to a central control manager who synchronised the serving from a gantry above the hall.

The transformation cost more money than the organisers cared to say. 'The food bill alone runs well into six figures,' a spokesman said. Add to that the cost of the drink, the flower arrangements, flying in New Holland staff from all over the world and the after-dinner entertainment (Ray Charles, the soul singer).

Malcolm Emery, the executive chef, said that his staff began chopping up the shallots and garlic last Monday. 'We've had to poach, hollow and stuff 5,500 pears. It's been a mega difficult job.'

No, he had never done anything on this scale before, he said. And, yes, he would like to do it again. 'I hope so, I fancy breaking the record, actually.'

(Photographs omitted)

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