The Spanish Mediterranean island of Majorca may seem like a strange place to conceive the idea for a medieval entertainment venue, yet this is where the first Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament operation was established back in 1973.
Medieval Times targets major cities and tourist areas, such as Los Angeles; Dallas; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Atlanta; and Kissimmee, Fla. The company owns and operates each of its locations.This unique dinner theater, which takes place in a castle complete with live jousting on horseback, a hall of arms, dungeon, bar and gift shop, now has nine North American locations, including a site in Toronto, Canada.
"All of our castles are similar, for the most part," says Frank Dameron, the operation's corporate director of foodservice.
The consistency extends to the menu for Medieval Times' U.S. operations, which have national agreements with major food manufacturers for the standardized, recipe-driven menu.
The biggest menu change happened years ago when the Cornish hen entrée was replaced by half a chicken due to cost increases. On the upside, the perceived value grew due to larger portion sizes.
The Medieval Times menu is currently in flux, with three kitchen managers from the Buena Park, Calif., Schaumburg, Ill., and Toronto locations serving as the company's culinary development team. They will meet soon to test new items in the Irving location before introducing the food to all venues.
Recent menu adjustments have introduced new food items, including focaccia, which replaced the long-standing garlic bread as a side. New menu items also have to fit with the medieval theme: All food is eaten by hand. Utensils are not a part of this operation's tabletop. "In medieval times, people used trenchers or flat pieces of bread as plates, so we're experimenting with that concept," Dameron says.
In addition to the roasted half chicken and focaccia, the set menu includes homemade tomato bisque soup, herb-roasted potatoes, barbecue pork spare ribs and apple strudel pastry.
There is no mistaking that this is a mammoth operation. Up to 50 servers handle stations that accommodate 28 guests. The front of house, called the arena, has between 1,000 and 1,600 seats for up to 3 shows each day. Kitchens, which comprise more than 1,000 square feet, require a major amount of cooking equipment.
"Although we designate kitchen managers or lead cooks, we don't have dedicated dishwashers or cooks," Dameron says. "Everyone is trained to learn every aspect of our kitchen operations so they can help out where necessary."
The kitchens' main pieces of equipment include a pair of 60- to 80-gallon steam kettles and 3 double-rack rotating ovens. The Los Angeles operation, which has the highest volume, recently added a fourth oven.
The back of house at Medieval Times also includes equipment assigned specifically for its catering operations, including a fryer, range and double-stacked convection oven.
"We look for durability with our equipment, because it gets a workout," Dameron says.
Custom rotating rack ovens can cook up to 1,500 portions of chicken at a time evenly and consistently from top to bottom. "These ovens are typically utilized for bakery purposes, not to cook chickens that produce grease buildup," Dameron says. "For our application, we worked with the manufacturer to make modifications on these units to simplify the use and trap grease."
Instead of including more complex control systems to bake various items, the ovens feature standardized control panels to handle one type of cooking application. The updated design traps the chicken grease and prevents damage to the fan motors and bearings.
Estimating how many guests to expect for each show represents the biggest challenge in running a foodservice operation of this type and scale. Because chicken production takes 2.5 hours, kitchen staff constantly monitor ticket sales.
"Everyone in foodservice faces these issues when forecasting," Dameron says. "We've become good at estimating the crowds. Our ticketing system has improved over the years, which has helped."
As the Medieval Times menu continues to evolve, this entertainment venue's food will remain as authentic as its shows.