The first time Kevin Doherty tried to make a 500-pound pumpkin pie for TD Garden’s annual Table of Friends event, a gathering at the arena that feeds many of the city’s homeless for the Thanksgiving holiday, he only had a few days’ notice.
The idea arose four years ago on a whim from the company’s president, Amy Latimer, the executive chef said. And while Doherty, who’s no stranger to whipping up large batches of food, was at first stumped about how to concoct such a massive dessert, he gladly accepted the challenge.
“You don’t tell the president no,” he said. “You figure it out.”
With little time to spare, Doherty had carpenters at TD Garden build him a giant cake mold. Then he had to come up with a way to make the crust. His first idea? Rice Krispies Treats.
“That was an epic fail,” he said. “You know what happens to a Rice Krispies Treat when it gets cold? It turns into cement.”
These days, Doherty has the process of putting together a pie big enough to feed more than 1,000 guests down to a science. In the coming weeks, he will once again set to work with nearly a dozen helpers in the kitchen to prepare a mammoth dessert for Table of Friends, which is now in its 22nd year.
“It’s almost a fun process now,” he said.
Doherty uses the same cake mold that was built for his first 500-pound pie, but instead of Rice Krispies Treats, he’s turned to traditional graham cracker crumbs — between 75 and 90 pounds’ worth, mixed with butter — to make the crust.
Once the crunchy layer is set into place on top of baking sheets, the kitchen staff fills the mold, which is about the size of a table you’d sit at during a wedding reception, with gallon upon gallon of pumpkin pie filling.
Because there isn’t an oven large enough to fit the pie and cook it, Doherty makes a filling that is more like “a pumpkin-mousse-Jello-cheesecake,” and then stuffs it into a big refrigerator at TD Garden until it’s time to slice and serve it.
In all, it takes 145 cans of traditional canned pumpkin; 60 to 80 pounds of brown sugar; 3 pounds of cinnamon; 6 pounds of pumpkin pie spice; less than a pound each of nutmeg, allspice, and mace; 6 gallons of gelatin; and around 3 gallons of melted butter to get the job done.
Since the chefs only have a 32-quart mixer to blend it all together, they need to make up to 35 to 40 individual batches and then dump them into the mold one at a time to complete the pie.
“You mix a batch, season it, taste it, and into the pie shell it goes,” Doherty said. “It’s comical along the way because you get interrupted 100 times because you’re trying to prepare for the event.”
The pie is made on the ice level of the building because the kitchen there has double doors, making it easier to get out onto the floor at TD Garden for the Thanksgiving meal.
“You don’t want to build the boat in a garage you can’t get it out of,” he said.
After the pie is finally finished, it’s topped with hundreds of pastry puffs in the shape of maple leaves before it’s eventually rolled out for the celebration.
On the day of the feast, Latimer, TD Garden’s president, will use a customized pizza peel — the shovel-like instrument typically used to pull piping hot pizza out of the oven — to cut the dessert. It’s then served up in small portions to the many guests.
Doherty and his chefs will also dole out 700 pounds of turkey, 500 pounds of stuffing, and 350 pounds of vegetables, according to arena staff.
At the end, “There’s nothing left,” Doherty said.
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