If you think your life is busy during the holidays, try stepping into Jaret Blinn’s shoes.
Blinn is the executive pastry chef at Red Rock Resort, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd. Come holiday time, he and his crew go into overdrive to accomplish their normal daily duties plus supplying the Holiday Shop.
The Holiday Shop is exclusively for Boarding Pass members, Station Casinos’ customer loyalty club. Much of it includes baked goods. This year, it is open through Dec. 15.
It not unusual for Blinn to put in 16- or 18-hour days to fulfill its needs since the shop first opened in 2006. Back then “they sent me a message that they wanted to do pastries for a casino promotion,” he said, “and I said, ‘Sure.’ I did not realize how crazy it was going to be.”
That craziness will see the kitchens using 3,000 pounds of chocolate, 800 pounds of white couverture, 3,000-plus tins for goodies and 7,000 pounds of butter.
That first year, the resort did perishable and nonperishable bakery items. Guests would point to the perishable items and say, “I want this, but not until the 20th.” Tracking such orders created a conundrum for the staff. Adding to that, the perishables took up valuable space in the resort’s refrigerators. The result: perishables are no longer offered. Poor performers were eliminated for the second year as well.
Another change? The bakery items were decorated with ribbons, which carried the signature logo of the resort. But a lot of the guests were taking the goodies to parties or to friends’ houses, and feedback determined they didn’t want to appear as though they were regifting. So now, most of the product goes out with plain red or green ribbon. The Holiday Shop requires 40,000 pieces of ribbon cut to measure.
“Every year we grow. We get smarter. We get wiser,” Blinn said.
One wise move was securing a product provider to pre-crush the candy canes. The first year, staff members had to remove the cellophane from each candy cane, a mindless and time-consuming task. Similarly, Blinn found a supplier with pre-split candied cherries.
This year, the bakers are in high gear as Green Valley Ranch Resort’s Holiday Shop has been added to their workload. It means labor demands, which have increased each year, are even higher. Staff members are stolen from other departments for nonbaking tasks such as cutting ribbon or making up gift baskets.
The packaging of the baked goods is done in one of the convention rooms on the property. The first year, everything was produced in the main kitchen. It was a learning experience — one they did not want to repeat.
When Green Valley Ranch Resort’s bakery store was added to the mix, things were switched to a banquet room with a double door so product could be loaded on pallets and put directly on the delivery trucks.
Blinn said he begins having nightmares about it in August. Marketing gives him their numbers in September, but experience has taught him that his own estimates for how much will be needed are more accurate.
Pastry chef Katie Ward is Blinn’s assistant. She said pallets start arriving in early November and line the back hallways. Crew members have learned to organize everything so that product is grouped in a logical manner.
“Organization is key,” she said. “So it’s important that we bring the pallets in and set them up right outside (the kitchen). We have a designated area for chocolate, for sugar, for flour, so you don’t (waste time) looking for something.”
As time gets closer for the holiday shop to open, the kitchen crew members will prepare cookie dough but not bake it. Instead, they freeze it. Five days before the Holiday Shop opens, they begin baking the cookies.
A big plus is a machine that drops dough and pumps out star cookies with the cherries.
The brittle and barks can also be produced a little early. The fudge is more unforgiving if made too far ahead. Rain affects anything with brittle. Moist air makes it tacky and sticky. Almond brittle is especially uncooperative when it rains, causing people to asked if it’s undercooked.
The kitchen is about 2,000 square feet. Then there’s a banquet kitchen, which is also utilized for the Holiday Shop. Both kitchens run day and night for the effort. About 40 cookie sheets, each 18 by 24 inches, can be rolled into the industrial ovens to bake at the same time.
Estimates for the Henderson location tended to be below the actual need.
“They would order enough for three days,” Blinn said, “then just a day later, they would call and say they need more, that they had rainchecks.”
Besides boxed baked items, there are cookie platters, truffle boxes, white chocolate bark and brittle tins.
The most popular items are fudge tins and bagged items. Last year saw about 1,800 bags each of peanut brittle and almond brittle produced.
The bar cookies had about 1,900 units go out, making them the No. 1 seller.
Bakery items aren’t all that’s offered at the Holiday Shop. Other items include slippers, terry cloth robes, Keurigs, jewelry, electronics such as an iPad Mini and a Louis Vuitton handbag.
Normally, there are 22 on staff, plus three sous chefs and Blinn. It is a 24-hour operation year-round.
“And then we throw this little project on top,” Blinn said. “My staff loses their sanity at this time of year. The Christmas music is blaring, and we go crazy. … It repeats every hour, and when you’ve heard ‘Feliz Navidad’ 12, 14 times, you go, ‘OK, I’ve been here too long today.’ Seriously, that’s how we keep track. My kitchen is like the casino, I hide the clocks so no one can see them.”
He increases the staff by at least seven people per day, including nonkitchen workers to bag, bow and package the items. Blinn said his staff members love getting overtime at this time of year, hectic though it may be.
“When it’s over, it’s like, ‘Ahhhh,’ like a light from Heaven shining down on us,” Ward said. “We get to go home and enjoy the holidays.”
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.