In Stockholm, it was the cookies—the black sesame, wasabi, and white chocolate, or perhaps the gluten-free coconut almond dark chocolate—that signaled to Beyoncé’s dancers, crew, and roadies that Grant Bird was back.
Bird is an English pastry chef and one of 14 culinary professionals on Beyoncé’s current Renaissance World Tour, which also employs a vegan chef and three personal chefs especially for Queen B and her inner circle.
After contracting Covid during rehearsals in Paris, Mr. Bird was forced to take a week’s break, leaving dessert duties for the 400 to 600 crew to two substitute chefs. By then, the crew had become accustomed to its lavish desserts, which often included a dozen different offerings for both lunch and dinner. A stripped-down candy card appealed to his absence.
So when the crew again saw his signature spread of hundreds of cookies in different variations, they knew he had returned. “That was lunch and the whole dining room applauded,” said Mr. Bird, who has also cooked for Carrie Underwood, Justin Bieber and Mötley Crüe. “They just thought, ‘He must be back. Because they just knew about the style.'”
Yes, Beyoncé is one of the world’s biggest stars, but traveling with a group of chefs is no easy feat. Many traveling artists now take several professional chefs, not to mention entire mobile kitchens, on the road for efficiency, health and morale.
While quirks like Van Halen’s ban on brown M&Ms have become a well-known tradition, the suspension of concerts during the Covid years has sparked an industry-wide reset, with a focus on well-being. For example, many tours now include a vegan chef and prioritize physical and mental well-being and reducing environmental impact.
“Back in the early ’80s and ’90s, it was more of a party — cocaine and whatever they wanted. And now it’s just a business,” says Gray Rollin, the longtime chef at Linkin Park, who has also cooked on tours for Prince, Madonna, and Tori Amos. “We have one job to do, and that job is to put that talent on the podium. Make sure the show runs smoothly. And then do it again the next day.”
Joking about the 2014 tour of Linkin Park and Thirty Seconds to Mars, he added, “It was called the Carnivores Tour, but 14 of the 16 guys we cooked for were vegan.”
James Digby, an experienced tour manager who just finished the European leg of Avril Lavigne’s tour, is familiar with such demands.
“You can’t get a non-vegetarian meal in catering on a Paul McCartney tour. That’s a challenge. Because most of the roadies I know are carnivores,” Mr. Digby said. “If the artist tries to change the world tour by tour by saying everyone is vegetarian, it’s my job to repeat that.”
Regardless of the kitchen, the production requirements are significant. The industry standard for a sizable tour requires four meals on build-up and show days: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a post-concert meal, often eaten on a bus.
“An army marches on its belly, so you have to feed the troops,” Mr Digby said. By troops, he meant the band, the back-up singers and dancers, stage builders, the pyrotechnic crew, security guards, managers, bus drivers, and all the other people involved in the high-stakes business of live entertainment.
At a recent Lizzo show at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, California, lunch consisted of a juice station with a blender-ready basket of veggies. There were corn dogs, fried chicken sandwiches, and vegetable Impossible sliders, as well as couscous, pumpkin, carrots, and biscuits.
It was all prepared in the arena’s kitchen. Normally, though, Latitude 45, the company responsible for culinary operations for the vegan artist’s special tour, cooks in an elaborate mobile kitchen that packs into specialized flight cases and reassembles in each new city.
The custom kitchens, including cabinets, shelves, ovens and workstations, were constructed to maximize space and efficiency and provide an elusive sense of “equality” on the road, said Chris Mitchell, the company’s owner.
“Everything has a place and it goes back to that same place every day,” he said. “If someone in the kitchen needs a stainless steel bowl — and usually without looking — they can just point and say, ‘Would you please give me the third bowl in that pile over there?'”
HSG Catering, the Chicago-based company currently working on the Eric Church tour, is using a 16-foot mobile kitchen with a walk-in freezer, walk-in cooler and 80-gallon water heater. The unit is also equipped with a meat smoker, a wood-fired grill, convection ovens and a machine that can “sous-vide 300 steaks at a time,” said Bob Schneeberger, president of HSG.
While the chefs sometimes escort performers on private jets or in armored cars, with police escorts, cooking and baking on the go can also place them in generator-powered makeshift kitchens in fields or parking lots.
Mr. Mitchell says the job requires a certain type of person who enjoys solving problems and is constantly on the road, and can sleep on tour buses for months on end. Circumstances cultivate a kind of brotherhood – many chefs proudly wear T-shirts from previous tours.
There’s also a royal-food-tester aspect to it.
“One case of food poisoning and you cancel shows for at least 48 hours,” Mr. Digby said. As shows become bigger spectacles and ticket prices continue to rise, such an incident could put millions of dollars at risk.
One thing that may not have changed much over time is the fastidiousness of the performers, who certainly have their quirky likes and dislikes.
“Gene Simmons always loved a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and pickles on the side,” says Rollin, who cooked for the Kiss bassist in 2008 and 2009. ever.” Jared Leto would like organic purple popcorn with every meal.
Traveling can also make it difficult to get your desired foods. In the 1990s, Marilyn Manson pushed for Kraft Mac & Cheese, so boxes were shipped to England, Mr. Digby said. “Guess what? Kraft produces another variant of Kraft macaroni and cheese for UK consumers.”
Bird, who cooked for Chicago K-pop group Blackpink last summer, said the band brought a separate truck to carry their favorite brands of instant ramen noodles. Like some other caterers who have worked on K-pop tours, Mr. Bird was impressed with the emphasis placed on the culinary operations, which always included a Korean buffet. “They have so many different food stations and stuff. I’ve never seen that,” he said.
As for Beyoncé, Mr. Bird sent fruit bowls and cookies to her dressing room. And while he couldn’t say for sure what the pop star’s favorites are, he did note, “As far as I know, the ones that are mostly eaten are the Reese’s Cups cookies” — a Mr. Bird’s that have a vanilla base with Belgian milk chocolate and pieces of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups folded all over.
In addition to his delicacies being in high demand, Mr. Bird was touched when he saw his name in the online credits of the Renaissance tour.
“At the end of the show, they usually give credit to the lighting, the staging, and people who are much closer to them,” says Mr. Bird, who is currently touring with country singer Sam Hunt. “But they never mention that they travel with us for catering.”
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