One of the reasons why I’m so glued to Instagram is that it feeds my curiosity about staff meals. I love following restaurant chefs and seeing the quirky things the crew get to eat before or after service. However, a trade you don’t normally get to access the behind-the-scenes of, is the circus. With Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA production in town, I was lucky to be invited to the show last week and also met with KOOZA’s Kitchen Manager Shane Schipper and Touring Publicist Mami Ohki. Although the jaw-dropping athletic feats, extreme acrobatic precision, breathtaking costumes and lavish set design are downright spectacular, what I was really curious about, was their staff meals.
So this is what I found out.
Village on Wheels
The KOOZA team consists of 120 full-time cast and crew and approximately 70 family members. At each city, they also hire 9 local staff to help as prep cooks, dining room attendants and dishwashers.
60 trailers are needed to transport the mobile village from city to city — this includes the Big Top (comprising of 18 pieces of flame retardant vinyl canvas, that was manufactured in Bordeaux, France by Voileries du Sud-Ouest, internationally renowned for their big top tents; when erected, the Big Top stands 20m high with a diameter of 51m and has a seating capacity of 2,600), the artistic tent (which consists of a wardrobe area, dressing rooms, a fully equipped training area and a physiotherapy room), the box office, entrance tent (which holds the merchandise, food and beverage counters), the kitchen, offices and warehouses.
The mobile village is completely self-sufficient for electrical power, the site relies only on a local water supply and telecommunication facilities to support its infrastructure. On average, the site takes nine days to set up and three days to take down.
The kitchen serves three meals a day, six days a week. The cast and crew get every Monday off, and once a month, they’ll get two consecutive days off; many of them like to explore the local city they’re performing at so the kitchen is usually less busy at breakfast.
The dining room is the heart of the Cirque du Soleil mobile village and also functions as a meeting place for the cast and crew. The cast must check-in at least 90 minutes before the show and we were surprised to see how relaxed some of them were!
The kitchen is a series of trailers and large cases with a walk-in fridge, pantry, ovens, grills, burners, utensils and more. As you can imagine, sourcing produce and ingredients is a huge task! Every week, they’ll go through approximately 800 eggs, 400kg of proteins/meats/seafood, 80kg fresh fruit, 100kg vegetables, 60kg potatoes, 4 boxes of bananas!
The KOOZA kitchen has just four full-time staff — Shane Schipper from Mt Morgan in Queensland who has been kitchen manager for 2.5 years; Thierry Guittet from Breton in France who has been touring with various Cirque du Soleil shows for 13 years; chef David Lariviere from Montreal who has been with KOOZA for 7 years; and chef Mauro Ramiro Barreiro from the Galician region in Spain, who has been with KOOZA for 2 years.
The menu changes daily and usually consists of a salad station, a deli station, a hot bain-marie station, desserts, breads and fruit. With over 17 different nationalities, the chefs try to provide a wide variety of dishes to cater to everyone’s home cuisine and cravings, whilst also incorporating the local city’s cuisine.
The whiteboard menu is colour coded to help the performers choose what they eat. Given the gruelling intensity and endurance required of the performers, high-protein menu items are also available upon request.
Towards the last few weeks of the tour, the fridge gets cleared out in the same way you would before departing on a long overseas trip! On the last few days, when the kitchen has been packed up, the cast and crew will camp outside around a barbecue.
We learnt that Mexican is their favourite cuisine, closely followed by all-day brunch on Sundays!
Pork carnitas were on the menu at the time of our visit. A spice mix made of salt, chilli powder, cumin, Mexican oregano, marjoram, habenero chillis, allspice powder, chipotle chillis, fresh thyme and bay leaves was rubbed into a 16kg pork shoulder and left to marinate overnight then slow-cooked for 8 hours. Served with corn and flour tortillas, coriander, guacamole, pico de gallo, and all the hot sauces you could dream of, I could honestly live off this taco station.
As delicious as the staff meal was, I’m far from wanting to take the spot of the gymnasts, high-wire performers, flying trapeze artists, trampolinist on stilts and definitely not the Wheel of Death acrobats. My type of bravery is tackling the Death Hot Sauce but at KOOZA, every act had the audience captivated at the edge of their seats; I kept looking for the support wires and safety nets, basically any signs of trickery, and there weren’t any — I must’ve held my breath for most of the show! I absolutely take my hat off to the cast and crew for such an extraordinary performance!
Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA is in Sydney at the The Showring at the Entertainment Quarter until 13 November 2016. For more information, go to cirquedusoleil.com/kooza.
I Ate My Way Through experienced KOOZA as guests of Cirque Du Soleil