Feeding the famous
Want to know what Jimmy Buffet drinks in his dressing room? (It’s not margaritas!) What a certain female rocker looks like in curlers? Which rapper writes into his catering rider that staff neither speak to or even look at him?
My daughter Ashley knows. For several years, Ashley worked at Big Delicious Planet, cooking and serving food for celebrities. BDP is one of Chicago’s best catering firms, especially known for backstage catering at some of the Windy City’s most popular performance venues.
Her first assignment was Fleetwood Mac at the AllState Arena. Afterwards, her then-roommate, Jody Koplo, told her, “You have to do whatever you have to do to make the BDP owners love you!”
She succeeded. Before long, Ashley wasn’t just preparing and serving food backstage. She was promoted to “event manager,” in charge of entire catering assignments and crew. Those backstage experiences varied greatly. The demands of catering for a single performer with a small crew were far different than for events with multiple bands/performers at huge outdoor venues. One such was the 2010 CrossRoads Guitar Festival at Toyota Park where she provided breakfast (including made-to-order items, such as omelettes) lunch, dinner and snacks for the crew and more than two dozen performers and their entourages during the 11-hour, sold-out event. It was a virtual guitarist who’s who, including Eric Clapton, BB King, Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill and ZZ Top.
Ashley says the backstage scene at rock concerts is usually much different from the scenario of drugs, alcohol and debauchery many might expect:
“I’ve probably worked with most major bands around,” she says. “Maybe in the past it was like the Pink Floyd movie The Wall. But not anymore. The bands and crews work hard. Most have families. Especially during summer, many bring their families along. It’s more like family camp backstage than Woodstock.”
The Phish tour was especially family-centric. While the band played onstage, lead singer and guitarist Trey Anastasio’s wife and kids held hands in a circle and danced to the music. During one Phish rehearsal, 16 kids were running around backstage. At Crossroads, Eric Clapton’s 14-year-old daughter politely asked Ashley if she’d like to share an ice cream bar with her.
Ashley’s also fed The Dead, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Dylan, Harpo (Oprah’s) studio, John Mellencamp, Kiss and too many others to list. Her favorite, because he was so exceptionally nice and thoughtful, was Harry Connick, Jr. “If I wasn’t in love with Cory (her fiancée), I’d have a crush on him,” she says.
But Ashley was only truly awestruck by celebrity chef/TV star Anthony Bourdain. “He was really nice,” she says, “But I was so nervous all I could do was mumble, ‘Here’s a plate of pork products for your pleasure.’ I was so embarrassed!”
Ashley’s BDP jobs weren’t just for celebrities. There were lunches and dinners at downtown law firms and corporations, and private parties, sometimes in Chicago’s most luxurious homes.
Ashley’s job had its glamorous side, but was also hard work. Days at major events might start at 4 a.m. and end the next morning at 2 a.m. There was heavy lifting (75-pound tubs of ice carted up stairs at older theaters), frantic activity setting up when schedules suddenly changed or something essential didn’t make it into the van. Ashley spent two separate month-long stints making all the pastries (in addition to other tasks) when the pastry chef was ill.
There was the unexpected, such as at “America’s Got Talent” auditions. Someone backstage yelled, “Anybody seen a box of rattlesnakes? They delivered ’em, but I can’t find ’em.” Phoning me, she moaned, “Somewhere in the bowels of the Chicago Theatre, there’s a lost box of rattlesnakes!” (The snakes eventually turned up, thankfully still confined.)
There were mammoth shopping trips. “I just spent over $3,000 at Jewel!” she frequently reported. Much of that shopping was for stocking performers’ dressing rooms and tour buses, a separate function from serving meals. Some tour buses were incredible – exceptionally luxurious, outfitted with marble, lustrous woods and elaborate fixtures. Performers’ catering riders – contractual lists of what is to be provided and how – are very specific and often long – the Dead’s comprised 35 pages. Some only want organic products. Riders often require specific brands – Ashley once spent a half-day trying – and failing – to track down an obscure type of tea.
Ashley and other BDP employees regularly interact with celebrities. But they’re reticent when discussing their famous customers, whether it’s what they eat and drink, their buses or how they treat staff and crew. Celebrities value their privacy; gossiping about them is a good way to lose their business.
These days, Ashley is cooking for Springfield folks instead of big-name stars. Actually that’s been her plan for some time. Knowing her culinary capabilities and interest, I’d suggested Ashley consider cooking school after high school. She’d worked in the Sangamo Club kitchen for chef Larry Langley and manager David Radwine, and in other restaurants. But Ashley wanted to get a degree in viticulture and oenology (grape-growing/winemaking) in New Zealand. While there, though, she realized she wanted to be a chef after all – more precisely, a caterer. During college, Ashley worked as a sous chef in a French restaurant and personal chef for a wealthy family.
Once home, she looked into culinary schools, but was discouraged by Langley and Radwine, whom she considers mentors, and other culinary types, myself included. Ashley had enough cooking knowledge; she needed experience with a top-flight caterer. Hence Big Delicious Planet.
Ashley is beginning her Springfield catering business by making omelettes to order and offering various items at the Old State Capitol Farmers Market. She’s using local ingredients whenever possible, many purchased from market vendors. Plans are in the works to offer full-service catering in the near future.
So if you’d like to reduce your “degrees of separation” from, say, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton or Jerry Seinfeld – or just have a delicious, fresh omelette – head downtown, and Ashley will prepare something for you just like she did for them!
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley’s chocolate cake
“I can’t believe it! – I’m making a birthday cake for Gene Simmons (of the band KISS),” she once e-mailed me. The KISS members and crew loved it – as does everyone who eats this cake. Not only is it delicious, it’s as easy to make as any mix.
- 1 1/4 c. Dutch processed cocoa, plus additional to dust cake pans if necessary
- 2 1/2 c. all purpose unbleached flour
- 2 1/2 c. sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder preferably Rumsford or another brand that doesn’t contain
- aluminum salts
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 large eggs and 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 c. warm – not hot – strong coffee – instant is fine
- 1 1/4 c. buttermilk, at room temperature
- 10 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature, plus additional for greasing the pans if necessary
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Buttercream Icing, (recipe in the 11/11/2010 RealCuisine column on the IT website)
It’s important that all ingredients be at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350°
Line the layer cake pans with waxed or parchment paper. Butter the cake pans, or Bundt pan, if using; then dust with cocoa powder, rapping sharply upside down to remove any excess.
Sift the cocoa into a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low for a couple of minutes, or use a spatula until the ingredients are combined. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until everything is incorporated, then turn the mixer to medium high or stir vigorously by hand, beating for three minutes.
Approximate Baking Times:
24 cupcakes – 20 minutes
9” cake layers start checking at 35 min.
Bundt cake – 50-60 minutes
Adapted from a recipe in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School Cookbook