Culinary Acrobatics From Cirque du Soleil’s Chef Andrew Garrison
While the Cirque du Soleil cast performs gasp-inducing shows, Chef Andrew Garrison is busy behind the scenes feeding the acrobats and crew
Cirque performers come from a variety of countries and ethnic backgrounds. Do you cater to cultural tastes?
The diversity of our group is actually one of my favorite things about this job. We do have a large number of Chinese performers, so every day I prepare an entree (usually dinner) geared toward their tastes. Aside from that requirement, we touch on a number of cultures: Pan-Asian, French, Spanish, Italian, Latin American, and American regional.
Balanced food groups for optimum performance and calories for athletes come to mind. How much of a consideration is that in your cooking?
Keeping the artists healthy is definitely our primary concern, so at least one of our entrees at any meal is pretty light, [and we] offer the more nutrient-rich varieties of vegetables and starches. But keeping the non-performing part of our group in mind, we also offer some more rich, comfort-food type entrees. I submit my menus to a nutritionist before they are approved. Our performers have all been doing this for quite a while, so as long as I’m offering a good, balanced spread of options, they generally know what, and how much, they should be eating.
What sort of equipment do you take on the road?
We travel with an entire kitchen, so whatever venue we happen to be set up in, we’re able to operate completely independently of the local catering/concessions operation. All we need from them is a power source. We’ve got a full-sized, double-stack convection oven, an electric griddle/grill, six induction burners, a spice rack, and pots and pans. On the dining-room side, we’ve got a salad bar, juice bar, deli, coffee/espresso machine, and other things to keep everyone happy.
Where do you get your ingredients? Is organic an issue?
We have a national contract with Sysco, so they’re our primary vendor. If there are local vendors who carry a product we’re looking for, we’ll definitely give them some business. We focus on fresh, natural, additive-free products in our cooking — organic if possible, but cooking strictly under a specific organic label can be pretty cost-prohibitive, especially on this scale.
How many times a day do you cook for the crew and how many people is that?
We generally prepare two meals a day — lunch and dinner — for anywhere from 85 to 120 people per meal.
These are very active performers, to say the least. How much time do they need to have between eating and going on stage?
They’re pretty good about monitoring their time. We have pretty long dining periods, so the performers have time to have a little something without being uncomfortable on stage. Some prefer setting something aside for after the show, rather than eating in between or during shows.
Hydration must be important. What do they drink?
We offer a pretty wide range of beverages in the dining room: flat water, sparkling water, juices, sodas, milk. Alcohol is never available to them at the venue, so it’s entirely up to them what they consume during their down time. These are some very high-caliber athletes, though, and I’ve been really impressed with their level of professionalism both at the venue and outside.
Kitchen work on demand can be almost athletic. Have you tried any Cirque stunts? Trampoline? Trapeze?
One of the trampoline artists has offered to teach me, so I might have to take him up on that. I’ll probably break my neck, though. I’m a runner, not an acrobat!
If you wrote a Cirque cookbook, what might you title it?
Since I cook pretty much everything on tour “family style,” and I really do think of us as one big family, I’d probably call it Family Circus, with each of the recipes adjusted for different numbers of people. [Cartoonist] Bil Keane would probably sue me, but I think the name would fit. I suppose I could go with Family Cirque.
Have you ever been to Detroit?
This is my first time here. I’m a serious music junkie, and I love everything from Motown to MC5 to Seger to The Nuge and Eminem, so Detroit has always been on my musical pilgrimage to-do list.
Is there anything you plan to see (or places you plan to dine) during your time in the Motor City?
I’m a big hockey fan, coming from Minnesota (Go Wild!), so I would love to have caught a Red Wings game, but unfortunately, we’re living in their house [Joe Louis] this week. I did get to see some of the players and staff in the venue, so that was cool. I love the classic American muscle cars, so any exhibit I can find, I’ll be there. Anytime I’m in a city with a Hard Rock Café, I try to stop in (I collect the pins). I’d like to make it to Brian Polcyn’s Forest Grill to check it out.
Cirque du Soleil Dralion is at Joe Louis Arena Feb. 16-20; cirquedusoleil.com/dralion.