Food fit for a rock star

For­get bit­ing heads off live bats on stage, to­day’s top names have dis­cern­ing tastes when it comes to their tour menus. Ser­ena Kutchin­sky talks to their chefs

Friday - - Society -

Life on the road has changed. “Th­ese days, the fo­cus is more on health than he­do­nism,” says Sarah Muir, a lead­ing rock ’n’ roll chef whose client ros­ter in­cludes Bon Jovi, Bob Dy­lan, Oasis and Ra­dio­head; she has cooked for Thom Yorke’s band for more than 15 years. She has pan­dered to their whims on a se­ries of world tours, and has noted huge changes in di­etary de­mands.

“When I started tour­ing in the early 1990s with heavymetal bands, most of the groups lived off fast food and cig­a­rettes,” says Muir. “Back then, you’d throw an oven in the back of a van, drive to the venue and knock up a ba­sic shep­herd’s pie. But gru­elling tour sched­ules mean some artists are away from home for over a year. It’s my job to en­sure they can still shimmy into their skinny jeans, go out on stage and give it their all.”

The gas­tro rev­o­lu­tion that has done so much to im­prove the global palate has now per­me­ated ev­ery level of the mu­sic busi­ness. At mu­sic fes­ti­vals, the food on sale is of­ten as much of an at­trac­tion as the bands them­selves.

Over a long tour, nu­tri­tious and in­ter­est­ing food is es­sen­tial. The bands are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly picky, of­ten in­sist­ing pro­mot­ers sup­ply them with a com­pli­cated and ec­cen­tric list of con­trac­tual ‘rid­ers’. “Peo­ple are al­ways cu­ri­ous to find out what’s on the band’s dress­ing-room rider,” says Muir. “I think they ex­pect it to be some­thing shock­wor­thy, but it’s more likely to be pro­tein shakes and sushi.”

Ra­dio­head might not in­dulge in stereo­typ­i­cal rock-star be­hav­iour, but the dif­fer­ent tastes of the band mem­bers throw

up an ar­ray of culi­nary chal­lenges. “Thom Yorke is a ve­gan, as is gui­tarist Ed O’Brien. I make gluten-free and wheat-free meals for the drum­mer Phil Sel­way. Colin Green­wood, who plays bass, eats ev­ery­thing.”

“It’s easy to be­come a fussy eater when you have a per­sonal chef,” says Pete Bai­ley, who has cooked for a range of head­line per­form­ers and is cur­rently em­ployed by the gui­tar act Muse. “I’m known for tak­ing a firm hand, lim­it­ing por­tion sizes and ban­ning junk food. If my band asks for burg­ers, they’ll get a but­ter­nut squash salad,” he says. “I’m lucky, as Muse have put their par­ty­ing days be­hind them and are fo­cused on stay­ing in shape. Other artists are not so re­spon­si­ble.

“I worked with Take That on their last tour, which in­cluded Rob­bie Wil­liams. Once, at midnight, I was asked to pre­pare black lob­ster and lan­goustines for Rob­bie who had been out cel­e­brat­ing. Eat­ing such rich food late at night made him ill, forc­ing the band to can­cel the next show.”

Trav­el­ling the globe helps in­spire Sarah and Pete with ideas for their ever-chang­ing menus, which in­clude up to five dif­fer­ent evening meals, plus break­fast, lunch and pre-show snacks.

“If I want to pick the brain of the best ve­gan chef in North Amer­ica, we in­vite them back­stage at a gig,” says Sarah. “I’ve picked up some great Tex-Mex ideas, and a recipe for gluten-free choco­late cake that doesn’t taste like card­board.”

The in­ten­sity of tour­ing forges close re­la­tion­ships be­tween the bands and their chefs. Giles Broe has been Kylie Minogue’s per­sonal chef for more than a decade.

He even de­camped to Paris for a year in 2005 when the star was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer, and was one of the few peo­ple around her at that time. “Kylie and I are close friends, and she never be­haves like a prima donna. When I’m in a su­per­mar­ket I al­ways walk around com­pil­ing a men­tal list of things she’d en­joy. My ex-wife was of­fended that I knew Kylie’s eat­ing habits bet­ter than hers.”

Giles has watched as the pop star’s diet has evolved, al­ter­ing dra­mat­i­cally dur­ing and af­ter her can­cer treat­ment.

“Kylie is on the Mon­tignac diet, which elim­i­nates foods that re­lease sugar too quickly. It’s based on French cui­sine, which she de­vel­oped a taste for while liv­ing in Paris with her exboyfriend, the ac­tor Olivier Martinez. Pre­vi­ously, her diet in­cluded more Aus­tralian-style foods (bar­be­cued meats, oily fish, av­o­ca­dos), many of which are now banned.”

Giles also helps Kylie build up her stamina. “I feed her about six times a day, even if it’s just a few mouth­fuls of whole­meal pasta or an egg-white omelette,” he says.

“When she’s per­form­ing I stand by the stage with a tray of oys­ters, which she gulps down in the

breaks. Once, in Dublin, an over­sized bay oys­ter got stuck in her throat. I pan­icked and slapped her fran­ti­cally on the back. Once it was dis­lodged, we both col­lapsed in gig­gles.”

While rock ’n’ roll chefs pre­fer to fo­cus their en­ergy on one celebrity client, breaks in tour­ing mean they of­ten have to find work with oth­ers. In 2004 Giles wit­nessed the be­hind-the-scenes chaos that sur­rounded an in­creas­ingly frag­ile Brit­ney Spears. “I found my­self drawn into fam­ily ar­gu­ments. Brit­ney would ask for fatty foods, such as fried chicken, then her mother would get an­gry and or­der me to make some­thing health­ier. I ended up send­ing out two dif­fer­ent meals.”

De­spite the pres­sures of cook­ing for highly strung pop queens and kings, it’s clear that th­ese chefs thrive on it.

As Pete Bai­ley ex­plains, “Life on the road is ad­dic­tive. Ev­ery day you set up a restau­rant in a dif­fer­ent coun­try with a dif­fer­ent lan­guage, dif­fer­ent cur­rency and dif­fer­ent pro­duce.” And he’s quick to point out, “The hours are soulde­stroy­ing but there are a lot of laughs.’’

Muse band mem­bers have put their par­ty­ing days be­hind them and swapped junk food for greens

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