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
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