In Stockholm, it was the cookies — the black sesame, wasabi and white chocolate, or perhaps the gluten-free coconut almond dark chocolate — that signaled to Beyoncé’s dancers, crew and roadies that Grant Bird was back.
Mr. Bird is an English pastry chef and one of 14 culinary professionals on Beyoncé’s current Renaissance World Tour, which has also hired a vegan chef and three personal chefs just for Queen B and her inner circle.
After contracting Covid during rehearsals in Paris, Mr Bird had to take a week-long break, leaving the dessert duties for the 400 to 600 crew members to two stand-in chefs. By then, the crew had become accustomed to their lavish desserts, which often had a dozen different offerings at both lunch and dinner. A reduced sweet menu spoke of his absence.
So when the crew saw his signature spread of hundreds of cookies in several varieties again, they knew he was back. “That was lunch, and the whole dining room was clapping,” said Mr Bird, who has also cooked for Carrie Underwood, Justin Bieber and Mötley Crüe. “They just thought, ‘He has to come back.’ Because they only knew the style.’”
Yes, Beyoncé is one of the biggest stars in the world, but traveling with a cadre of chefs isn’t all about flexibility. Many touring artists now bring multiple professional chefs, not to mention entire mobile kitchens, on the road with them for efficiency, health and morale.
While idiosyncrasies like Van Halen’s ban on brown M&Ms has become a well-known tradition, the suspension of concerts during the Covid years prompted an industry-wide reboot, with a focus on wellness. Many tours now include a vegan chef, for example, and prioritize physical and mental well-being and reduce environmental impact.
“Before, in the early 80s and 90s, it was more of a party – cocaine and whatever they wanted. And now it’s just a business,” said Gray Rollin, Linkin Park’s longtime chef, who has also cooked on tours for Prince, Madonna and Tori Amos. “We have one job to do, and that job is to put that talent on the stage. Make sure the show goes perfectly. And then do it again the next day.”
Joking about Linkin Park and Thirty Seconds to Mars’ 2014 tour, he added, “It was called the Carnivores Tourbut 14 of the 16 guys we cooked for were vegan.”
James Digby, a veteran tour manager who just finished working the European leg of Avril Lavigne’s tour, knows such demands.
“You can’t get a non-vegetarian meal in catering on a Paul McCartney tour. That’s a challenge. Because most roadies I know are carnivores,” Mr Digby said. “If the artist is trying to change the world, one tour at a time, saying that everyone is vegetarian, my job is to echo that.”
Regardless of the cuisine, the production requirements are important. The industry standard for a sizeable tour calls for four meals on set and show days: breakfast, lunch, dinner and a post-concert meal, often eaten on the bus.
“An army marches on its stomach, so you have to feed the troops,” Mr Digby said. By troops, he meant the band, the backup singers and dancers, stage builders, the pyrotechnic crew, security guards, managers, bus drivers and all the other people involved in the high-stakes business of live entertainment.
At a recent Lizzo show at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, California, lunch featured a juice station with a blender-ready basket of vegetables. There were corn dogs, fried chicken sandwiches and plant-based Impossible sliders, as well as couscous, squash, carrots and cookies.
Everything was prepared in the kitchen of the arena. Normally, however, Latitude 45the company responsible for culinary operations for the vegan artist Special tourcooks in a complex mobile kitchen that packs into specialized flying containers and is reassembled in each new city.
The custom kitchens, including cabinets, shelves, ovens and workstations were built to maximize space and efficiency, and provide an elusive sense of “sameness” down the road, said Chris Mitchell, the company’s owner.
“Everything has a place, and it comes back to that same place every day,” he said. “If someone in the kitchen needs a stainless steel bowl — and without looking most of the time — they can just point and say, ‘Would you please give me the third bowl in that stack over there?’
HSG Cateringthe Chicago-based company currently working on the Eric Church tour, uses a 53-foot mobile kitchen containing a walk-in freezer, walk-in refrigerator and 80-gallon water heater. The unit is also equipped with a meat smoker, a wood-fired grill, convection ovens and a machine that can “sus vide 300 steaks at a time,” said Bob Schneeberger, the president of HSG.
While the chefs sometimes accompany artists on private jets or in armored cars, with police escorts, cooking and baking on the road can also put them in generator-powered temporary kitchens in fields or parking lots.
Mr Mitchell says the job requires a particular type of person who enjoys solving problems and being constantly on the move, and who can cope with sleeping on tour buses for months at a time. The conditions cultivate a kind of fraternity – many chefs proudly wear T-shirts from previous tours.
There is also a royal food tester appearance at the concert.
“One case of food poisoning, and you cancel shows for at least 48 hours,” Mr Digby said. As shows become bigger shows and ticket prices rise ever higher, such an event can risk millions of dollars.
One thing that may not have changed much over time is the selectivity of the artists who certainly have their idiosyncratic likes and dislikes.
“Gene Simmons used to like a turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato and pickles on the side,” said Mr. Rollin, who cooked for the Kiss bassist in 2008 and 2009. “But then he would never touch the lettuce, pickles and tomatoes, ever.” Jared Leto would want organic purple popcorn with every meal.
Traveling can also make it difficult to find the desired foods. In the 1990s, Marilyn Manson insisted on Kraft Mac & Cheese, so boxes were sent to England, Mr. Digby said. “Guess what? Kraft produces a different variety of Kraft macaroni and cheese for English consumers.”
Mr. Bird, who cooked for the K-pop group Blackpink in Chicago last summer, said the group brought in a separate truck just to transport their favorite brands of instant ramen noodles. Like some other caterers who have worked with K-pop tours, Mr. Bird was impressed by the emphasis placed on the culinary operations, which always included a Korean buffet. “They have so many different food stations and stuff. I’ve never seen that before,” he said.
As for Beyoncé, Mr. Bird sent fruit platters and cookies to her dressing room. And although he could not say for sure which are the pop star’s favorites, he noted: “As far as I know, the ones that are especially eaten are the Reese’s cup cookies” – a specialty of Mr. Bird, who have. vanilla base with Belgian milk chocolate and bits of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups folded throughout.
In addition to having his sweets in high demand, Mr. Bird was touched to see his name in the online credits for the renaissance tour.
“At the end of the show, they normally give credit to the lighting, the staging and people much closer to them,” said Mr Bird, who is currently touring with the country singer Sam Hunt. “But they never mention that they travel with us eating.”