One of the reasons why I’m so glued to Instagram is that it feeds my curiosity about staff meals. I love following restaurant chefs and seeing the quirky things the crew get to eat before or after service. However, a trade you don’t normally get to access the behind-the-scenes of, is the circus. With Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA production in town, I was lucky to be invited to the show last week and also met with KOOZA’s Kitchen Manager Shane Schipper and Touring Publicist Mami Ohki. Although the jaw-dropping athletic feats, extreme acrobatic precision, breathtaking costumes and lavish set design are downright spectacular, what I was really curious about, was their staff meals. 

So this is what I found out.

Jennifer Lam, founder and editor of I Ate My Way Through, behind-the-scenes at Cirque du Soleil KOOZA!
Excited to go behind-the-scenes with my visitor pass at Cirque du Soleil KOOZA!
Behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil's Kooza
Behind the scenes at Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza

Village on Wheels

The KOOZA team consists of 120 full-time cast and crew and approximately 70 family members. At each city, they also hire 9 local staff to help as prep cooks, dining room attendants and dishwashers.

The KOOZA entrance tent and the Big Top
The KOOZA entrance tent and the Crique du Soleil Big Top
Inside the Cirque du Soleil entrance tent
Inside the Cirque du Soleil entrance tent
Inside the Cirque du Soleil Big Top
Inside the Cirque du Soleil Big Top

60 trailers are needed to transport the mobile village from city to city — this includes the Big Top (comprising of 18 pieces of flame retardant vinyl canvas, that was manufactured in Bordeaux, France by Voileries du Sud-Ouest, internationally renowned for their big top tents; when erected, the Big Top stands 20m high with a diameter of 51m and has a seating capacity of 2,600), the artistic tent (which consists of a wardrobe area, dressing rooms, a fully equipped training area and a physiotherapy room), the box office, entrance tent (which holds the merchandise, food and beverage counters), the kitchen, offices and warehouses. 

Inside the artistic tent
Inside the artistic tent
A live recording of each performance can be seen from the artistic tent
A live recording of each performance can be seen from the artistic tent
Inside the artistic tent - weights
Inside the artistic tent – weights

The mobile village is completely self-sufficient for electrical power, the site relies only on a local water supply and telecommunication facilities to support its infrastructure. On average, the site takes nine days to set up and three days to take down.

Inside the Cirque du Soleil KOOZA artistic tent - costumes washed and hung out to dry
Inside the Cirque du Soleil KOOZA artistic tent – costumes washed and hung out to dry

The Kitchen

The kitchen serves three meals a day, six days a week. The cast and crew get every Monday off, and once a month, they’ll get two consecutive days off; many of them like to explore the local city they’re performing at so the kitchen is usually less busy at breakfast.

Shane Schipper taking us on the kitchen tour
Shane Schipper taking us on the kitchen tour
Fridge door - if you don't follow this instruction, Gribble will feed you to the lions!
Fridge door – if you don’t follow this instruction, Gribble will feed you to the lions!
Inside the walk-in chiller
Inside the walk-in chiller
Stocks, broths, stuff marinating,...
Stocks, broths, stuff marinating,…
Wall of non-perishables
Wall of non-perishables
The pantry
The pantry
Beef prep
Beef prep
Industrial mixer
Industrial mixer
Fish marinating to be grilled
Fish marinating to be grilled
Baby potatoes
Baby potatoes
The grill
The grill
Spice rack
Spice rack

The dining room is the heart of the Cirque du Soleil mobile village and also functions as a meeting place for the cast and crew. The cast must check-in at least 90 minutes before the show and we were surprised to see how relaxed some of them were!

The kitchen is a series of trailers and large cases with a walk-in fridge, pantry, ovens, grills, burners, utensils and more. As you can imagine, sourcing produce and ingredients is a huge task! Every week, they’ll go through approximately 800 eggs, 400kg of proteins/meats/seafood, 80kg fresh fruit, 100kg vegetables, 60kg potatoes, 4 boxes of bananas! 

The KOOZA kitchen has just four full-time staff — Shane Schipper from Mt Morgan in Queensland who has been kitchen manager for 2.5 years; Thierry Guittet from Breton in France who has been touring with various Cirque du Soleil shows for 13 years; chef David Lariviere from Montreal who has been with KOOZA for 7 years; and chef Mauro Ramiro Barreiro from the Galician region in Spain, who has been with KOOZA for 2 years.

The dining room
The dining room

The Menu

The menu changes daily and usually consists of a salad station, a deli station, a hot bain-marie station, desserts, breads and fruit. With over 17 different nationalities, the chefs try to provide a wide variety of dishes to cater to everyone’s home cuisine and cravings, whilst also incorporating the local city’s cuisine. 

The whiteboard menu is colour coded to help the performers choose what they eat. Given the gruelling intensity and endurance required of the performers, high-protein menu items are also available upon request. 

Mexican night menu
Mexican night menu

Towards the last few weeks of the tour, the fridge gets cleared out in the same way you would before departing on a long overseas trip! On the last few days, when the kitchen has been packed up, the cast and crew will camp outside around a barbecue. 

We learnt that Mexican is their favourite cuisine, closely followed by all-day brunch on Sundays!

Pork carnitas were on the menu at the time of our visit. A spice mix made of salt, chilli powder, cumin, Mexican oregano, marjoram, habenero chillis, allspice powder, chipotle chillis, fresh thyme and bay leaves was rubbed into a 16kg pork shoulder and left to marinate overnight then slow-cooked for 8 hours. Served with corn and flour tortillas, coriander, guacamole, pico de gallo, and all the hot sauces you could dream of, I could honestly live off this taco station.

Taco station
Taco station
Broccoli, walnut & cream soup
Broccoli, walnut & cream soup
Chorizo papas and pork shoulder carnitas
Chorizo papas and pork shoulder carnitas
Salad and deli station
Salad and deli station
Silverbeet, quesadillas, rice, black beans, and more
Silverbeet, quesadillas, rice, black beans, and more
Prosciutto, salami, and other deli items
Prosciutto, salami, and other deli items
Line up of hot sauces
Line up of hot sauces
Plaintain chips, pork carnitas tacos, pineapple salsa - Cirque du Soleil - Mexican night staff meal
Plaintain chips, pork carnitas tacos, pineapple salsa – Cirque du Soleil – Mexican night staff meal
KOOZA cast and crew lining up at the kitchen
KOOZA cast and crew lining up at the kitchen
Dessert fridge!
Dessert fridge!
Jason "tatin" pie
Jason “tatin” pie
Performers having a light meal before the show
Performers having a light meal before the show

 

See that mirror? It doubles as the lid of a large storage case!
See that mirror? It doubles as the lid of a large storage case!
Costumes and props, behind the scenes
Costumes and props, behind the scenes
The performers are super speedy at removing their make-up after a show!
The performers are super speedy at removing their make-up after a show!
Behind the scenes at KOOZA
Behind the scenes at KOOZA
Skeleton costumes
Skeleton costumes
Behind the scenes at the artistic tent
Behind the scenes at the artistic tent
Behind the scenes, wigs
Behind the scenes, wigs
Costume alterations and repairs
Costume alterations and repairs
Back-up costumes
Back-up costumes
Behind the scenes at the artistic tent, back-up costumes
Behind the scenes at the artistic tent, back-up costumes
Shoes and other costume accessories
Shoes and other costume accessories
Behind the stage at the Big Top
Behind the stage at the Big Top
The confetti cannon behind the scenes
The confetti cannon behind the scenes
Hats behind the scenes
Hats behind the scenes
Costume department, behind the scenes
Costume department, behind the scenes

As delicious as the staff meal was, I’m far from wanting to take the spot of the gymnasts, high-wire performers, flying trapeze artists, trampolinist on stilts and definitely not the Wheel of Death acrobats. My type of bravery is tackling the Death Hot Sauce but at KOOZA, every act had the audience captivated at the edge of their seats; I kept looking for the support wires and safety nets, basically any signs of trickery, and there weren’t any — I must’ve held my breath for most of the show! I absolutely take my hat off to the cast and crew for such an extraordinary performance!

Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA is in Sydney at the The Showring at the Entertainment Quarter until 13 November 2016. For more information, go to cirquedusoleil.com/kooza.

I Ate My Way Through experienced KOOZA as guests of Cirque Du Soleil

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Jennifer is the founding blogger of I Ate My Way Through (originally, Jenius.com.au). Growing up in the multicultural melting pot of Sydney’s Inner West as a second generation Australian (of Vietnamese refugee parents of Teochew Chinese ancestry), Jen has always had a deep curiosity about global cuisines, culinary heritage and the cultural assimilation of immigrants. For Jen and her family, food is always at the centre of all celebrations, life events and milestones. A lover of the finer things in life, as well as cheap eats, her blogging ethos is all about empowering and inspiring people to expand their culinary repertoire. When not running her two companies (she is also the Managing Director of The Bamboo Garden online marketing agency), Jen can be found exploring old-world charms at vintage markets and delving into local eats around the world. She has a weakness for fried chicken.

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