When the kitchen is always in motion, how do you feed one of the biggest bands in the world? Dega Catering is the long-running food crew charged with fueling the Dave Matthews Band as the group snakes its way across the country during their nearly annual summer concert tours. Feeding the band members, riggers, drivers, stagehands, sound technicians and guests with restaurant quality food can be daunting. Executing the food that is befitting the demands of a rigorous tour schedule is a feat all its own. Fold in the desire to minimize a negative environmental impact, use locally sourced goods and travel without refrigeration, and now, well, we have a show.
With band cases stashed throughout the kitchen area, the first impression is that this is a hard-core operation. Usually reserved for drums, guitars and the gear that goes into a top-grossing act’s seasonal tour, theses cases are over flowing with familiar sheet trays, stock pots, spatulas and tongs. The two convection ovens are on wheels, under the protective shell of road cases as well.There is even a rolling pantry, loaded with dry seasonings and other staples.
Andrew Miller (right) manages the account and handles the staffing. On tour with Dave Matthews Band for 13 years, Miller, 39, got his start in catering in New York City. Behind the stove and at the helm of kitchen is Chef Fiona Bohane. The tour veteran started doing desserts for the band some 16 years’ ago and has shimmied into the leadership role over the last 6. Working with a crew of 7 traveling kitchen crew, 2 local runners and 4 hired hands at the venue, Bohane juggles daily menus, coordinating deliveries from farms, avoiding kitchen catastrophes and, sometimes, just “getting through the day.” A butane burner explosion can’t cripple the moving parts. Nor can the notorious rains of southern Florida as a foot of water washes through the kitchen encampment, waterlogging half the evening’s meal with the sullying storm.
Chef Bohane (center) manages a mostly road-seasoned crew, along with farm resources, retail purchasing power and a pleasant disposition. “You adapt,” she laughs. The food supply is clutch in delivering the food befitting the multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning band. Part of the larder is stocked through a network of farms tapped by tour collaborator, Reverb. “The farms transform how easily we get good food. Supermarkets can be average.”
It only takes one thing to start a menu
The partnership with Reverb is a fruitful one. The environmental education arm teams with the band by raising awareness of, say, the impact of disposable water bottles at a show that can top 25,000 attendees. Reverb goes on to initiate and fulfill the composting program that runs parallel to the kitchen production as well as pairing local farms with the needs of the Dega crew. “Sometimes we are looking for 30-pounds of potatoes and 20-pounds of broccoli, but 40-pounds of cabbage show up,” Miller laughs. Bohane explains, “Sometimes the farm thing is random… but, it only takes one thing to start a menu.”
The offerings are as varied as the locale that band finds itself playing. In Camden, New Jersey, just north of the Chesapeake, for instance, soft shell crab sliders (right) were on the lunch menu. The next day, pork loin chops from the Philly Cow Share were part of the dinner spread. In Mississippi, ruby red shrimp that “tasted like lobster” were a hit. Runs to Wegmans supplement the ingredient list, especially without the benefit of traveling refrigeration.
“The budget matches my food philosophy,” deadpans Bohane. “Filet, for instance, is served as an appetizer. It’s decadent but I’m not decadent.” “[We’ll serve] shrimp, but then it is brisket or pork shoulder.” There is usually a grain salad that “we make up as we go along.” In addition, there are at least two starches for each dinner, a sauteed green, protein, deli trays, a salad bar and something for the vegetarians. “It really depends where we are. Sometimes, there aren’t a lot of options,” says Chef Bohane. Quick to note, there aren’t too many picky eaters, but “that’s why we have deli trays,” she laughs.
Keeping it Green
Miller expounds, “I’m from California—I’m hardcore. Wouldn’t even think to throw away a [plastic] cake dome.” While the power draw is usually 100 amps at most venues, Dega is always looking at better options to minimize the environmental impact of producing shows of this size. Of late, Miller says, there is a push to get off of using butane and switch to induction which doesn’t produce the countless aerosol cans that have to be used to fuel the butane ranges. Reverb is a formidable partner to assist; the greening partner provides recycling bins through the backstage of the venue, including the tour buses, dressing rooms and kitchen.
Local staff, Maribel Ojeda (right) and Desire Trout prepare corn from Maple Acres Farm for the evening's succotashLocal Flavor
The catering crew is responsible for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as dressing room selections, bus food and post-show sustenance. The late-night fare is usually culled from local specialties. Just outside of Philadelphia, the tastes turned towards the essential dining experience of cheesesteaks.
An impromptu taste-testing was in order to ensure the best specimens for the evenings post-performance dining. Tonight, Steve’s Prince of Steaks won the business. And it is big business. Some 60 breakfasts, 80 lunches and 120 dinners hit the dining space everyday.
Not all local catering is bad,” laughs Miller. “But, that’s why we exist. You know what you are getting.” Zack Tickler, 3-year tour veteran adds, “We close the germ pool,” ensuring that the same people are handling the crew’s food all the time, goes a long way to minimize foodborne illness.
Zack Tickler, on tour for 3 years with Dega and Dave Matthews Band, creates the arugula salad with local strawberriesCelebrity Family
To have Dave Matthews walk through the kitchen with a plate of food? Nobody is “overly demanding,” she adds “It’s a family atmosphere. Some of the crew have been from the start. It’s family space,” she speaks of the dining room. “Everybody loves food.” Miller caution s, “We don’t do pizza,” as the cheese, sauce and dough combo is much like fast food, being had only in a pinch. Tour director, Geoff Trump pops his head into the kitchen, “[The arugula and strawberry salad] was remarkable. This stuff is alchemy!”
Do the demands of, say, no flame, no sterno and only electric chafers at Madison Square Garden cause for a headache? “You adapt,” is the credo for this band of cooking brothers and sisters. Why else? “I love it!” proclaims tour rookie, Dustin Atkinson, as he gets back to creating succotash for his hungry family. “I really do.”