Until last week, when a press release was directed my way, I had no idea that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus travels around the country in the longest privately owned passenger train in North America.
And that it’s equipped with its own restaurant or “pie car.” The chef on the pie car is 23-year-old Matt Loory, who cooks for 100 performers, spanning 25 countries. And with the circus coming to San Diego Aug. 7 through Aug. 10, this was a chef I needed to know. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.
Cooking for 100-circus employees out of a train car must be challenging. Describe the kitchen, some of the challenges, and how you pull it off.
The Pie Car Sr. is a 110-feet long dining car on the train, about 45-feet of that is our actual cooking area with our Flat Top, deep fryer, four induction cook tops, a turbo chef (for making wings and fries when the train is moving) and steam tables for holding/displaying our nightly special.
The next 20-feet is our cold/dry storage including side-by-side freezers, a reach-in cooler, and our can racks built to hold (these) giant No. 10 cans in place even in the rockiest of train movements.
The rest of the space on the car holds eight booths to comfortably seat 32 people who while enjoying their food can watch TV (even while the train is moving) thanks to a special type of satellite installed on the roof of the train.
The Pie Car Jr. is our mobile unit that we set up backstage every week; it is basically a food truck. One of our biggest challenges is chasing down our food supply trucks as most of them aren’t used to delivering to a mile and a half long train!
Given the mix of circus performers, do you have to prepare different meals for the more athletically inclined or does everyone get the same thing?
We have over 18 nations represented on Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Presents: Legends, each and every day we balance trying to feed the cast, crew and staff quality meals with giving them a taste of their home. Many of the performers like the Solar Hawks, our Trapeze troupe, enjoy a balanced meal that provides them with all of energy necessary to keep the hundreds of thousands of spectators on the edge of their seat every year!
Moving from town to town, do you stock up with provisions at each stop and if so, what are your primary sources?
My primary sources of provisions are food houses like SYSCO or US Foods, I supplement those with weekly trips to Sam’s Club and when I have time I’ll sneak off to a local farmer’s market to find the best local ingredients to give the Greatest Show on Earth a taste of our host city’s best flavors!
If I were to ask a random sampling of circus staff what some of their favorite meals coming out of your kitchen are, what would you say the top 5 would be?
A good ol’ American Cheeseburger and fries! (Despite our massive diversity this is the most commonly eaten grub on the show) Our Breakfast Burritos are relatively new, but in a month where we only had four breakfast services at the Pie Car Jr. we sold over 70 of these bad boys!
My signature Asian Style Meatloaf with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes is a constant hit. Our Chili Lime Chicken with Spanish rice and Veg Medley is a big winner! And finally, our breakfast, Huevos Loco-Motion when we serve it is another very popular dish.
Do you get a chance to explore the local food scene when the circus stops? If so, what are some of your favorite food towns in the U.S.?
I try to sneak away once a week in each town to find something great to eat! Some of my favorites are the Oak Table in Columbia, S.C. Metro Bis just outside of Hartford, Conn. And I’m most excited about dining on Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. in the coming weeks with two of my Chefs!
What are some of your favorite parts of this job…as opposed to being in a traditional restaurant?
You don’t get a lifestyle like this in a traditional restaurant! Every week I have a new backyard to explore, albeit sometimes it’s an active runway of a major airport, but sometimes it’s a beautiful park, or in the case of right now in Anaheim, I can quite literally see Disneyland’s Firework display every night as I return home from the Honda Center! Everyday presents a new challenge, but it also presents a new adventure!
Chef Matt will be in town with the circus on Aug. 7 through Aug. 10. Tickets and show times at ringling.com
Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday – Friday during the 7pm hour. David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at email@example.com or (858) 395-6905.