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Catering company dishes out fine food and gossip in 'Backstage Passes'

Friday, January 08, 1999

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

Metallica wanted four more pears and a box of Kleenex or they weren't going on stage.

Van Halen, already infamous for the brown M&Ms hissy fit in the '80s, now insisted on $185 bottles of 1984 Chateau Lafite.

Sinatra was off his game without Cherry Lifesavers and Campbell's Chicken & Rice soup.

And if you want to please Reba McEntire, cook up a "Kick Ass Meatloaf," and keep the ketchup bottle handy.

Over the past 15 years, San Diego's Behind the Scenes, Inc. has heard all manner of wild, even petulant requests - and has run right out to satisfy them. Now they've come to cook and tell with "Backstage Pass: Catering to Music's Biggest Stars" a cookbook filled with recipes, riders and anecdotes about their clients.

This is the place to find recipes for Hootie Chowder, Jimmy Buffett Bouillabaisse or Bonnie Raitt's Quick Red Beans and Rice? Or get a firsthand account of Robert Plant helping out with the laundry or Michael Bolton's road crew scurrying for his table scraps.

It's Metallica that provides the juiciest gossip. While the metal band's faithful were sweltering in the 93-degree heat at a military airfield near the Mexico border during the 1994 tour, those bad boys were backstage haggling over their three-page rider. Metallica demanded four more pears and Kleenex-brand tissues. Or no show.

"When Metallica wanted the Kleenex-brand kleenex and not the off-brand, they were being particular just to be that way," says John D. Crisafulli, who co-wrote the book with partner/sister Teresa Villa and executive chef Sean Fisher. "It wasn't that it mattered what kind of tissues they had. But they said Kleenex-brand on the rider and the kind they had in there was Cottonelle, or whatever it was. So we had to run out and get them Kleenex. It's, you know, see if you're on your feet, and see if you can get it."

"Getting it" is the busy work for the San Diego-based service that caters for the arenas and amphitheaters. Preparing it is their art. And when a connoisseur like Sammy Hagar comes around, it's their chance to go gourmet with, say, a peppercorn filet with bourbon whiskey, served on fine linen and china after the show.

The flip side would be an act like Randy Travis, Crisafulli says, who says no thanks to their beautiful marsala sauces or whose crew members will call it the gravy and want it slathered over everything.

It was Travis and company who were backstage recently when a TV crew came to shoot a story on the catering service.

"They did a scan of the table and we had to have a bowl of iceberg lettuce out there," Crisafulli says in horror. "I don't eat iceberg lettuce, I would never serve iceberg lettuce, but we had to have it there and it looked [terrible]."

Catering to the stars, they get to deal with a wide range of personalities, and yes, there are certain stereotypes based on the style of music.

"You get, for example, the country artists, big stars who are very gracious like Randy Travis, replying back to you, 'Yes-sir, yes-ma'am, thank you very much.' You'll get some of the big rap groups who have more of a party scene, big big groups, they love to eat. You'll have the heavy metal groups," Crisafulli says, "like Van Halen and Metallica, who are very demanding and very particular. You'll get the British groups who are a little more reclusive and are more into vegetarian/vegan and more political in terms of the way they eat."

And despite their often decadent reputations, rock stars have clearly embraced the health-conscious vibe of the '90s. For Kiss to rock'n'roll-all-night-and-party-every-day, first they had to dine on the seasonal vegetable puff pastry, low fat puree of carrot soup with Pernod and the chicken, grape and walnut salad.

"A lot of the dressing rooms in the early '80s and late '70s, it was booze, booze and more booze," Crisafulli says. "Now, there's juicers and wheat grass, organic carrots, organic beets. A lot of artists are touring with home gyms, so people are living pretty good nowadays."

As for Frank Sinatra, when he came to town, you could pass on the carrot juice. His rider called for a full bar stocked with Absolut or Stoli, Jack Daniel's, Chivas Regal, Courvoisier, Beefeater gin, and a bottle each of white and red wine, along with the required mixers.

Even the food was spiked - there was New York steak with cognac in the mushroom sauce and a fusilli with a peppered vodka sauce. As for the soup and Lifesavers, it was mostly superstition.

"Sinatra had the same rider for 25 years or so, and it built a little over time," Crisafulli says. "One time he may have wanted Cherry Lifesavers and Chicken & Rice soup. The superstition came in where if you had a good show, and you had something on the rider, you don't want to take it off."

Chef Sean Fisher says a Sinatra visit was "always something to look forward to. He had a lot of good old boys, with gold chains, gold bracelets, New York guys, hanging around with him. The dressing room was decorated like a New York-style apartment, with big couches. They brought all this furniture with them, and transformed a locker room for the hockey team into a penthouse."

Conversely, some backstage areas are more like day-care centers. When R.E.M. came through, they had a special family room set up with a playpen for the kids.

"With some of these artists," Fisher says, "the nanny's backstage - these are heavy metal groups - Dad's pulling the kid around on a wagon 45 minutes before they go on. Things have changed quite a bit."

Of course, there will always be those acts determined to make the backstage experience as bizarre as possible.

"We did White Zombie at the Sports Arena," Crisafulli says, "and they took these folding arena chairs and dismantled the deli tray to build this amazing structure in the middle of the room. It was completely balanced with, like, cherry tomatoes on forks and carrot sticks holding up cushions. It looked like this big sculpture, and it was all balanced on this one single chair leg at the bottom of this heap. It was absolutely amazing. Like the shrine to the White Zombie."

Over the years, we've kind of brought people along to food. We've educated them, and made the dining experience backstage at a concert, as grueling as the schedule is all day, something that we all look forward to all day. We all meet, and we all have a good time together.

A look at some dressing room requirements

Pearl Jam

2 cases Evian

2 cases premium beer - 12 Beck's, 12 Corona, 12 Heineken, 12 micro

2 bottles red wine - cabernet sauvignon

6 quarts fresh fruit juice

36 cans assorted soft drinks

3 cases Snapple - 2 lemon iced tea and 1 raspberry iced tea

2 bags tortilla chips with salsa

2 bags potato chips with dip

1 loaf multigrain sandwich bread

1 jar peanut butter

12 assorted bagels

selection of candy bars, i.e. Mars, Snickers


vegetable and fruit platter with dips

basket with fresh fruit

assorted vegetables for juicing including ginseng root

coffee and tea service including Throat Coat

1 carton of Marlboro red cigarettes

1 carton Camel lights cigarettes

VERY IMPORTANT: One five-gallon bucket of ice cubes to be in dressing room 15 minutes before scheduled end of show. The drummer soaks his wrists and elbows after the show.

Frank Sinatra

1 color television, cable ready

1 upright piano

1 bottle Absolut or Stoli

1 bottle Jack Daniel's

1 bottle Chivas Regal

1 bottle Courvoisier

1 bottle Beefeater Gin

1 bottle premium white wine

1 bottle premium red wine

1 bottle spring water

1 bottle Perrier

24 cans Diet Coke

12 cans Coke

1 bottle club soda

assorted mixers

1 fruit platter including watermelon

1 cheese tray including brie and assorted crackers

Dijon mustard

2 egg salad sandwiches

2 chicken salad sandwiches

2 turkey sandwiches

24 chilled jumbo shrimp

1 platter of Nova Scotia salmon

3 cans Campbell's Chicken & Rice soup (heated)

12 rolls Cherry Lifesavers

12 rolls assorted Lifesavers

12 boxes Luden's cough drops including cherry and honey

1 bag miniature Tootsie Rolls

1 bowl pretzels

1 bowl potato chips

6 bottles Evian

tea service including Lipton or Tetley

- From the book "Backstage Passes: Catering to Music's Biggest Stars"

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