Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Casino Royale With Cheese

I got a job working for a film location catering firm knocking out grub for the new Bond movie. I arrived at the airfield at 2.30pm in the blistering heat and was directed to the far side of the site by security. No-one asked to see any ID. I pulled up at another cordon that said ‘film crew only’, and was waved through.

I spotted the catering trucks straight away, next to the smart, white trailers where the stars rested between takes. A number of chauffeur-driven limos were idling outside. The whole area was filled with security men and riggers in fluorescent jackets.

I was met by a wiry, olive-skinned man in his fifties called Diego. I was expecting chefs in whites and tall hats, but the dress-code was informal to say the least. Just jeans, T-shirts and striped aprons. I had my chef whites tucked under one arm. Diego saw them and tutted: “You won’t need those – it’s too hot for whites.”

He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and introduced me to the rest of the crew. There was a man in his twenties called Mark and a swarthy Italian in a bandana making salads in the blue trailer. In the main kitchen, an ogre in a camouflage T-shirt was frying dozens of eggs. Behind him stood a tall man with a knife slash across his nose.

“I won’t bother introducing you to them,” said Diego. “They are Czech and speak no English. If I introduce will be like a needle in a haystack.”

The ogre and his friend nodded at me as I walked in. Diego told me to set up my board on a plastic box outside, and to cut boxes of cauliflowers into florets. I’d been working for a couple of minutes when Diego came back out and said: “Leave that for the moment, you can help with the serving in the tent.”

I hadn’t done any professional cooking for a couple of months, and was worried they’d seen my rusty knife skills and had me down as a waiter. I left the florets baking in the sun with the other prepped veg and followed Diego into a huge marquee.

There were food counters in one corner and I was told to work with a cheerless woman wearing sunglasses. Kath was serving up plates of fried breakfast. She looked stressed and at the point of tears, but it was difficult to tell behind the sunglasses. A long queue of crew had built up.

For the next hour I worked non-stop. The orders flew in as I threw fried eggs, bacon, burgers, sausages, chips, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and beans on to paper plates and take-out boxes. As each tray was emptied, new supplies of eggs, chips or bacon would arrive from the kitchen.

A lot of the crew asked for burnt bangers for some reason. “Not that I’m saying you burn your sausages,” I heard a few of them say. I looked down at the pink bangers, digging out the brownest ones from the bottom of the pile. Eventually the queue died down. There were 300 crew to feed normally, but that day was much busier because there were 110 extras on set.

After the rush, we sat down and had our meal. The cooks told me about life on the road. A couple of them had been doing it for six years. Diego had been doing it for 20.

“Once you’ve done this, you’ll never want to go back to a real kitchen,” one of them said.

The talk was all about sex and locations they’d worked at. Casino Royale had started filming in January and they’d spent the last few months in Prague, Venice, and the Bahamas. Sometimes they’d get special requests from the stars – the actresses tended to want plain-boiled vegetables with no seasoning. But most of the time they just ate the same food as the crew.

The new Bond, Daniel Craig, often sat down with the riggers and stunt men. “He’s really down to earth,” gushed Kath, “he even came on the chartered plane with us. He didn’t want special treatment.”

Diego got me to help him carry two huge sirloins from the refrigerated truck, and cut them into 100 steaks. I trimmed the fat and laid them on trays in the fridge ready for the evening meal. The washing up was done under a gazebo behind the trucks. Two Poles washed the trays, plates and cutlery in 90-litre plastic tubs. One of them rinsed everything down first with a hosepipe before it was scrubbed in hot water and left to drain on picnic tables.

They both worked with their tops off. They stopped for regular cigarette breaks and chatted in Czech constantly. Every time I brought more washing up, one would smile and say “Oh, wonderful!”

I finished off the cauliflowers and cut a sack of onions into julienne. It was fantastic working in the open air, and the sulphurous effects of the onions were blown away by the summer breeze.

Mark walked past and said: “You can take your top off if you like.”

I hesitated for a moment, and sensing my unease, he pointed at one of the pot-bellied plongeurs and said: “You can’t look any worse than he does.”


thedrb said...

Absolutely loved this..Out of the frying pan and into the..err..glorious sunshine!

Kim (@ Paper Apron) said...

Wonderful read-- love the descriptions. I felt like I was watching a movie of your story unfold.

Lizz said...

I've been enjoying your blog for months, I wait and save up a month's entries to read at a time. Hope you don't stop writing. Thanks for the entertainment and education.

Auldo said...

How'd you like the job? Must be nice to see some sunshine as a chef.