The Food Behind Cirque du Soleil

The latest Cirque du Soleil tour will travel into Verizon Arena this weekend. Between the pageantry and amazing acrobatic acts few of the several thousand people attending will stop for a moment to think about the food that these highly trained athletes eat while on the road for nearly a year at a time. It is surprisingly local, fresh, and varied while meeting their strict dietary needs.
We caught up with Greg King who is the culinary tour manager for Spectrum Catering, the company manages the tour’s food needs, as he prepares for the Little Rock showing of Toruk – The First Flight.
The Toruk show, based on the movie Avatar, is Cirque du Soleil’s newest traveling tour that began this past November after almost six years in development. King has been involved with Cirque du Soleil tours for over 10 years, recently returning to the road after taking a break from tours.

Days typically start around 8 for the team that provides three meals a day and snacks for the 100 member touring group. The dining room contains multiple food stations stations. They have juice, flavored waters, healthy snacks, rice option vegetarian option, and hot stations. The goal is to include a lot of variety every single day.
Sourcing local ingredients and giving athletes a feel for local cuisine is very important to the operation.
“We shop locally as much as possible and establish relationships with butcher shops markets,” King says.” Our goal is to try to provide freshest local product that they can from city to city.”
For Little Rock the team has worked closely with Ben E Keith for most products and have relied on Hoggs Meat Market for butchery needs.

King cures his own bacon, cuts and pickles fresh vegetables, and works from raw ingredients for every single dish. The processed foods you find in many catering setups are non-existent on the tour. King even uses a number of special spice blends from a friend in Wisconsin who owns C Alden Spices, in place of off the shelf seasoning, every chance he gets.
This is all even more impressive when you see their setup. Cirque du Soleil carefully selects arenas with a precise floor area when setting up the tour, however all bets are off when it comes to available kitchen space.
“It is something new every single time,” King says. “This week we are in the boiler room, next week we may be in the Zamboni maintenance room.”
The required Zamboni is not missing from his Little Rock kitchen space, it sits just behind a curtain next to their pastry racks and prep table. They utilize every available square inch of the Verizon arena boiler room, tucking hot plates, blenders, ovens, and storage boxes between steam pipes.

The entire setup along with the dining room that can, depending on the location, accommodate up to 100 people breaks down into 45 foot trailer. The trailer also includes a refrigerated section for holding food both between locations and while on site. They set up a day before the crew arrives to receive any supplies. Efficiency is equally as impressive, King says they can set up in an hour and start cooking within three hours of arriving.
The meal planning for Cirque du Soleil is equally as important. King’s team works closely with the nutritional staff for the tour to know in advance what each of the athletes need and submit menus weekly.
“It is all very personal for each of us. Personally I am vegetarian. I have been for three years because I can feel a difference with my body and it helps me recovery very quickly,” Thomas Hubener, who is an acrobat and plays backup for the lead character of the show. “This catering group has been awesome because they will prepare special vegetarian meals for people like me. My favorite is Sundays, they do a nice brunch for us. I look forward to Sunday mornings.”
Constantly traveling to a new city each week under various working conditions can certainly become a grind. King says it is a lifestyle that he enjoys, and he looks for others who enjoy that lifestyle. He is extremely careful when selecting a team because they do work so close together. His keys when picking the culinary team are commitment to longevity in this type of environment, dedicated to the craft, respect for the product.

“With having a very small, tight crew, teamwork is something you have to have. There has to be lots of communication,” King tells us. “Not only do you have to get along well with the people you are working with, but you are also traveling with 110 roommates. Everyone has to talk and contribute. It is very much a democracy, and there is a lot of time for people to express themselves.”
Constantly traveling can be highly rewarding however. King says the best parts are being able to try the new food from city to city. He focuses in on the local spots and tries to avoid the overly touristy areas. He comes from North Carolina so good BBQ is always something he is on the lookout for, but he really enjoys a great dive bar.
“After we got set up in Little Rock I ventured over to the Town Pump,” King tells us. “It was a Tuesday night and the crowd was amazing. I really love being able to find places like that.”
To give King a great local flair, we also suggested he take some people out to Midtown tonight for bottle toss. If you see a few people doing handstands be sure to let us know.
You can catch Cirque du Soleil: Toruk – The First Flight at Verizon Arena Friday – Sunday. 
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