The inside scoop on catering to the stars who flock to the Hollywood of the South.
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Life on the movie set can run 24 hours a day, which can make caterers the literal lifeblood of the entire operation. Robert Smith, chef and owner of Pictures Up Catering, feeds the entire cast and crew two to three meals a day until they wrap, which may take months. “Movie catering is so last-minute, we have to be ready to go 24/7. Normally I get word around midnight about how many people I will have for the next day’s breakfast; it varies from 150 to 200 people.” For Smith, the biggest challenge is how to serve on-time, interesting and innovative food day after day. Private chef and caterer Courtney Renn specializes in preparing individual meals for actors and crews on photo shoots. Her client list includes the likes of Ben Stiller, Katherine Heigl, Vin Diesel and Rebel Wilson. Renn has met them all, but admits she spends most of her time “looking at the inside of their refrigerators and set trailers.” She’s had to be a quick study on special diets too: “Vegan, paleo, gluten-free, eating based on blood type… you name it.”
Some stars want a different meal every day during their months-long stays on set, while others eat the same things a few days in a row. “It is a high-speed learning curve adapting to how someone has been eating their whole life in just a day or two,” says Renn. Smith also has to have vegan, vegetarian, paleo and gluten-free options but the most popular dishes are vegetarian. “Because it’s good for everyone, no matter what diet you are on.” Renn says the stars love her Asian turkey meatballs most of all, and, she adds, “Ben Stiller was quite fond of my gluten-free acorn squash pancakes.”
Andrew Brackner, owner and executive chef of Talk of the Town Catering & Special Events, puts more food in front of the camera than behind it making culinary props. He recently roasted eight 20-pound turkeys for a Thanksgiving buffet scene on the Dynasty set. “It was a crazy challenge because the birds had to look identical in terms of browning and overall color as well as size. I found out later that they shot the cooked turkey during the scene.” The most extravagant on-camera prop he has ever served was a seated dinner for 120 people in a wedding scene for The Change-Up. And the most memorable? Andrew gives the nod to a meet and greet viewer’s party on The Walking Dead set. “We were asked to provide 200 prison meal service trays, but they had to look beaten up and old, so we were in the parking lot driving over them with our vans and scratching them with rocks before the event.” Smith concedes that days can be grueling and you can go long stretches without seeing any stars, but, he notes, “some come through the line with everyone else. Daniel Radcliffe, who was visiting the set of Summer of ‘03, was a regular in our line. He was super down to earth, no special requests, and happy with everything we put out.”