Big festivals are a big task to put together and make sure things run smoothly. While most people can only imagine the work involved on the stage production, band accommodation and venue arrangements, there’s the riders that need to be addressed and that includes feeding the bands and crew. To give you a better idea how crazy this can get, our chef Heather Feher of Black Cat Culinary gives us a recap of her experience catering this year’s edition of Blastfest in Bergen, Norway.
Tales from the Black Metal Buffet : Behind the kitchen doors of Blastfest 2016
It’s 6:30 am two days before Blastfest and I’m halfway to Bergen, 3 hours in to my 8 hour layover in Munich, with one more flight to go. I’m going on 48 hours without sleep and I’ve spent the last 10 minutes giggling over the button on the coffee machine labeled “weiner melange” (I pressed it… twice). I’ve finally found a comfortable chair, kicked up my combat boots, and am scouring through the band riders I’ve just been sent, making lists of who’s allergic to what, cross-referencing them with who’s playing which day, checking dietary restrictions, trying to ensure I have something on the menu that everyone can eat, and making sure that I don’t accidentally kill anyone with dinner. I get to the requests part, which is always my favorite…
“a mirror long enough for 4 men to apply corpse-paint simultaneously”
“8L animal blood, please thaw in advance if frozen”
“good beer in bottles, none of that piss stuff”
“one box cheap red wine”
“___ only eats red meat. if no red meat is available, he will have vegetables.”
“large extra fluffy black towels. BLACK.”
“40 sheeps heads” (…wait, what? More on that later.)
I’m simultaneously in a group chat with the rest of Team Catering bantering back and forth about what we should name the dishes. Last year we had Porknagar, Satyricorn, Impaled Nazagreens, Morgbroth, and Dark Pruneral, to name a few. In my years on the road, I’ve learned that a) everyone loves a good pun, even if they roll their eyes and b) bands like to feel special in a festival environment. This has kind of become my signature thing backstage.
“Who’s headlining Friday?” “1349… that one’s hard.” “Wait. Nine. Swine. Oh my god. 13 forty swine. YES!!” “Ok, Taake. Steaake? Caake?” “SHIITAAKE OBVIOUSLY!!” We throw around a few others – Cor Scampi and The Bird Attempt being clear contenders – then one of the girls chimes in with “Ihsahgne” and I lost it. I started cackling like an idiot in the middle of the quietest part of the airport. The business man next to me shoots me a dirty look. Four more hours.
The next morning, I meet Laura – my longtime friend, Blastfest veteran, and second in culinary command – in the hotel lobby. We steal a pot of coffee and go over our plans for the day, laughing about the complete chaotic absurdity of last year (how we managed to make a full taco bar for 20 in an hour with a microwave, a steak knife, and tiny packets of salt and pepper is an actual miracle that neither of us want to ever relive – nor is The Smoky Hamburger Tent Incident of 2015). This year, we have a plan, a set of rough menu drafts, and a budget – we’re feeling super confident! Day one starts off without any major hiccups – until we realize that our “kitchen” isn’t quite set the way we thought it was going to be. So begins The Great Induction Burner Hunt of 2016.
Five thrift stores, four grocery stores, and three hours later, we finally get to the venue. I like to compare rogue backstage catering like this as some psychotic mashup of Chopped meets Supermarket Sweep, with a bit of Cutthroat Kitchen thrown in for entertainment value. We have approximately 3 feet of counter space, a coffee table, a microwave, one pot, two saute pans, and two induction burners to work with, and less than two hours until dinner is served.
Our friend Dima from Canada arrives shortly after we set up. We give him a prep list, and he sets up on the coffee table. With a paring knife. For reference, Dima is nearly 6’8″ and the visual of him practically eating his knees while working with a knife smaller than his pinkie finger on a tiny coffee table is kind of the most hilarious thing we could have imagined. He unintentionally becomes the mushroom chopping, garlic peeling comedic relief we need to get through the initial push.
Right as we put out the first round of dinner, the bands start showing up – our prep annex becomes the unofficial Corpsepaint Application Epicenter of the evening. Within minutes, the room switches from pots of boiling pasta water and vegetable peelings to beer cans, white makeup, and leather. One of the bands discovers that the nails on their stage gauntlets make for excellent kebab skewers and spends a solid 5 minutes threading cubes of chicken on his wrists. Our tiny hallway kitchen is nestled between the showers and the main dressing room, and during one set change, the entire backstage area goes from smelling like bacon to smelling like stale blood. Almost everyone has eaten dinner by now – everyone is full and happy. People are getting rowdy.
We crack a beer and start cleaning. A naked Norwegian skips past us all, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind him as he smacks us all on the butt with a towel. A few of us take selfies in the “blood shower”. We catch the last few bands downstairs. All in all, a successful first day.
Day two, not so much.
I wake up to a message from our runner/translator : “sorry, can’t shop early like we planned. The card and the van are tied up buying sheep heads in the country.”
Oh right. Gorgoroth is headlining tonight.
For such a late start, Day Two goes fairly smoothly… at first. Shopping was an adventure without a translator, but thanks to Google, we managed to get the majority of what we needed in a short trip to two stores. Our hunt for Asian inspired ingredients is mostly unsuccessful, so we end up doing a lot of last-minute substitutions (sauteed napa cabbage instead of bok choy, anyone?). That’s honestly one of the biggest differences I’ve found in all the places I’ve cooked – once you’ve lived in a big city in the US, you’re completely spoiled. You’re used to being able to find any ethnic ingredient in any random little corner bodega – but that’s not the case, especially in Scandinavia. It’s a struggle to find nori, let alone anything else. We have a real kitchen today though, which takes away some of the extra stress.
Dima and Melissa arrive at the venue before Laura and I, armed with a few tasks to start before we return with the rest of the food. Tonight’s menu features pork (Boargoroth), Lamb (Lambfar), mushroom rice (shiiTaake), and several vegetable/starch sides. The meat is cooking beautifully, space isn’t an issue, and then – I see my best friend dumping an entire pan of spring rolls into a 3″ pot of oil. “Something is happening”, she says. “The top ones are raw while the bottom ones are burning”, she says. I try to keep my cool. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re working with people who have almost zero kitchen experience. Sometimes it’s stressful. That’s why I have Laura though – she’s at a constant 2, even when I get up to a 9.5. She’s the sweetest person alive and she’s the face of sanity when I temporarily lose it. In other words, Laura’s a Tulley when I go full-on Bolton. And on a day where over half of my volunteers don’t show up – I need all the Tulleys I can get.
We manage to somehow find all the equipment we needed and get dinner out on time. Pretty sure that all 200 people we were supposed to feed showed up at the exact same time – the food is absolutely decimated, people are devouring everything, and we’re struggling to replenish in time, but everyone seems to be happy. We clean up and head out to catch the last few bands. Gorgoroth performs, and all 4o sheep heads are gloriously rotting on stage. Their set is amazing, even though I’m lamenting the fact that we didn’t plan to boil the heads after the set – they would have made such a nice stock!! During this thought, the singer decides that the audience NEEDS these sheep heads. I’m completely immersed in thought when a half-rotten sheep head goes flying past MY head. The sheep carcass and I lock eyes for a moment as it grazes my ear, and then I become irate – “These sheep heads will NOT f**k me twice in one day!” It was somewhat surreal, really, watching three dozen people exit a small venue with a warm animal head in tow. The next morning, the local news paper had done a story about all the heads left strewn around town. Fans got halfway to their hotels, sobered up just enough to realize they were lugging a freshly slaughtered animal head, and promptly left it wherever they were standing – usually in someone’s yard or along an industrial path. The reports of “satanic activity” skyrocketed. It was comically metal.
Shopping went smoothly. We’re under budget for dinner, even though we had to spend the equivalent of $40 on a box of cheap wine (that would have cost maybe $12 in the states) for cooking. Norway, you’re so expensive. Our menu was simplified today to minimize stress (especially with the lack of volunteers and help in general!)… but we still had 250lbs of chicken to tackle. Luckily, our Canadian Troll jumped right on that task, slinging poultry like a madman while simultaneously crushing dishes. We’re right in the middle of putting together the dining room setup and wrapping our heads around the final mise en place for dinner and – all of the sudden – we see Laura hobbling into the kitchen. She leans against the prep table and winces, picking up her knife without saying a word, slowly starting to chiffonade basil for garnish. We all give her this look – finally, she spills. While running between the stock room, dining room, and kitchen – which are all connected via a slightly slippery ramp – her shoe caught on a piece of uneven flooring and she twisted her ankle, falling down pretty hard. We take a look at her ankle. It’s already doubled in size and seems to be swelling at an alarmingly rapid rate. We get her out of the kitchen and elevate her leg, grab her some ice, and pour her a glass of wine. She rests for a moment, then insists on helping until we get dinner out.
Meanwhile, I enter full chaos mode, sprinting throughout USF, frantically asking every volunteer I see if anyone has any kitchen experience. Eventually, the festival manager delivers me Awesome German Guy, who is actually a trained chef. AGG comes in and totally kills it. We couldn’t have made it without him that day. His girlfriend helps set up the dining room, and later we celebrate the successful end of what quickly became a very hectic day out of nowhere by finishing the rest of the box wine and then promptly putting Laura in a runner van back to her hotel, even though she insisted she was fine. After breaking down, we still have plenty of time to change and catch the last few bands play – in particular, I’m pretty psyched for Ihsahn. It’s a pretty cool feeling, getting to share your passion with artists you’ve loved for years – and then have them share theirs with you on stage. Two bands in, we’re feeling pretty good and finally meeting up with friends, enjoying the last bit of the night – when I feel a tap on my shoulder.
It’s the venue manager.
We didn’t use the foamy soap on the floor (…what foamy soap?). We swept and mopped with what we found, but we didn’t rinse or squeegee the floor (we were never told to do any of that – in fact, we had repeatedly attempted to acquire cleaning supplies but were dismissed by the venue staff) – and now, at half past midnight, we’re standing in the kitchen – buzzed, dressed up, and very, very annoyed as the manager details the specific cleaning products (hidden deep in a closet in a bathroom in the back of the storage room) that we *should* have used to comply with Norwegian health code laws. So, after a lengthy demo, we start power washing the kitchen. In heels. At 1am. There was admittedly a moment where I was about six seconds away from a complete meltdown – but then I looked over and saw Melissa violently shooting spray foam all over the walls and floor in knee high boots and a pencil skirt and I completely lost it. It was the most absurdly annoying situation, but once we realized how hilarious the entire scene was, it became a lot more bearable. We danced in the foam, sang into the broom handles, and made the best of the situation.
After the show let out, we got back to the hotel – and were beckoned over to the lobby, where a bottle of scotch and a dozen band members and crew were hanging out. It was a rough morning.
Laura was out of commission all day, so I did the shopping by myself. Luckily we had unintentionally planned for this, buying a majority of what we needed the day before. Melissa, Dima, and Awesome German Guy went to work on the stuff we had in stock while I raced around town in the black metal taxi. As soon as I got back from shopping, I plucked half a dozen volunteers out of other departments – we had a ton of knife work to do. Richard/Ragnar joins us, blasts some cock rock, and soon we’re slaying somewhere around 300lbs of potatoes and root vegetables, interspersed with some ridiculous air guitar solos. Everyone’s massively hungover and we all have the giggles – it’s the best type of atmosphere. Today is fun. Our main course is SLABBATH, with a side of Green (Bean) Carnation. The food is delicious and plentiful, and the day is by far the easiest. We end the festival on a high point, scrub the kitchen, pack up all our extra food, and enjoy the rest of the show.
In short – if you’re thinking about volunteering for a festival, catering/hospitality is definitely the department that will have the best stories and the most fun. It’s stressful and often challenging, especially for a small, very young festival like Blastfest that’s still working out a bit of its growing kinks – we’re only on year 3, but each year gets better and more organized than the last. It’s a community of supportive friends from all over the world that work together to make something amazing happen, and I’m proud to be a part of it. I hope to see you there next year!
If you’d like to join the madness, join “Satan’s little helpers” group on Facebook, or go to Blastfest.no – click “info” – click “Volunteers” – and submit your info, And if you want to contact chef Heather for your festival or event, don’t forget to follow her on Black Cat Culinary’s Facebook page.