Matt Loory ran away and joined the circus.
Actually, Loory, a Class of 2012 graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Fla., heard about a job opening at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and applied for the position. Now Chef Loory oversees the Pie Car on the circus train with a staff of five and tries to keep a crew of over 300 happy and well fed on a daily basis as well as operating a 40-foot-long mobile cooking unit that is set up inside performance arenas while the circus is in residence.
We were able to chat on the phone for a few minutes and Loory gave me some insight about his job and life in the circus.
So, why is it called the Pie Car?
There are three stories or explanations for this.
One is train-related: that the dining car in almost every train could be counted on to always offer coffee and pie.
Two relate to the circus: First, in the days of daily multiple-scheduled shows, the “Chow House” served up fast and easy-to-eat hand-held meat pies for the crew. Over the years the name was changed to Pie Car. Second, and (the one Loory likes) PIE stands for Privileged Individuals and Employees and the Pie Car is where they gather for meals and relaxing.
Traditionally, the Pie Car is at the center of the Circus Train, making it easy to get to and offering a central location for socializing. (Loory’s pie car can accommodate about 32 people in eight booths and acts as a common area. It even has DirecTV.)
With an international cast and crew, how do you keep everyone happy and well fed?
That is the interesting culinary challenge that faces the kitchen on a daily basis. With 17 nations represented and over 20 languages spoken, keeping everyone happy can be daunting. It helps if you know how to substitute ingredients and work with what you have to try and achieve the flavor you want.
The Pie Car does have themed-cuisine days: maybe Indian one day, Brazilian or soul food on another. These themed days are also when the kids traveling with their performer-parents on the train get involved by learning about that particular country’s customs and traditions. The kids create posters and show off their knowledge. Everyone gets excited when it’s their country’s flag displayed in the car.
What are the most popular foods?
Cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches and hotdogs are popular. A twist on classic meatloaf and mashed potatoes is a favorite.
Meals are subsidized by Ringling Bros., but the crew does pay $6 for a meal consisting of a protein, starch, vegetable and drink (on days with three scheduled shows, the meals are free).
Every performer is different.
A Ringmaster will go out and meet and greet the audience, sometimes up to four hours before the show, and must then maintain a high level of energy throughout the two-hour circus performance. (Loory keeps a selection of snacks handy such as cereals, Danish, ramen and candy for a quick boost.)
Do you get to eat out in the different cities?
Loory went to The Oak Table and Palmetto Pig and some spots near the university the last time he was in town.
He likes to get out and see the local farmers markets. Finding fresh local ingredients to feed 300 people is tough but if there’s something unique that he encounters, Loory says that he likes to try and replicate it later in the Pie Car.
You can replicate Loory’s Asian Meatloaf and Wasabi Mashed Potatoes in your home ... he gladly shared this recipe.
Asian Meatloaf with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes
Adapted for 6 servings
1 large egg
1 cup bread crumbs or panko
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt & pepper
1/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine eggs, bread, beef and onions to form a traditional meatloaf. Season with ginger, garlic powder and salt and pepper and knead into a loaf.
Transfer meat to a loaf pan, bake for 45 minutes.
Brush Thai sweet chili sauce on top of meatloaf and let rest for a least 5 minutes before serving.
Wasabi Mashed Potatoes
3 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1/4 cup butter
Place potatoes in large pot of cold salted water. Boil until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. Return to pot; mash.
Combine milk and wasabi powder in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve powder. Add milk mixture and butter to potatoes. Using an electric mixer, beat potatoes until fluffy and smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Potatoes can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover and keep at room temperature. Re-warm over low heat, stirring frequently.