What has four wheels and makes 19 thousand meals a summer? If you answered the Pie Car, you’d be correct!
The Pie Car is a very special vehicle that travels with us on tour because it makes all of our food. The term “Pie Car” is used throughout the circus world referring to where food is cooked! It’s 6am and Cook Clark is up. He downs some coffee, blasts a little music and begins the day. Breakfast feeds all of the tour staff and generally consists of something like this: scones with homemade, candied orange peel, stove top oatmeal, bacon, sausage, and eggs to order. Each morning a different one of the cooks will take the early breakfast shift, deciding exactly what breakfast will be. One day it might be pancakes; another day is beignets sprinkled in powdered sugar. Around 7:30am, the other cooks will come in to help out with the final details, setting out cereal and generally cleaning up, before ringing the meal bell at 8am.
Shortly after breakfast, it’s already time to start making lunch. If a show is at 1pm, lunch is served 2 hours prior – at 11am. Meal prep generally takes 2 hours, which means that the cooks start making lunch at 9am! Dinner will follow in a similar manner, with prep beginning 2 hours prior.
Chef Andrew knows roughly what he wants meals to look like but he gives the cooks freedom to bring their own creativity to meals. Cooking on tour requires great flexibility and the Pie Car staff are constantly adapting their menu to fit the foods they have. There is no “typical” meal with the Pie Car. They constantly amaze us with new creations, working to include any suggestions they get into the menu. Dinner today consisted of: chapati bread, vegetable curry, tamarind chickpeas, tandoori chicken, rice, roasted cauliflower, pineapple chutney and a green salad.
The Pie Car is only 15ft by 8ft, and that’s without any of the equipment. The passing aisle is just large enough for them to squeeze by one another. Maneuvering through meal prep is like a dance.
As if cooking for 75 people a day wasn’t enough, Pie Car also sets up the tent that covers the food line, the tables, and the outdoor sink and helps out other departments when they’re done. Chef Andrew, in addition to planning, ordering, and cooking for Smirkus, is also Mr. Fixit. If something goes wrong in the Pie Car, he’ll make it work. During teardown, he will take off his apron and go help Tent Crew. Late teardown eve, the Pie Car will create a snack to nourish the crew through their hours of hard work.
In their spare time, the cooks often wander the surrounding natural lands looking for chanterelle mushrooms and other edible plants. Life for the Pie Car cooks was described by Clark as “a whimsical life.” They are the cooks of the circus but they are also the wild crafters, doctors, mothers, and the hunters and gatherers. When someone has a sore throat, they give them salty water to gargle; when general ailments are going around, they’ll suggest echinacea. In some ways, Pie Car is an incredibly unique department. They have pretty much the only role on tour whose entire job is taking care of everyone else.
Fun Facts about Pie Car:
- They serve 19 thousand meals a summer!
- Andrew comes from a family of diner owners in Boston.
- Sarah spent January setting up a mobile kitchen for a festival in Guatemala!
- Clark has a bachelors degree in agro-gastronomy.
- John is a professional circus cook.
- They have a favorite pot named Ronda, a rondeau pot.
- John’s favorite vegetable is dandelion greens, Clark likes fiddle heads, and Sarah prefers mushrooms.
- The crest on the windows of the Pie Car was sketched by Chef Andrew, who, in addition to everything else he is, is also an artist!
A little history:
Amity, who cooked for the Pie Car from 2003-2005 and again in 2010 and 2012, gave me a little insight into what things used to be like in the Pie Car. When she first started working, the kitchen was inside of a blue-bird blue school bus. Instead of the walk-in refrigerators and freezers that we now have, the walls of the bus were lined with home style refrigerators. In 2005, there was an interim kitchen in the back of the old tool truck. Finally, last year, right before tour began, the present Pie Car came to us. Sarah and John were here for its arrival and described it as an empty box with a walk-in freezer but, within 24 hours, everything was moved in and ready to go down the road!