Sex, Food, And Rock n’ Roll!
An Interview With Shelleylyn Brandler
By Bridget Brady
Shelleylyn Brandler is the caterer of choice for some of today's biggest acts in music, including Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke, Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Muse and Arcade Fire. As head of catering for The Warped Tour, Shelleylyn performs one of the most intense jobs on the road, responsible for feeding 900 people three times a day in every city. She works 20-hour days during the summer and has been doing that since she first started in 1994 with Warped Tour founder, Kevin Lyman, as his assistant.
As a woman in a world dominated by rock n’ roll sensibility, Shelleylyn Brandler created her own style. She has two custom kitchens that roll out on 18" semi-trailers, pulled by trucks running on biodiesel fuel. As a leader in green thinking for the past seven years, Brandler has also decided to only use biodegradable, corn based utensils and deploys a bag of tricks to keep a low carbon footprint.
Our interview immediately started with laughter, and through everything she said, I could feel Shelleylyn’s warmth, authenticity and passion for what she does. After our brief, "getting acquainted" chat, it was time to get down to business and go on the record!
We're going on the record [Singing] duh-duh-duuum!!
I better watch what I say!
Or don't...and it will make for an even better article!
Right?? I'm a big mouth!!
Perfect! So, let's start simple, give me the 411...the down and dirty on Shelleylyn Brandler? Why did you get into the catering business, why are so passionate about it, and how did you get to go on tour with all these rock stars?
It's amazing, I feel like I won the lottery. I get to be this rock n' roll caterer. I invented the wheel on it; I found a niche. There wasn't good food back stage. I went to a promoter, my friend Kevin, and said, "Kevin, my house parties are better than what the catering is doing. You've gotta give me a shot." I ended up being on tour, not knowing what I was doing; I just had big "huevos"! I had that gun-ho, scrappy, fake-it-til-you-make-it attitude...and now I've truly made it. But in the beginning, those were rough times. My first tour was Blink 182, Eminem, Ice-T, Black Eyed Peas, and Weezer, all on one tour in 1999. I was walking around with open toed shoes, tube tops, and cut offs. I was just so ill prepared, did not know what I was doing...but I've arrived! That tour was hilarious; I can't believe we kept getting hired on after that first tour. In 2000 I was catering for Green Day and I hired this new young-ish chef...my eye was on him...and I'm thinking "this guy is really good." He was back-line as a line cook. He worked for some of the most well known chefs in the world. The whole level of my catering changed bringing in Chef Mike. I had a very particular vision, so I made him partner. He handles the kitchen and food. He always says, "It goes from God, to Shelleylyn, to me." He's basically putting the fear of God in the cooks, just how good we have to be. I'm pretty much the puppeteer, the one pulling the strings, but Chef Mike, and my team of rad, tattooed, misfit dudes are the best cooking army I could ask for, and we now conquer the biggest festivals in all North America.
If there is a big rock 'n roll show in L.A., there's a pretty good chance we're catering it...The Jingle Balls, the KROQ Acoustic Christmas, the Beyonce's, the Taylor Swifts, Muse, Wango Tango...those are our accounts. We got really lucky, we persevered, we kept getting better and better and we evolved into this really magical organic company. We have a lot of passion for it.
Tell me more about your vision.
My vision was to have Chef Mike be completely in charge of the food. We really inspire each other, we go on eating tours. We put away ten to twenty thousand dollars to fly him to London, to the best restaurant in the world. We stay current and fresh...We go to New York once a year, just to eat at the best restaurants. We go to Napa Valley...Mexico...and there's just no caterer doing this kind of stuff. You've got a chef in the kitchen who owns the company, and an owner in the front who's taking a bite of everything that goes out. It's a rare level to find in catering. Caterers, I hate to say it, are known as kind of hacks, who couldn't make it in the restaurant business. For us to have this level, and be able to do something like Coachella where we feed 1500 people per meal, with integrity in the food from top to bottom…Our pots are bigger than two human beings. We've mastered it. I am driven to be the very best at providing balanced, beautiful gourmet quality food for an entire music festival as well as for smaller events on a more intimate scale. Either way, I demand excellence.
We got our chops on that first Warped Tour. It's a very youth driven tour. About 100 young bands are on that tour. We've had so many great acts break on the Warped Tour. It's where Eminem, Kid Rock and Katy Perry broke. I saw it happen. Katy Perry asked me to hold her purse...she didn't have her make-up artists, and she had this goofy little style. She was this ordinary girl, doing extraordinary things. We laugh about it today. Katy and I say that we both got our chops on Warped Tour.
Tell me more about what life is like on Warped Tour.
On the Warped Tour, we start at 6 AM, we unload, and we do breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a skeleton crew of 17. We're feeding 800 people every single day. About 7 or 8 PM, we close up, take a shower, and pack up. We live on a tour bus, and we arrive to the next city the next day, which is usually the next state, and we do it all over again. And we got really good at it. We invented the wheel on doing rock n’ roll catering, and not making it something gross. People say all the time, "The best food I ever ate on tour was on Warped Tour. I ate better on Warped Tour than I do anywhere else in the world." And it's this HUGE, but grungy punk rock tour! We want to keep our food healthy because we have to meet the demands of a rigorous tour schedule with rock stars who want and need to stay in top shape. We have to create high energy, low carb food on a huge scale almost every day.
It takes a lot of creativity and business acumen to manage the sheer number of pounds, loaves and gallons needed to make 3600 meals and snacks a day.
Here is a typical list of warped numbers for the big music festival:
1,375 eggs (on Sunday brunch) that’s 114 dozen eggs just on Sunday
250 lbs potatoes to make mashed potatoes for one meal (that’s the size of a large man)
1,000 lbs a chicken a week
840 gallons of Whole milk for the run of the tour
130 lbs soy based or saitan weekly
50 gallons of soy milk a week
8,400 12 oz cans of water per week
Breakfast & lunch daily amounts:
200 loaves of bread
250 lbs sliced deli meat
93 lbs sliced cheese
10 lbs of coffee
225 lbs of vegetables just at dinner
900 dinner rolls per dinner
83 pies or cakes for dessert at dinner
109 lbs of fish or pork
100 lbs of beef
So, is your back-ground as a chef?
My background was not as a chef. I had a few tricks up my sleeve...we still make my tuna tartar. I was working as a Production Assistant, and doing dressing rooms for The Chili Peppers, or No Doubt. I would come in and bring my fried chicken and put it back stage. I would bring my spectacular hummus...just my few tricks. People would request my food back stage and I didn't even have a catering company, I was the dressing room girl. I read something when I was very young, to “always under-sell and over-deliver.” So, I'd always over-deliver. My parties are where everyone thought I should be a caterer. I'd have my girlfriend help me do the recipes and we'd do these amazing parties for hundreds of people. I learned to cook as I went, and I started catering at that point out of my kitchen in Beverly Hills. We got our first job, Everclear and Sugar Ray, our second job was The Cowboy Junkies...then we got two big accounts: Tom Cruise's sister's wedding and The Warped Tour. Those were the things that changed my life. I'm going on my fourteenth year of catering for The Warped Tour and it's super successful, it's very lucrative, it's insanely fun, and it landed us with this really fun, kooky television show, Warped Roadies.
We've all learned so much...that tour was started by one of my best friends, Kevin Limon. He's a visionary and a punk-rock guru. He's made so many people's careers. These experiences of being on the road, and learning, we kind of all grew up together. My experience of cooking evolved, just by purely doing it. I can't take credit for the food anymore. I give that up to Chef Mike. It's controlled chaos…it's a little taste of chaos out on tour and someone has to hold it all together, and that would be me. This is going to sound so narcissistic, but it's the truth...I remember the day that my brother talked me into starting the catering company. We were sitting in my living room in Beverly Hills. He said, "There's no one in our generation doing the hip stuff. You need to do a catering company. You're the biggest 'foodie' I know." That was in '97, and I started the company in '98. We were using the word "foodie"...and now everyone uses it; same thing with the term "food porn." That was Chef Mike. We started a blog called "Food Porn." We have something that's special and current.
What is the craziest thing that ever happened to you on tour?
This [is] probably the most tragic...Those early years, right in front of Green Day! The magical thing about tour is that everyone really bonds and becomes a family. At night, before we move to the next city we usually play some poker or card games and have a few drinks and what not. One night we had a late bus call (when you're on your bus for the next city). Well...everyone just got a little too hammered, and they rooted me on to go back on the kitchen truck; this was the early days before I built my semi-trucks myself. I was wearing cut-off shorts, sandals, and a tube top. I go on the kitchen truck...late night munchies...take out a pan of chicken, I'm holding it with two hands, and execution style, my leg falls through the stairs, and I fall on my knees (that's what I mean by execution style) and then on my elbows...and I didn't let go the pan of chicken, but my tube top went down to my waist. My boobies are out, it was horrifying!! I felt like such a clumsy...in front of Green Day!! Everyone's like, "Are you OK?" and they come running to my aid, but it was one of those things like, "Oh my God, this will never happen again. Wow! This is so embarrassing." But I always laugh that I held onto the chicken! I didn't let it go. [Laughs] My boobies were out, but I had the chicken. I took one for the team.
[Laughing] Oh, that's good! What else??
We've had tornadoes chase us...we've had our bus driver run over a horse, and the whole bus flipped over, and no one got hurt. I think the craziest things that happen on tour are amongst each other, trying to keep the boys and girls apart. There's a lot of "interaction" happening. We’re putting up signs, jokingly, "Wear Condoms...This is getting out of hand.” People sneaking into each other’s bunks. You know that old surfer term, "That's bunk?" I'd say, "Guys, you can't have this bunk love, it's bunk!" Just keeping the kids apart.
One of the greatest rewards I get, specifically from The Warped Tour, and being on Warped Roadies is having the chance to mentor lots and lots of young girls. Every single day I get around ninety kids back stage. They are interested in catering or having a career in hospitality, or they want to help out but they wanna meet the bands. I get them back stage, and this is the secret to my success on Warped Tour because it's the biggest moving festival in the world, I get these kids and quickly train them how to serve. We call it the "good vibe line." We get the whole dining room feeling good and we play good music. We get these young kids every single day in a different city and state, coming back stage, and they get to work with me for two to three hours. And they are helping me! I joke that I have no problem exploiting the children, like I'm running a sweat factory. These kids are so excited, they email me all year long and they wanna do it again, and we just try to set a really positive role-model for them. We advocate being positive, eating healthy, staying fit, putting out good vibes. We have an affinity for these kids that come back stage, it's the greatest day of their life, it's so rewarding, and they're helping and serving, and we couldn't do it without them. We let them watch one band from the stage, or get an autograph.
How do these kids find you?
We Tweet it! @TaDaNews. It's such a big thing in the community. We get the boys running food from the kitchen to the front line, and the girls we get serving, and it's just magic. It's unbelievable, and it's so fun to see. It's so cute, they start shaking when the bands come. They all know them. We don't! We're like old...the kids all know the bands.
What would you say really sets you apart from other catering companies?
Being from L.A., the thing that really sets us apart (although we are probably the largest rock n’ roll caterer in all of North America, and we're the premier caterer at Staples Center, Nokia Theatre, Club Nokia, and the Shrine) we have movie stars, agents, producers, and studio heads as our clients. So although we are wearing crossbones and skulls on our t-shirts, all tattooed backstage, we do the food that is unbelievable and stunning on the other level too. We are very diversified in what we do. For charity events, we'll cater at $2500 a plate. We're very charitable; we do a lot of charities with the Kennedy family. I also do a lot of charity events for the "Music Cares" organization. I advocate giving back to the community what you can, to help other people and improve people's lives.
Awesome!! I love that.
Also, no one has the trucks I have...no one. When I say I invented the wheel, these trucks came out of Warped Tour as a necessity. The first Warped Tour I went on I was a production girl, I did box office and press, so logistically I already knew that across the United States we would get shit food. Stale bagels...we were living off of beer because we had a beer sponsor...the food was so bad. So I already knew that no matter what I did, on my worst day I could do better than what I was seeing. Then we just happened to over-achieve it. The kitchen truck was one of those things, it was such a necessity; NO ONE had these kinds of trucks. People do have kitchen trucks, but we were the first! And it's not like a taco truck, it's like a gourmet kitchen, in a semi-trailer, with a walk in refrigerator; a full-on restaurant kitchen. No one was even in the food scene, like it is now. It's such a popular, hip thing. When I started, I saw the bubble happening, but it wasn't like it is now. We were kind of the forefathers of it.
With obvious passion, drive and determination, Brandler has clearly mastered the art of rock n’ roll catering. Brandler and her TaDa Catering will be featured on Fuse TV’s second season of the music channel's wild behind-the-scenes reality show WARPED ROADIES, where drama, comedy and crazy antics are the norm. The show airs on Wednesday nights at 11pm/10pm central.
To cater your next event! Check out their website here.