“LITERALLY, IT’S FILTHY…” - A Chat with Chef Simon Mitchell
Food glorious food
Hot sausage and mustard
While we're in the mood
Cold jelly and CUSTARD!!!!!
Ahhh the silly songs of childhood, one of the milder ones I’ll grant you, but nonetheless a schoolyard classic derived from the old movie Oliver! There was a time when Metallica would undoubtedly have shoved sausage by the pound en masse down their necks, enjoyed some custard (perhaps on bread pudding rather than jelly), gone out, played a gig, necked some beers, and rumbled off to the next town. These days, that sort of behavior simply wouldn’t work. If you really are what you eat, you will have noticed that Metallica must be one of the best nourished, fittest, and healthiest beasts on the planet. And a good deal of that is because of the band’s personal chef, Simon Mitchell, of UK-based Rockpool Tour Catering.
Yes, yes, it sounds poncey all this “personal chef” talk, an “extravagant expense” even…but really, you should be wholly grateful that Simon is preparing meals, snacks, and beverages for the band during WorldWired, because if he wasn’t – if they were stuck with sausage and custard – chances are they would not be touring for even half the length of time they are. Let’s just say that at a certain vintage, and when your engine is a V12, you have to stop putting shitty gas in the tank and go premium to avoid build-ups. So it was that the band decided to take on Simon and Rockpool Tour Catering who deal in such bespoke artist-chef relationships.
I went and chatted with Simon back in his workspace at the Royal Arena in Copenhagen as he glided effortlessly from some dicing here to some chopping there, all the while managing a couple of pans and a strict schedule.
Steffan Chirazi: Good grief, Simon, this is like a top class restaurant kitchen which is not what you’d expect to find on tour. Explain to us a little bit what is going on here and what you’re doing on the tour?
Simon Mitchell: What we do, we roll in every show with this kitchen on wheels [there are these fantastic “kitchen units” mounted in road cases – ED]. You’ve got a beautiful commercial grade gaggenau oven on wheels with all sorts of secret cubbyholes. We’ve got ovenware and hotplates here which we take away with us too. And there’s machine world, a favorite, with food processors, blenders, fryers…
SC: It’s a fryer!!!
SM: It’s a fryer here. So what we do, we come along to the venue and we set it all up. We do some shopping…
SC: When you say you “do some shopping,” we’re not just talking about going down the Asda or the Safeway; you have some very specific nutritional things you’re trying to do for the band, am I correct?
SM: Yeah, totally. All the boys have kind of different diets. Some of them require more meat, less meat, less green veg, more green veg. More protein, less protein. We’ve even got a vegan here and there [in the tour/band party, not necessarily the band – Simon works just for band and immediate band family – ED]. One of the boys eats a lot of raw food. So everything is very specialized, very specific. So I’ll go to local markets, try and get inspired that way, go to local producers, butchers, fishmongers, sometimes farms, and find things that are basically “in season” locally, really thriving in that time of year. And that means that I can give the guys the best produce at the right time so that they receive the right amount of fuel to go on and play a big show.
SC: So let’s talk about when this first became a part of their world. Obviously you’ve been doing this now for some time, but when did you first get the word that, “Hey, these guys want a little more than just a plate of scram at the beginning and end of the night"?
SM: Yeah, I guess it was maybe sort of four or five years ago; I know the boys were ordering a lot of takeaways. Lot of pre-prepared food, a lot of food that they didn’t know where it was coming from, didn’t know how it was getting made. And that’s really important if you’re having to go and put on a show every night, night after night. [When Simon and Rockpool Tour Catering came up] I made it clear that everything I make is from scratch. Everything is just brought with me or bought the day before, and that way [the guys] know where it’s coming from and they know how it’s being prepared. I’ve got a certain style that they’re now starting to get used to.
For me that’s a positive thing, because it means I can kind of experiment more, but I know that they trust me, rather it being, “Here’s this crazy dish!” and them sort of going, “Whoa.” They know that I’m putting certain nutrients into the dish, so it becomes fuel for the show. It’s a really nice relationship where I get to be inspired, practice new dishes and new techniques, and they get to hopefully have the faith that what I’m providing is what they need to do their job.
SC: Ten years ago this would never have been thought of. It would have been a case of “call the local Indian restaurant, get it in, and hope for the best” sort of thing. So when do you think the consciousness of how important things like what you’re eating at what times started to take root in the rock and roll environment?
SM: I’d say not that long after I started with these boys in 2014, purely because there’s a huge international health movement, especially with things like veganism and vegetarianism which are huge nowadays. That movement has prospered and peaked to where some of the most popular and famous places in LA, New York, and London are based on nutrition, vegetables, and plant based stuff. It’s been a great match as they needed to have that certain amount of fuel they weren’t getting before, and I came at that “right” time when it was like, “This is when it needs to happen.”
SC: Let’s talk about the differences now that we’re on this, the next leg here in Europe. Is it easier to do your seasonal shopping in Europe than it is in the States?
SM: There are always positives and negatives of every city, every country, every continent. I think there are some amazing things about America. There’s Whole Foods which has given me so much pleasure in terms of my job because of the stuff they have. They’re very ahead of the curve, very ahead. However in Europe you’ve got a huge amount of high quality produce. So a lot more of the supermarkets you go to in Europe are all of that high quality, whereas in the States you’ve gotta look a little bit further, maybe venture out more than you do in Europe. So yeah, somewhere like where we are here, Copenhagen, there’s an incredible shop by the name of Inco which is only fifteen minutes down the road. So I’m always down there having a look at what they got.
SC: Where is, or where are some of the tougher places? Let’s say, wider maybe even than Europe.
SM: Yeah, good question. I don’t want to name one place because that might seem like pigeonholing someone or a country. But I think definitely areas of South America can be very tricky. In some parts of Asia it can be quite hard to find a variety, especially [given that] these boys are from a Western background, and we’re mainly eating Western food with different influences. The French are so patriotic to their own food scene that they don’t often indulge in a lot of other scenes, whether that be Asian food or English food or Western food. So actually, sometimes France, or Paris, can be very hard to shop in because you’ve got the best duck confit in the world and the best poulet fermière and the best vegetables but it’s not always directed in a way that gets you to make anything else but French food.
SC: Okay. Two more questions. First of all, tonight’s menu. Just a little overview, can we?
SM: Yeah, of course. So tonight it’s show day, show night, so it’s all about making sure the boys feel energized and very light. So we’ve got a lot of salads going on, we’ve got some bulgur wheat, some quinoa, some roasted veg. They do like a bit of a burger, so we do occasionally do that. We’ve got one on today, however we’re very much into our protein style burger these days which is something made famous by In-N-Out which is basically a burger wrapped in lettuce. They do tend to opt for a bunless burger which we call protein style. So I’ll do something like a nice grilled chicken breast. We sous-vide it at 65 degrees so it tastes incredible, and we color it both sides, I’ll match it with some halloumi, avocado, sun dried tomato, and we’ll put that in a burger without a bun, depending on who it is. What else do we have? Oh, yeah—
SC: Got some spag bol (spaghetti bolognese!) on there, mate.
SM: Yeah, one member of the band particularly likes a bit of spag bol! So when I do my shopping, when I do my menu, I do pick certain things out with certain people in mind, depending on how they feel. If someone’s feeling not very well, I’ll pick out something that’s gonna make them feel better, or something indulgent like a burger or spag bol.
SC: Or Kirk’s “back in the day Danish hot dog” which sounds like a filthy, unhealthy, but utterly delicious hot dog except it will be vegetarian for him I’m sure.
SM: You got it in one. Literally, it’s filthy!!! It’s got fried onions, pickles, and obviously it’s a hot dog, a brioche bun. Kirk used to have a lot of them, he tells me! And yes, it’s a vegetarian dog. He’s been feeling good, but I think he wanted a bit of fun with his food today, so I put that on there so maybe when he finishes the first show tonight it’s a bit of a “reward” so he can get offstage and be like, “Brilliant! Good show. Eat that!”
SC: Probably a very key point is that some people will read this and think, “Quinoa this and bulgur that – what a bunch of ponces!” It’s not like that, because if you want to play like 50 shows a year at maximum efficiency and top performance, eating like this is absolutely vital. Right?
SM: Absolutely. Diet is absolutely the most important thing. It didn’t matter so much maybe a bit further back in time, but now I think everyone’s much more aware, and the awareness, knowledge, and education everyone’s getting is great. They’re looking at ingredients, working out a bit more what carbs are, what fat is, what’s a good fat, what’s a bad fat.
SC: Fascinating stuff. And you have a hundred percent record as well. No dodgy stomachs.
SM: Touch a bit of wood. It’s been five years or so and I’ve had a good record, like you say, yeah. They’ve all been very, very complimentary. They give great feedback. We always email in between breaks, I’ll ask what they’re feeling, what they’re craving, what aren’t they feeling, so that when I see them I’m prepared food-wise and we’re ready to go.
SC: And finally, let’s address your magic throat and wellness potion, the one you created for James the last time we were here in Copenhagen and he only had to miraculously cancel one show.
SM: I think James has got a very good system. I think he repairs himself very well, so I’m sure a lot of that was down to him. When he started to feel a bit rough around the edges and lose his voice, there were two things we did. One was for his voice. We made a lot of turmeric, ginger, lemon, and raw honey tea, which was a way of lubricating his voice, and the turmeric reduces your inflammation and helps the digestion. So it was all about letting him kinda come back to life. And then came our home brew beef bone magic broth, which we still do today for James just to keep him going. It’s basically a really, really long, slow simmer for around 24/48 hours, so minimum overnight. I’ll come in, set up my kitchen and I’ll put it on and then put it in the oven. Keep the oven on, go to bed, come back the next day, and it will still be here cooking away. And what that does, it just provides…the collagen and the bones and the marrow provide a huge amount of nutrition and vitamins and minerals, and the reason he has that is just to kinda keep his immune system up. So that’s what we do. We still do it and fingers crossed, he still likes it and yeah, that’s one of the reasons we’re back here and why we are strong today.
SC: Beef bone marrow?
SM: Beef bone broth, made from all the bones, the marrow, all parts of the cow we can find. All fresh, all from a butcher, all the cows treated beautifully well and then we look after them this side.
SC: It obviously makes James feel very bullish.
SM: That’s the end isn’t it?...