On big movie sets, food is king. It has to be good, on time and there better be enough to go around. Of all the people it takes to put a feature film together, there may be no one more integral to a shoot’s success than the person feeding the cast and crew. Full Monty Catering, run by Nick Chapman and Lucy Qi; and Fibbers Catering, run by Mark Hutton (who also owns Fibber Magee’s), are the two companies that catered for the biggest films that have chosen the UAE as their backdrop.
The two companies fed the cast and crew of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and Furious 7 in Abu Dhabi last year; they catered for this month's Star Trek shoot in Dubai; and they also landed the gig for Jackie Chan's latest movie, Kung-Fu Yoga, which wrapped up filming in Dubai last week.
They were on the shortlist to feed Brad Pitt and company for War Machine, currently shooting in Abu Dhabi, but lost out at the last minute. Rumour has it that War Machine executives flew in a British chef to handle the catering for the entire schedule.
Hutton's and Chapman's first project together – and their first feature film ever – was 2011's Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol with Tom Cruise.
"Mission Impossible was really difficult for us," says Chapman. "But it was also our first film. As our experience has grown in feature films, our respect has grown."
Hutton says: “It’s good fun. I love the logistics of it. You have to be organised. You have to have everything in place.”
And you have to be able to adapt. “Things can change suddenly,” says Hutton. “They can call you at midnight and say: ‘We’re going to start earlier so we need breakfast earlier’. That happens all the time. Or one day they might have 400 people on set and then they say ‘no, actually we’re going to have 600 people for lunch.’ ”
Hutton’s team serves a buffet-style breakfast and lunch every day. Chefs start preparing food two or three hours before every meal. The menu changes every day – something even the best restaurants in the country would find nearly impossible to do.
“We’ll have fresh breads, three or four different salads, a chicken dish, fish, meat, a vegetarian dish, a couple of desserts and fresh cut fruit,” says Hutton. “There might be sweet and sour chicken, a biryani, beef medallions in a red sauce, and a poached salmon fillet.”
For each shoot, Hutton sets up a culinary base camp with mobile kitchens, cooking equipment and storage containers that hold enough food to feed hundreds of people a day.
For the main shoot on Furious 7, that base camp was on the helipad at Emirates Palace hotel. For Star Wars, it was in the middle of the desert – in the middle of summer. "That was challenging," says Hutton. "The chefs in the kitchen are working in 40 degrees even with air conditioning. The closest supermarket was two hours away. We had deliveries of fresh items come in every day. Fish and meat are all frozen products." And nothing is pre-prepared. "It's made to order," says Hutton. "It might be 800 people, but it's made to order. We cook on site. We cook everything fresh. Provided we can get the produce, anything's possible."
But Hutton and his team rarely, if ever, see the stars. “All the big actors have their own personal assistant,” says Hutton. “Stars generally won’t eat at the buffet. Their assistants will come to you and ask for a meal, a prepared salad, poached salmon, something like that. They’re very specific. Actually, they don’t eat very much. They’re all on mega diets.”
While Hutton is quite happy to be behind the scenes, Chapman's Full Monty catering does get a piece of the action. On each shoot, they handle the craft services table, an on-set spread with quick bites, sandwiches, wraps, smoothies and food that the cast and crew can eat anytime. During Star Wars, Chapman tailored his menu to keep everyone healthy while they were filming in temperatures touching 50° C.
“It was a heavily liquid-based menu. We had protein shakes, smoothies and slushies just to keep the crew hydrated and full of electrolytes. We were just trying to get more liquid into the crew.” Smoothies and protein shakes are favourites on the craft table, says Chapman, but the most popular items are energy bars, granola bars and lemon iced tea.
Chapman and Hutton seem to thrive on the challenge and the excitement that come with catering to the stars.
"It's my favourite time," says Chapman. "I absolutely adore it. I love problem solving. I love the logistics of it." He also gets to see a side of celebrities most of us will never see. "I've met some really nice characters," he says. "J J Abrams [Star Wars director] was lovely. Kathleen Kennedy [the producer] is also just a lovely, lovely lady. She's an absolute angel. Really cool. No ego. You're always given a mental image of someone from the media, but generally people are quite different when you meet them. It's more myth than truth."