Meet Filipino chef who feeds Cirque du Soleil’s cast and crew | Inquirer
 
 
 
 
 
 

Meet Filipino chef who feeds Cirque du Soleil’s cast and crew

/ 01:57 AM December 29, 2018

Ariel Layug, chef of Cirque du Soleil, joined the circus crew in Australia. CONTRIBUTED

SAN FRANCISCO — A while back, when you had an act that people would pay to see, you’re almost assured a spot in the circus.That meant pay, food and lodging, with emphasis on food.In bygone days, circus performers ate well.

One account has it that they were fed steak and potatoes, pancakes, roast, oysters and even champagne. Barnum & Bailey ‘s mess hall reportedly had an elaborate system of meal calls and even a dress code.These days, circus food is still good, but wellness is the order of the day.

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Says chef Ariel Layug, “We have a sandwich and salad and breakfast bar available all day. As well as a hot lunch and a hot dinner buffet. We make it healthy by providing plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein choices.”

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Layug is in charge of the meals for Cirque du Soleil performers. Its show “Volta” will be in San Francisco until February next year.

Cirque du Soleil is the circus for the 21st century – performers dazzle audiences as do high-tech effects, lights and stages. It is also down-sized with a different global theme every year.

The old Barnum & Bailey and the Ringling Brothers had almost 1,500 circus members and served food enough to feed an army.

But at Cirque, Layug feeds about 40 performers more or less, plus another 60 to 100 more crew administrators and local staff.

“We go through 50 pounds of meat and 20 pounds of seafood a day, a truckload of vegetables each week, as well as other goods and supplies. Because Cirque has been around for more than 35 years, we’ve built a great relationship with many local suppliers in each city we visit, so getting most of our needs is fairly easy.”

But the heavy numbers don’t feel like a burden to Layug. “Preparing (meals) for Cirque is more like preparing for your family. You get to know everyone quite well and you see them every day.”

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An act in Cirque du Soleil’s touring Volta show.

Even then, performing in a circus demands a lot of proteins. “In the Cirque kitchen, we give them a huge variation of international flavors in their diet. But they need to be able to still function after eating. I think Cirque performers specifically burn a lot of calories. But it is always linked to what kind of act they do.

“You’d be surprised how much some of them can eat and still maintain their physique. We provide different protein choices every meal. There’s always a healthier choice, vegetarian choice and a popular choice because we also feed not just the cast but the crew.”

Aside from Layug, Cirque performers get counsel from their own coaches and nutritionists.

“There is no standard menu, but we have a rough set of guidelines so that we can be flexible and adaptable to what people want and what is available with our local suppliers.”

Cirque performers come from around the globe. “Mexican food is almost always on top (of the favorite list),” says Layug. “But sushi and poke are the most requested. I can’t say for sure why. But if you look around North American cities, those two are very popular.”

Still Filipino at heart, Layug says, “Every month or so, I would do a Filipino theme. Lumpia is the most popular, either fried (Shanghai) or fresh (sariwa).”

Sometimes he gets specific requests. “Like less spicy food for people who do inversions — being upside down — or if someone has the coeliac disease and needs a gluten-free diet. But nothing for physical flexibility. I think that’s more a matter of training than diet.

Layug took the roundabout way before joining Cirque. He started a Commercial Cookery course at the Technical and Further Education (or TAFE) Colleges of Sydney, Australia. But he did not complete the course.

“From then on, I learned everything on the job. I worked around the Sydney area starting with The Foodhall by David Jones for several years. Then Edna’s Table for a short apprenticeship. Then Macro Café for a couple of years. Il Fagiano as a waiter and barista for a year break out of the kitchen, then at Slide Lounge for a few more years before jumping with Cirque.”

While Cirque du Soleil Drailon was in Sydney in 2001, he met a few people working for the show and stayed in touch. “A couple of months later, they told me that a couple of positions opened and that I should apply if I’m interested. So, I did and I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.”

 

Recipe proposed by Chef Ariel Layug, Kitchen Manager of Cirque du Soleil’s touring show VOLTA:

Thai Mango Salad

 

Ingredients: 

1 lb                        Shrimp cooked and peeled

3                             Firm mangoes, sliced or julienned

1/2 pint                Cherry tomatoes

1/3 cup                 Chopped peanuts

1 tbsp                    Fried garlic or shallots

Spices:                 Cilantro, basil, mint

Dressing:

Juice of 3 limes

3                              Thai chilies chopped

1 tbsp                   Garlic clove chopped (1tbspn)

1 tbsp                   Ginger peeled and chopped

Combine ingredients and gently toss with the dressing

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