It has been said “there’s no place like home.” Well, I’ll tell you something else; there’s no hot plates in Fresno. After searching high and low for a plug-in hot plate to cook with in our modest hotel room, we decided somehow we could muddle through with a VitaMix, a rice cooker, a hot pot, and a toaster oven. Although truth be told, I’m pretty sure as I write this, my roommate Gabrielle is secretly ordering one on Amazon and hoping for a speedy delivery. How else is a good Italian girl supposed to make an acceptable plate of pasta in her hotel room before heading off to play a three hour show? And don’t suggest foregoing the pasta for two weeks while we’re here, because that is definitely not an option.
OK, let’s back up a little bit, but first a word about the subject matter. Why food? It’s simple really; when you’re a traveling musician, with a budget, you have to be creative when it comes to what you choose as fuel to get you through those long days of travel, rehearsals, double shows, etc. This week, for example, we have 11 services in 6 days.
OK, so where was I? Ah yes, it all began with the Auto Shows. Back in the day, I was a Hyundai girl. I traveled around the country during show season (for me, January – April), stood up on a spinning turntable, and delivered a several minute script about whatever new, shiny model they were particularly excited about that year. I’d spend anywhere from 6 – 10 days in a city and would always be interested in saving as much of my per diem as possible — which meant I needed to eat as affordably as possible. Back then, I’d get a hotel shuttle to schlep me to the local grocery store and buy whatever I could keep in my refrigeratorless room, on ice, in an ice bucket, which I’d have to change out daily. It was a little tricky, but I got pretty creative. My usual fare was to bring a small hot pot, make my own coffee (this was before all hotel rooms had coffee makers in them, p.s.), eat instant oatmeal, and make tomato and cheese sandwiches to take with me to the show every day. I’d swipe a few mayo and mustard packets at the snack bar there at the convention center and voila, I had a simple but tasty little sandwich. It wasn’t fancy, but it meant more $$ in my pocket. As a graduate student, this was a necessary and attractive motivator to eat cheap.
The New York City Opera, National Company tours came a few years later. The first year I worked with them, we toured Madame Butterfly for 3 months. My then fiancé, now husband Steve and I did that tour together. Our wedding was a few months after tour ended, so we were eager to save as much money as we possibly could. We did the tried and true hot pot for water to make coffee and oatmeal in our hotel room thing, but we graduated to much better coffee. Once we’d get to Madison, we’d stock up on our favorite coffee from this great little local joint and get them to grind a bag or two for us for the road. We spent weeks looking for a one cup Melitta cone style coffee filter thing, and when we finally found it, you’d think we struck gold. NOW our coffee was really gonna be great. Like many of our NYCONC colleagues, we kept what was fondly called a “feed bag” on the orchestra bus, above our seats, and it was loaded with all kinds of snacks to keep us happy on our daily journey to the next city.
Technology advanced dramatically by the time I got hired as 2nd Flute/Piccolo with the San Francisco Opera’s Western Opera Theater. My roommie Stacey and I got it all down to a science: we’d meet up a few days before tour and do a bigTrader Joe’s run to stock up on as much road food as possible. We had this ginormous duffle bag left over from Steve’s day’s of playing in Florence, Italy with the Maggio Musicale -this thing was seriously huge. You could fit a body it in (no, we never tried), but I knew this would make the best and most grand feed bag ever! Stacey and I loaded that thing up with an impressive variety of exotic rices, lots of TJ’s boxed soups, tuna, snacks, hot and cold cereals, teas, coffees , you name it. Then, we’d supplement that with fresh produce bought in local cities along the way. We’d concoct these terrific meals in our crappy little hotel rooms all across the country. Most nights before heading over to the hall, our SFWOT colleagues would come by and knock on our hotel room door and ask “What are you guys doing in there? It smells AMAZING out in the hallway!”
Yeah, we were pretty awesome. True innovators.
Between the years spent touring, and the week at a time jaunts up and down the state for work with the various “Freeway Philharmonic” groups, I’ve had plenty of time to hone my “eating on the road know how.” Matter of fact, last summer I was teaching at a two week flute seminar at CSU, Monterey Bay. They provided meals for all of us guest artists, so it really wasn’t necessary for me to do the whole dog and pony show, but that didn’t stop me from setting up a nice pantry of essentials in my dorm room so I could sleep in just a little bit longer each morning and forego the 7:30 am (ouch) breakfast. It wasn’t about saving money, or eating healthier, it was all about my general lack of interest in getting my butt out of bed to get to the cafeteria in time for a meal at the crack of dawn. Not surprisingly, my room also became the designated nightly gathering spot for our flute guest artist contingency. If I recall, it was coined “Club 222.”
Oh yes, and let’s not forget the annual National Flute Convention two summers ago in Vegas when three of my favorite flute friends and I stocked our room with food, and I brought a 5 gallon keg of home brew so that we could host little impromptu gatherings, or just escape the flute madness whenever it became too much.
When I got called to do Wicked again up in Fresno for two weeks, I seized the opportunity for further honing my hotel room culinary skills. Gabrielle and I have really outdone ourselves, if I do say so. We planned the whole thing out weeks in advance; who’d bring what appliance, spices, kitchen utensils, etc. I gotta tell you, we’ve made a few remarkable things in the past couple of days: red quinoa cooked in my rice cooker, with lentils and spinach, smoothies in my VitaMix with spinach, banana, apple, and almond milk, and tonights piece de resistance; baked sweet potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts made in her toaster oven. And, coincidentally room 207 has seen a few post show soirees as well. Could it be the sparkling hostess personalities we each possess, the well stocked “kitchen area” filled with food, or a cooler filled with growlers of my home brew? Who knows.
Could we eat out for all of our meals? Sure. But this is way more interesting!
And so with the inspiration from this great musical, let me just say how “Wonderful” it is to have a few of the comforts of home while being away on the road. “We couldn’t be happier!”