Maastricht.Sixteen years ago, Frank Neitzel was asked to help out the caterers of the Johann Strauss Orchestra for one evening. The sixty-year-old German from Leipzig has now been the captain of André Rieu’s kitchen brigade for five years. He prepares fresh meals for musicians and crew every day all over the world. During the Vrijthof concerts in Maastricht there are seven hundred mouths to feed. “When we unload all our stuff at eight in the morning, we can have breakfast at nine in the morning.” Catering manager Frank Neitzel of the Johann Strauss Orkest indicates how well prepared his team is. Even in rural areas in the USA and Australia, where they have to rely on a tent and a few generators, he and his crew manage to serve a freshly made breakfast with everything, within an hour: “Stage builders first, then truck drivers. Fried eggs, white beans in tomato sauce, sausages, bacon, cheese, yogurt. Everything they would get at a normal hotel breakfast.” The sixty-year-old East German still remembers how he was amazed sixteen years ago when he was asked to help out at a performance of the Johann Strauss Orchestra in his hometown of Leipzig. “They really had everything with them. From the smallest spoon to the largest oven. Packed in ten large boxes. The second day André walked into the kitchen and asked who I was. “Frank”, I replied, to which he replied: “I'm André.” Then he turned to my predecessor and said: “I want him to be there at all times from now on”.Resigned Neitzel, father of a son (27) and daughter (24), was still working as a teacher at the vocational training for chefs in Leipzig at the time, but immediately felt that this was an opportunity he could not pass up. “So, for the first two years I sacrificed all my days off and holidays to help out and then quit my job.” Five years ago, he took over the leadership of the kitchen brigade, which, in addition to himself, consists of three cooks and a server. “With that club we serve the orchestra and the crew something tasty six times a day. It starts at nine o'clock in the morning with a breakfast for about sixty people, followed by a lunch at twelve o'clock for about a hundred people. Around three o'clock, André arrives with his orchestra and we serve them a light, clear soup. Then follows the sound check, after which we serve dinner around four. During the intermission of the concert, we serve coffee and tea with cake and some hand fruit, and after the concert an after-snack. Then you have to think of toasts, skewers, and mini spring rolls.”Five saladsOf course, the dinner for about 150 to 180 people requires the most time of preparation. “Orchestra and crew can choose every day between meat, fish, a vegetarian, and a vegan dish, two types of vegetables, potatoes, fries, pasta, five salads, two desserts, and then some small snacks such as snack vegetables and bread with spreads, for a quick bite.” Because the orchestra and employees cannot be at risk of becoming ill, everything is freshly prepared every day. “We only get the things for breakfast the night before. All the rest we buy on the day itself. Usually, we are assigned a runner on the spot. He or she knows which butcher, fishmonger, or poulterer to go to, to get good products. Because I don't buy prepackaged meat. I need to be able to smell, feel ,and taste it.” One time he didn't do that and he came home from a rude awakening. “Then I had already reserved 30 kilos of rump steak through the promoter in Argentina before the day of arrival and only 5 kilos turned out to be usable. That meat was so greasy and dirty that we couldn't even use it for a goulash. That will not happen to me a second time.” The daily shopping list of the Johann Strauss Orkest: 'If the Dutch were in charge, we would eat chips every day' In order to feed all the mouths of the Johann Strauss Orchestra every day, Frank Neitzel and his team have to buy a lot. He lists the most important things: 15 kilos of meat, 15 kilos of fish, 20 kilos of vegetables, 15 kilos of potatoes, and 5 kilos of pasta. In terms of drinks, 600 half liter bottles of water without carbonation, 200 with carbonation, 80 cans of Coke-Cola, 80 cans of Coke-Cola Zero, 30 cans of Sprite, 60 cans of Fanta, and 5 kilos of coffee beans are added every day. During the Vrijthof concerts the quantities of food are twice as large and the drinks are ordered on pallets.Hungry for fries What Neitzel continues to be surprised about is the craving for fries of the Dutch. Laughing: “If they were in charge, we would eat fries every day. Of course, I don't agree with that. The fact is that if I serve fries I have to buy twice as much. 1 kilo of potatoes equals 2 kilos of chips.” According to the German, there is no question of wastage. “After all these years, we have our purchasing so well under control that everything works. We have to, because we can't afford to store food for a day longer, especially on tour. If there is still something left over, it will go to the local crew. However, this only happens once out of a hundred times.” In nine cases out of ten, the former restaurant owner, who now lives in Central Germany, can rely on his runner and this saves a lot of time. “In the United States, I was once assigned a young girl as a helper who proudly reported that she had a German car with her. I thought a VW Transporter or something, but it turned out to be a “VW beetle”. Then we quickly drove to a car rental company to rent a van. Because if you just consider that we need about eight hundred bottles of water a day and then another two hundred cans of soda, we would have had to drive up and down ten times to transport everything. In any case, it is difficult to buy everything in the USA, but also in Australia, because they do not have cash & carry wholesalers there as here in Europe, so you have to go to several supermarkets to get 15 kilos of lamb, for example.”Blind faith At the Vrijthof concerts he works with even larger quantities every day. Fortunately, Neitzel knows in Maastricht and the surrounding area who he can blindly rely on for quality. "Good thing, too. That saves a lot of time. Because in Maastricht we have to feed nearly seven hundred people every night: choir, bagpipers, security guards, piccolos (ushers), video crew, guests. That is why we are expanding our catering team for this job to thirty employees, including two cooks and six extra people in the service department.” The pot eats something different every day. “We know what André and the orchestra like and always want it to include a local delicacy. So, for example, in Argentina ribeye steak, cheese fondue in Switzerland, salmon in Norway, and bratwurst (sausage) in Germany.” Food intolerances are also taken into account. "For example, we bind the soups and sauces gluten-free, and if someone suffers from multiple allergies, we cook something completely different for him or her."120 liters of sunflower oil Despite their experience, Neitzel and his team have had a few surprises. For example, he once mistook a large pan in Chile for a frying pan. “Nice and handy, I thought, such a large frying pan. I had already poured 120 liters of sunflower oil into it when the chef in the concert hall pointed out to me that it is a pasta pan that cannot get hotter than 100 degrees.” In Mexico, to his own surprise, he couldn't get the potatoes cooked. “It turns out that water there, due to its high location, already boils at 70 degrees Celsius. So, it will bubble, but it will not be hot enough.” He also has to take into account the same height – Mexico City is 2240 meters above sea level – if he wants to bake a cake. “Here we do that at a temperature of 150 degrees, there you have to set the oven to 210 degrees. Otherwise, it fails.”Long days Neitzel and his team work long hours. As much as they would like to, attending the concert themselves is not an option. That doesn't bother them. “We now know what the highlights are. However, if new elements are added to the show, we take turns to get something of it. But when the whole hall starts laughing, we know that's the moment when clarinetist Manoe Konings puts the bottle of sparkling wine to her mouth. We don't need to see that, we hear that." And even though their own food (consumption) often falls short – “we do that in between” – Neitzel says he has the best job in the world. “I have never had such a fair and social chef as André. Because we almost all come from Leipzig and the surrounding area, he affectionately calls us his East German Children. André also makes no distinction between orchestra and crew. Everyone is equally dear to him. I know it sounds like a cliché, but we really are one big family. Everyone knows each other by name. If the travel schedule allows, we always go out for dinner together. That is different with other artists I have worked for. There the band members get to eat for 20 euros per person and the crew for a tenner, so to speak, and you can completely forget about such a gesture to go out for dinner. No, really, when we have our regular month off in August, we are already looking forward to September.”
The Limburger, July 13, 2023. By Ronald Colée.Photo credits: Annemiek Mommers.Translation by Ineke, edited by Diana D. Le.André Rieu's catering manager feeds 700 people every day: 'We always want to include a local delicacy'