A Chat with Peter Bailey
By Tania Holland
“I’m really not that great a chef.”
Ladies and gentlemen, please meet the ever-so-humble and very funny chef to the stars (Muse included!), Mr Peter Bailey. Pete very kindly agreed to meet up for a chat with me following a busy day in Perth preparing meals for none other than the visiting royalty of rock, Queen, currently touring the planet with the talented Adam Lambert. I originally had the naiveté to call this meeting an interview, but as we chatted into the wee hours of the morning following the gig at Perth Arena, I felt more like I was catching up with an old mate.
However, questions were asked and answers were given. We’ll start at the beginning, shall we?
Originally from Surrey, Peter made the decision to enter the food industry while still at secondary school when given cooking as an optional choice. After receiving much ridicule from his mates about taking a 'girls’ subject', teenaged Peter smugly agreed that yes, he would be the only boy in a class of girls and wished his mates well in their all-male electives. Despite his hormonally influenced reasons for entering the industry, Peter moved on to study catering at Guildford College. He freely admits that he hated his time there with a passion, but eventually moved out into the world of employment.
His first major role was manager of catering at a golf club at the age of nineteen. While working there, he was offered the opportunity to tour as the chef for AC/DC. Being the practical and financially minded young man that he was, Peter declined, unwilling to enter a short-term contract situation. Before long, though, another offer emerged. A long-term stint travelling with Metallica. This time, he couldn't resist, and went on the road, kicking off a career in catering to the stars.
Since then, Pete has gone on to become the director of Feedback Event Cuisine, catering to high profile stars, bands and celebrities including Muse, Queen, Metallica, Valentino, Lady Victoria de Rothschild and Geri Halliwell, in England and on tour around the world.
With the basics of Pete’s career covered, we went on to look at some of the questions sent to me by Muse fans around the world. Here are some of the answers to the questions that could politely be asked of someone that I was meeting for the first time.
One aspect of Pete’s work that fascinated many people was the equipment that he uses. In answering this question, Pete directed me to the Feedback Event Cuisine website, http://www.feedbackeventcuisine.com/index.html to see the clever mobile kitchens, bars and other units that are designed specifically to pack away into flight cases that go with him all over the world. These units contain the ovens and hobs along with cookware and servingware that he needs to serve his clients. Obviously these units can be set up at the venues, though Pete did say that he’d worked out of hotel rooms. On one occasion, his kitchen shared space with the makeshift gym for the band and got to witness Mr Bellamy doing strength training…with a tennis ball.
Pete estimated that he would physically circle the globe four to five times each year - a glamorous lifestyle indeed - visiting exotic places in the company of our musical idols. He has now confirmed that he’ll be joining Muse on their 2015 festival dates. When asked about the reality of life on the road though, Peter revealed that it had its pros and cons.
Pete calls Cowes on the Isle of Wight home but enjoys travelling the world. Barcelona came up as a favourite city, though he said he could happily move to Sydney, which is home to some of his wife’s family. He also gets a great deal of satisfaction working with his clients to determine their preferences in food, but likes to work in an intuitive fashion through casual conversation rather than through formal questionnaires or interviews. A client expressing pleased surprise that he has provided the perfect food using this technique is especially gratifying.
On the downside, extensive travelling means time away from his family, wife Charlie and young children, Matilda and Sebastian. Pete also cited loneliness as a problem on the road, a by-product of working long hours alone and not necessarily fitting into the socialising patterns of his colleagues and clients. Then, of course, there were the usual hitches that come with travelling such as jet-lag and accommodation issues.
Pete is passionate about supporting local industry, buying fresh produce for his creations with the assistance of his local runners and sometimes working in conjunction with local restaurants to source raw ingredients for meals for his clients. Also close to his heart is sustainability and waste reduction. In previous years, leftover food was supplied to the local homeless. Sadly, increasing regulation in many places has made this practice more difficult to implement.
Several people asked whether Peter had free reign over menus or whether food choices were dictated by his clients. The reality boils down to a little of both. As mentioned, Peter likes to get to know his clients’ preferences intuitively, though he obviously takes into account food sensitivities when meal planning.
Pete had very little praise for one of frontman, Matt's requests - a local speciality while on tour in the deep south of the US. His eloquent description of Pecan-Crusted Catfish went along the lines of, “It tasted like trout wrapped in shit.” Needless to say that when I asked which Muse member was the most adventurous in their food tastes, Matt emerged as a clear winner. He also took out the award for the biggest sweet tooth and the fastest eater. Matt’s legendary love of pasta was confirmed, but Pete did say that he had recently cut back.
In answer to the question about what Muse drummer, Dominic Howard, eats to stay so fit, Pete says that Dominic is the most aware of what he puts in his mouth. He’s the one who will go easy on dessert and makes the effort to work out regularly to look after himself.
Pete did say that Muse were fairly undemanding and quite happily ate whatever he provided. His work for them extends outside of touring, with catering also being provided for their events in London including private parties. He spoke very highly of the band members and it was clear that he enjoyed working with them.
On a more personal note, here are some of the things people were curious to know about Peter Bailey:
Favourite band – The Jam, The Who.
Favourite song – Cracklin’ Rosie by Neil Diamond.
Favourite sporting team – Tottenham Hotspur. Incidentally, Pete, like Muse bassist, Chris Wolstenholme, is also a keen football player, and captains the Muse football team. He originally played rugby, switching to football at a later date.
Favourite car – Landrover Defender 110. In particular, the black one he owned that was stolen.
Favourite food – Italian anything.
Favourite family meal – Homemade fish fingers. Pete’s children are the type that I’m personally unacquainted with, both enjoying their fruit and vegetables.
What would you be if you were not a chef? A policeman, of course.
To finish up, I have chosen a favourite anecdote.
My favourite Muse story would be that of the Mexico Chili Challenge. Bellamy prides himself on his ability to palate some pretty spicy creations. He invited Pete to do his worst in the chili stakes. The outcome of this challenge was a beast named “Arse-Reaper Chili Sauce”. There were several other creations presented in this particular challenge to Muse and their support band in Mexico. The reactions to this stuff were severe to the point where normal bodily functions failed embarrassingly. One participant was reduced to drinking yogurt from the container in an effort to calm the fire when milk proved insufficient. Even Matt admitted defeat with this one.
This pretty much wrapped up our chat as Pete had to get to the airport the next morning to organise the loading of pre-prepared food onto Queen’s private jet. I am particularly grateful to him for agreeing to meet me and for being so warm and forthcoming as I bombarded him with questions and sincerely hope that I get to repeat the experience on his next trip to Australia.