After attending Cirque Du Soliel’s TOTEM, I wondered who fuels those high-fliers and ethereal acrobats of this intense traveling show?
And then I found out.
A varied menu and mostly Mia Messier.
At TOTEM a traveling show of Cirque Du Soleil, this part chef, part caterer, part business manager Mia Messier is the Kitchen Manager.
Mia, a creative culinary phenom, was born in Cambodia and grew up in Montreal. An affinity for the musical arts led her to Vincent D’Indy Musical Institute of Montreal, where she studied violin and piano. Mia left music after several years to attend Quebec Tourism Institute, focusing on food and catering management. For 10 years, Mia worked catering movie sets, cooking in bistros, hotels and private kitchens and opened her own pizzeria in Montreal.
Forward to 2003 and Mia was looking for a new environment. Cirque Du Soleil’s traveling shows hire local cooks at each city on the tour. At the Montreal tour stop of the big-top production Dralion, Mia accepted a temporary position as a cook. The work suited her. At the end of her contract, Mia joined the tour as a full-time chef for seven months. Fast forward seven years and Mia was still traveling with Dralion as a cook. Five continents later, she was offered the Kitchen Manager position on tour, moving her full circle to take advantage of her culinary training and catering management experience. She manages employees, budgets, plans schedules and sources local suppliers in each city the tour visits. She does cook once in a while, in a way still fulfilling her need for artistic creativity.
Since 2010, Mia has been Kitchen Manager of the current show TOTEM. Luxe Beat magazine caught up with Mia in Portland, Oregon recently and sat down for lunch and an interview in the heart of TOTEM’s little gypsy village, the food trailer “dining room,” surrounded by many of the show’s star athletes and performers.
M: With a traveling show of over 120 people including support staff, spouses and children of artists from 21 different countries speaking 11 languages, what special considerations, be they diet, religious preferences or performance fuel do you provide via your menu ?
Mia: Yes of course, we try to balance the menu for the artist. We have to be open to all cultures. The menu is also based on availability from suppliers. We try to make this more homey as we travel all over the world. Sometimes they (the artists) will ask if I can prepare something special from their culture. I try to do that. I also get inspiration from restaurant meals on my time off in each city, cookbooks and magazines.
M: What is the most requested food item?
Mia: Here it is so diverse we just go with what we have. But I have been told it’s the Pho and General Tao Chicken.
M: When you get to go home to Quebec a couple times a year, what is your favorite food?
Mia: My mom’s Quebec food, comfort food; Mac and Cheese, Shepherd’s Pie.
M: What are you passionate about?
Mia: Oh my God, my work is my passion. I meet people around the world, different nationalities, cultures, personalities.
M: What do you like about life on the road?
Mia: That my work is always well done.
M: What is difficult on the road?
Mia: We lose some friends, as people quit the tour from time to time. But I make more friends, I keep them all close. Thank God for technology.
M: When you move the show to the next venue, how does your job work?
Mia: The entire show moves; we pack up our entire little village and only asphalt is left. I will arrive one day before we transfer. I will set up the barbecue because there will be nothing there. If we have to, I have the food catered for a couple of days. We have a schedule and we have all the suppliers in each city. As soon as the kitchen is set up, deliveries are made and we begin. It is all on schedule. Cirque Du Soleil has been doing this for thirty years. I have been doing this for eleven. It is all about the schedule.
M: What are the five qualities that make you perfect for this job?
Mia: I have passion. I can multi-task. I keep an open mind. I have management skills; time, personalities, budgets. And trust, if your co-workers trust you, it makes your job easy.
M: It seems that your life here with TOTEM is good . . .
Mia: Yes, my life is a touring show and I so enjoy it. Life on the road is so different that when I return home to visit I have culture shock. Besides that, when I visit each city, I see old friends and I think, “My life is complete.” We are putting on the best show possible, one, two sometimes three times a day. There are challenges and we work very hard; the artists have to go to work and everyone knows what they have to do. I love it and can do it for another ten years, but if I ever come to work one day and I am not happy, I won’t do it (anymore). Happiness is the key.