CHICAGO Lollapalooza returns to Grant Park August 3-5, bringing with it the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Sabbath, and a variety of muffuletta sandwiches. For the third consecutive year, Designed Cuisine, a Catering by Michael's company, will handle catering for all V.I.P. areas including the Lolla Lounges and the private cabanas.
“The focus [of the menus] is very much fun and summery,” said the catering firm's director of operations, Jeff Ware. "[Festival producer] C3 Presents really stresses that they use us because we're not a 'wedding caterer.' It is very important to [them that their vendors] understand the festival experience and challenges that can be present when planning menus.”
Those challenges include navigating a tricky load-in schedule. Ware said that staffers—there are as many as 50 a day, sometimes fewer—are on festival grounds from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day. “We cannot access the site by vehicle after 9 a.m., so we have to load in all product for the day and double-check and correct any errors by that time,” he said. The August weather is also notoriously steamy or soaked (or both) throughout the festival's run. “Last year, the rain on Sunday made for an interesting load-out experience,” Ware said. “Our kitchen areas were pretty much only accessible by swimming at the end of the night.”
For this year's Lolla Lounges—areas that host an assortment of V.I.P. guests, including festival sponsors—Designed Cuisine will serve daily lunches, happy hour snacks, hospitality buffets, and dinners. Though menus are still being finalized, the preliminary lunch options include California-style and Cajun chicken muffuletta sandwiches, corn on the cob, and miniature mint julep cupcakes. Lunches will be served from three double-sided buffets in each of the lounges, which are stationed on the northern and southern ends of the park.
Happy hour snacks, served from dedicated “snack shacks” with single-sided buffets, will include nachos, bite-size candy bars, jumbo soft pretzels, and M&Ms in the festival's signature orange and turquoise hues. Dinners, served till 7:30 p.m. nightly, will include a custom fajita station, chicken piccata, and jumbo Chicago-style hot dogs.
The private cabanas, rented out by corporate groups and located on the west side and south end of the park, will get lunches, a selection of “Mid Day Munchies,” and dinners each day. Lunch options will include Cuban-style chicken paninis, fried chicken with sweet potato tamales, and turkey burritos.
Midday snacks include pulled-pork sliders, Lou Malnati's deep dish pizzas, and tacos stuffed with marinated pork shoulder and grilled pineapple salsa. For dinner, served in the cabanas until 8 p.m., items will likely include lemon-jasmine-rice salad, Vietnamese summer rolls, and cheese enchilada casseroles.
For the cabana meals, the catering team will prepare enough food for roughly 320 guests at each mealtime; the lounge groups are larger, with more than 1,100 guests for the lunches and 2,200 for dinner.
The most fun part of working on the legendary festival is the “multi-day aspect,” says Ware. “That's something we don't do very often in high-end catering.” The event never lacks for interesting moments, either, between the unpredictable weather and the (literal) gate crashers. “The stories are endless,” Ware said. “Many involve fence jumpers. Jumping the fence into a V.I.P. area is not really a good idea. It's basically like jumping into a cage: they have nowhere to run or have to jump several more fences to get out.”