Job Title: Catering
Catering provides substantial hot meals for the cast and crew, every six hours, as unions require. These individuals are responsible for planning meals, purchasing food and preparation materials, cooking, set-up and presentation, preparing any make-to-order items, breakdown, and clean-up. Catering is a separate union from craft services. Catering is under the transportation department. “My union is 399 Local,” explains caterer Joe Hanna. “My title is chef/driver. I go on production as a special equipment handler because I am the chef and I drive a truck.”
Beyond being a “marvelous chef,” Hanna credits his success to the fact that he enjoys eating and cooking food, is very clean, and takes great pride in his presentation of food. Catering people must be very service-oriented. “My day is always changing: ‘Set up here, be ready at this time; no, we have to move, now you have to be ready at this time; now you need to do a dinner, or we have an extra 100 people to feed.’ It's always changing. You have to take that well. I'm a very take-charge guy and I like to coordinate. I'm very good with my client, very local.”
Expanded Job Description
On a shooting day, Joe Hanna typically begins work around 3 a.m. for a 6 a.m. call time. “I have to be ready to feed 175 people breakfast at 6 a.m. Breakfast is usually a walking meal. They come up to the truck where I'm cooking a made-to-order breakfast.” Crew members may order items off of a menu like omelets, burritos, pancakes, French toast, rancheros, eggs, steak, bacon, and so forth. While Hanna cooks up their requests, the crew helps themselves to coffee, juice, and other beverages from the truck. Hanna will have already set up a buffet table filled with an array of fresh baked muffins, pastries, croissants, bagels, Danish, fruits (“whatever is fresh at the time in that region“), hot and cold cereals, smoked fish, and other items. He must have everything organized so that the crew can finish eating and be ready for shooting to begin by 7 a.m.
Lunch is served six hours after shooting begins, with the transportation department eating one half hour earlier. “Lunch is a magnificent spread. It's about 30 feet of fresh salad bars, fruits, grains, and breads. Then you have your entrees each day, whether it is a barbecued filet mignon or a grilled lamb chop. You have a seafood item every day that is generally regional. Then you have a poultry item each day, which can be anything from free-range turkeys to chicken breast prepared any way you like it. Then you have baked potato bars, rice; and pasta bars are very common. And light and healthy desserts, and some real fattening ones too.” Catering must be very organized so that everyone can be fed and get back to work in one hour.
Many times the catering truck will have to move location during the day. “It is extremely vigorous work. Half of my day is just making sure everything is clean and handled properly and stored at the right temperature: hot food served hot and cold food served crisp and cold. You may have a whole kitchen to move once a day, serving 175 people. That means you're setting up everything from tables and chairs, beverage stations, buffets; sometimes you're setting up an outside kitchen for barbecue and saute stations, sundae bars, pasta bars, and so forth.”
Dinner is never planned. Ideally, a shooting day lasts 12 hours, so another meal is not required by the union if the shoot breaks on time. However, if a shooting day runs long, the caterer may be called upon at the last minute to feed the cast, crew, and even extras.
Advice for Someone Seeking This Job
Catering is a tough field to break into. Hanna advises that the first step is to “participate.” He suggests, “Take production assistant work just to get around filmmaking. If you want to go the catering end, culinary school is a wonderful way, but I also believe in real world work ethics. I would encourage you to spend time working at one of your favorite restaurants. I would certainly suggest going to work for another motion picture catering firm. There are a lot out there, more so in California. The catering done on location out of these trucks is extremely specific. It's not something you're going to learn in school or at your favorite restaurant. However, those two places will give you the skills needed when you get the opportunity to go on a movie set.”
What do you like least about your job?
“What I like least about catering is that you'll go to some foreign desert sometimes for 15, 16, or 17 weeks and work 100 hours a week and never slow down.”—Joe Hanna
What do you love most about your job?
“What I love most about my job is being able to travel and being exposed to so much culture. I also like the personalities you get to meet and work with on a daily basis. People in film are usually glowing, radiant, and wonderful, special people. They usually feel they are very blessed to be in their position and in turn treat you very kindly. It's a very family feeling on a movie set. That's what I like most about it.”—Joe Hanna
Professional Profile: Joe Hanna, President/Executive Chef, Hanna Brothers
“I got into filmmaking through culinary arts,” says Joe Hanna. Growing up in southern Florida, he discovered his love for food preparation at an early age. “My grandmothers were wonderful chefs in their own right. My dad's mother was a very traditional Lebanese cook and had 20 people eating in her home every night. My mom's mom was a very southern Irish chef, a very traditional pot roast type of cook. I like both of my grandmothers a lot and enjoyed spending time with them. When I spent time with them, we cooked.”
Working in restaurants as a teenager, Hanna began washing dishes and worked his way up. He studied at Palm Beach Culinary Institute, served a 2,000-hour internship at the five-star Breakers restaurant in Palm Beach, and earned an associate degree in restaurant management from Palm Beach Junior College. At age 20, he opened Two Cousins Gourmet Delicatessen, Bakery & Catering Company in Jupiter, Florida. He was soon hired to cater for Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater and Burt Reynolds Ranch.
When the B. L. Stryker series began production not far from Hanna's restaurant, the catering company handling the job frequented his establishment, purchasing items from him. “I developed a relationship with them and became involved in the catering of the movie. Six months later I sold my business and began catering only for movies.”
* “Get ready to work long and hard.”—Joe Hanna
* “Filmmaking is very laborious and very intense work. You have to mentally prepare yourself so you don't get surprised when you get out there. Just know what you're getting into and believe you can do it.”—Joe Hanna
The 23-year-old relocated to New York to work for Coast-to-Coast Catering, working on productions in New York and Chicago. Some of the early features he worked on were Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, Folks!, Home Alone 3, Straight Talk, and Virus. He remained with the company for nine years before forming Hanna Brothers. Some of the company's credits include: Ali, The Contender, Gods and Generals, High Fidelity, and Welcome to Collinwood.
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