If George Clooney asked for the key to the city right now, Cincinnati would have it on his key ring before he finished the question. And probably make him mayor, too.
The excitement over Clooney coming back to the area where he grew up to film The Ides of March has made giddy schoolgirls out of practically everyone. I recently watched a carload of little old ladies (they looked like retired nuns) get chased out of the Party Source’s parking lot when they tried to do some amateur Clooney-spotting in Bellevue, Ky. As my friend, Cincinnati Magazine Dining Editor Donna Covrett said when she saw George about town, “God was just showing off when he made that man.”
Amen to that, sister.
Along with George, Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei and the other stars, the movie shoot has brought to town a huge crew — an army, really. And an army travels on its stomach. So who’s feeding them? I was cutting through the Carew Tower arcade when I thought I saw the answer to that question — a redhead wearing a black chef’s jacket and a baseball cap with a skull-and-crossed-cutlery logo.
“Hey, catering guy!” I hollered.
He turned right around and said, “Yes?”
That’s how I met Dan Gearig, co-founder of Chow Catering out of Detroit. Gearig, his business partner Kurt Peters, head chef Tony Goodrich and their two assistants have been friends since they were kids. They’ve catered several feature films, as well as a lot of music videos and commercials, including the Chrysler ad “Imported from Detroit” featuring Eminem that ran during the Super Bowl.
So why were Gearig and his guys imported from Detroit for the Ides shoot? It’s no slight to Cincinnati caterers, according to Ides production spokesperson Tracey Schaeffer.
“The main (shooting) location’s actually Detroit,” she explained.
“We’re moving back up there now after the Cincinnati scenes wrap and we’ll be there longer, so it made sense logistically.”
The Ides’ cast and crew did right by the locals while they were here, shopping, dining and downing beers after work. George (who directs and stars in the film) was spotted at The Beehive in Augusta, Ky., on its final night open, dining at the bar at Nicola’s in Over-the-Rhine and taking in some Jazz at Dee Felice Café in Covington’s Mainstrasse. Gosling was reportedly on the nightlife scene in Mount Adams and at The Lackman bar in OTR’s Gateway Quarter.
“We’re feeling a lot of love for the local food scene here, from fine dining at Orchids in the hotel where we’re staying to the gastro-pub at Nicholson’s,” Gearig says. “I like Cincinnati, Covington and Newport. They’re nice towns and there are lots of foodies here! People are doing farm to plate, using local stuff. It’s great! I’ve been to Findlay Market almost every day. It’s amazing to see what they have. It’s really rich, really culturally diverse and you can find everything you need there. We’ve been getting all our meat there. We got 100 waffles from Taste of Belgium one morning and they were a big hit!
“It’s a big deal for us that George Clooney didn’t bring someone from L.A. for this job,” he adds. “He’s an absolute professional; couldn’t be a cooler guy.”
So what have the stars been eating? Everything from meat and potatoes to super-healthy and light meals, Gearig says. Every day, Chef Tony prepared nine dishes — four entrées, plus sides — serving beef and chicken most days, plus a vegetarian dish for the makeup lady. The caterer likes their clients to have plenty of choices.
“We’ve done some local food — we cooked goetta, we ordered in some Skyline,” Gearig says, also mentioning the local food trucks like Café de Wheels. “We have a huge passion for food trucks — they’re like us. We’re simpatico.”
Probably the most popular thing Chow Catering does is a filet station, with tenderloins, caramelized onions, asparagus, béarnaise sauce, crabmeat and blue cheese. What’s not to like? When I visited the Chow truck, they were prepping for “Thai Day” with a Pad Thai station, multiple curries and even some Peking Duck they’d managed to procure from Saigon Market at Findlay. Since it was a little early for Thai food, Goodrich whipped me up one of their most popular quick meals, a “Jive Turkey” — a brunch burrito stuffed with scrambled eggs, turkey and delicious pesto. For a minute, I felt like a star.
Trust me, I tried to get some gossip out of these guys, but they are tighter lipped than the CIA.
“We don’t kiss and tell,” Gearig says. “This is like our 30th movie and we want to have 30 more, OK?”
About the closest to dish I could get was on the subject of sweets. Do the stars eat desserts?
“Yeah, I guess they ‘calorically budget’ for these things so they don’t have to pass up Bananas Foster, a sundae bar or basically anything chocolate,” Gearig says, laughing.
Caterers’ challenges are mostly logistical and weather is especially a concern, but Chow has worked enough shoots to know how to handle such issues easily.
“We’re serving out of trucks, rolling kitchens, moving all the time to new locations,” Gearig says. “It makes experience really important and having the right equipment. Those are the two most important things. Plus great people.”
Gearig singled out the Cincinnati police for praise.
“Cops here have been great,” he says. “We’ve had a few minor things from the crowds, a few awkward things, but they handled everything great. Nothing that freaked us out. I mean, we’re from Detroit.”