2000 06 Foodie Magazine

When the Red Hot Chili Peppers are on the road, they usually don’t spoon up caviar or drown in champagne—but they don’t gorge on Big Macs either. These days Anthony Kiedis and the guys go for a different kind of backstage repast: healthy “home-cooked” meals.


by Jack Becker

Photography by Grier Govorko


Road Trippin’ with my two favorite allies Fully loaded we’ve got snacks and supplies It’s time to leave this town It’s time to steal away Let’s go get lost Anywhere in the U.S.A.

—”Road Trippin’ ” Californication

Today in Anywhere, U.S.A., the honey-dripping stickiness of summer has been replaced with a refreshing high-plains breeze, which wends its way through the Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, Kansas. More than 14,000 fans have gathered here to experience the tribal psychedelic rock of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who have just launched into “I Like Dirt,” one of the more punk-funk-oriented tracks off their most recent CD, Californication (Warner Brothers).

The band has been writing stronger, more heartfelt ballads, a respite from the hyperactive funk that’s characterized so many of their performances, from shows where they wore nothing onstage but strategically placed tube socks to their legendary Woodstock 1994 appearance —who could forget those light bulb headpieces? Today’s set may include a few more mellow tunes, but the Chili Peppers still get down and dirty with the crowd.

As the band’s confessional smash-single “Under the Bridge” prompts firefly flicks of Bic lighters throughout the audience, stage right fires up with the unmistakable smell of a backyard barbecue; the Red Hot Chili Peppers traditional after show meal is about 15 minutes and a few bows away.

Unlike many rockers’ post-show dinner, the Peppers’ repast will not consist of six greasy New York pizzas or a ten-pack of Gorditas from Taco Bell, for they have rock and roll chef Jaime Laurita backstage whipping up a healthy feast. Flea’s thumping bass line is their chef’s cue; when the encore begins, he knows it’s time to sprinkle on the last minute garnishes of parsley and set out the cans of Blue Sky soda.

But food is not Laurita’s only affair. Long before the fans started piling into the parking lot, Laurita and dressing room coordinator Lyssa Bloom were hard at work freshening up the venue’s drab, sterile dressing rooms. I have been invited to experience the intricate prep-process and chow with the Chili Peppers later in the evening.

Laurita greets me with an inviting handshake while balancing an armful of votive candles. A looker with California-blonde locks, a left arm sleeved with tattoos and a healthy, Tropicana tan, Laurita’s dressed in a white T-shirt and ecru pant screams Gap cuisine.

The band’s two dressing rooms, once as dismal as the Eastern Bloc, now seem as soft as a ballad. Red and black velvet tapestries stitched with Oriental patterns line the walls and incense wafts through the rooms, clinging to the stacks of white shirts and yes, tube socks folded on a card table.

The eating area is decked out in a palette that’s familiar and eccentric at the same time. “Tonight’s dining room is done in Halloween colors—but don’t expect jelly beans,” says Laurita with a hint of humor, “I use a lot of orange, it’s a healing color.” (Color therapy research maintains that orange makes one independent and social, plus it stimulates the appetite and aids digestion).

Wire hangers are bent to form snake-like votive holders which Laurita sticks into the foam ceiling tiles above the dining table, a move Martha Stewart might even applaud for its simplicity. Purple [?] and snow-colored scented candles alternate in a pyramid scheme at one end of the table. The dining area takes on a new face every night; Laurita’s bag of tricks is made up of five cases of decorating supplies that litter the hallway. Scarves, satin cloths, candles and dinnerware are mixed and matched to create a seemingly endless variety of dining environments.

Locations often sway the colors, themes and styles of both the ambience and the food so that when the Peppers play in Maine, fresh fish is likely to be on the menu, and when in, say, Louisiana, there might be a dish spiked with Cajun spices. “When we were in Florida we had an all-white sushi room,” lead Anthony Keidis recalls later over dinner. Whatever it takes to make the meal a little more meaningful, be it Renaissance armor
and swords, or Chinese lanterns and fans, Laurita, the chef-cum-mood-maker, rises to the challenge.

Laurita is just as detail-oriented when it comes to preparing the band’s daily meals. Every morning, wherever the Chili Peppers may be in the U.S.A., he goes shopping at local co-ops and organic grocers. Some clerks remember the striking-looking chef (Laurita obviously doesn’t blend in with the crowd), showing him the freshest cuts of meat and the choicest produce. Instead of heading to the market with an exclusive shopping list, he creates the menu as he goes.

The shopping done, Laurita flutters between his two additional rooms. The first houses his traveling kitchen. Feeding his artists often means “working out of tents in the middle of nowhere during a rain storm or setting up in a 50’s-style one-room open shower area,” says Laurita. There is a T-shirt wrapped around the toilet making it a fine place for a dish drying rack. Despite his dish-sink assembled in a small stand-up shower, there are few obstacles to today’s cooking situation. The local caterers have provided a grill and an oven—a rarity. Laurita usually creates his mouthwatering cakes, pies and fish off the three traveling red, yellow and blue hot plates located next to the refrigerator. “I got these three burners in Chinatown for $19.95,” says Laurita proudly.

Two bulky royal blue cases, usually home to the band’s guitar strings, picks, drum heads, distortion pedals, and microphones, stand wide open, stocked with Laurita’s portable cooking supplies and handy ingredients. Boxes of brown rice snuggle next to fresh ginger root, and vegetable bouillon beds beside boxes of cherry Jell-0. “You never know when they might ask for such a simple snack,” the chef says knowingly.

Two photos of Laurita’s dogs Chip and Bean are taped to the outside of the drawers. The other case protects a refrigerator, which is filled with shelves and a sliding door—a far cry from the standard dorm-style mini model. And in most freshman fridges, chances are you won’t find Laurita’s fresh grouper, mixed greens, soy milk and bunches of beets.

There were days when such good eating wasn’t an option for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Back when Hillel Slovak was in the band, we would stop at a truck stop and get the all-you-can-eat bowl of chili,” says Kiedis, referring to the group’s original guitarist who died of a drug overdose in 1988. “The three of us would share it,” he reminisces, as the rest of the Chili Peppers, regrouping after tonight’s high-energy performance, settle around the table. One night, Kiedis says, they ate too much chili, followed by biscuits and gravy. When they walked out of the truck stop, they knew something had to give. “We didn’t have eating disorders—we just had to get it out.”

Keidis follows with more bad food and vomit tales. The band used to have competitions called “the job” where members would challenge the crew to eat 20 Snickers bars or an industrial-sized jar of salad dressing. Keidis once accepted a dare to consume a pound of butter, but only managed to get a quarter of the way through. In another can-you-top this incident, he used “Vulcan-like mind strength” to successfully consume a large block of feta cheese. Guitarist John Frusciante relates his own cheese lovers story. “I got hooked on those vending machine packets of cheese and crackers during the BloodSugarSexMagik tour,” he says, shaking his head in disgust. [Frusciante, who replaced Hillel Slovak, left the Red Hot Chili Peppers in mid-1992, over a year after the release of the BloodSugarSexMagic album, and returned in 1999 after longtime guitarist Dave Navarro left the band.]

These days the ravages of road food seem like a bad dream. The musicians, who are now on a dairy-free diet, set their nutritional clock to the book Eat Right 4 Your Type: The Individualized Diet Solution to Staying Healthy, Living Longer & Achieving Your Ideal Weight: 4 Blood Types, 4 Diets by Dr. Peter J. D’Adamo. Laurita cooks meals with foods that work with each member’s blood type and antigens. Dishes are created without wheat or sugar. (Drummer Chad Smith, a meat and potatoes guy, is the only Chili Pepper who doesn’t follow the book.) In spite of food associations the band’s name may imply, Laurita rarely cooks spicy meals, which can be hard on a former’s throat and vocal chords.

As dinner progresses, Keidis sits directly across from me popping whole stalks asparagus into his mouth. Chomping on grouper, he declares himself to be a practicing “aquatarian.” He gets up and walks over to a large table laid out smorgasbord- style with various side dishes. “There’s no such thing as courses with our meal,” he says while grazing. Slurping his soup without a spoon, Frusciante admits to an occasional mass consumption on the buffet line. “Once Jaime made three kinds of homemade pasta and I ate bowl after bowl,” says Frusciante.

The Chili Peppers move on to dessert brown rice cake with white frosting and blackberries. Wheat-free, dairy-free andsugar-free, the cake drizzles like sweet, soft spring rain on my tongue, winning the “blue ribbon” of the evening. The band rarely ate after-dinner sweets until Laurita came onboard. One night earlier in the tour the band asked for dessert and he concocted a magical carrot cake. When asked what was in this smooth, rich masterpiece, all Laurita could remember was that “it was a bunch of stuff from my road case, plus a few dates.” Laurita stores most of his recipes in his mind, rarely on paper.

But putting a meal together is not always, well, a piece of cake. Laurita’s first joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers when they launched their Californication tour in Minneapolis. It was a cold March day and for some reason, Laurita’s ingredients and flavorings were just not coming together the way he expected. “We almost lost him that day in Minnesota. He was ready to pack up and go home,” says Keidis. After tour upon tour of Sterno-warmed metal troughs of lasagna, scorched-dry chicken fajitas and freeze-dried salads, tour manager Louis Mathieu knew he had to do whatever it would take to talk their new chef into staying. He must have said something right, because Laurita has been with the band ever since.

Chef Laurita is, by all accounts, a band-pleaser. Whether making his own caramel for Frusciante’s coffee so it tastes like Starbuck’s Triple Soy Carmel Macchiato, or, perhaps, buffalo mozzarella, Laurita always finds a way to make his creation taste great, Mathieu observes. Careful attention to such details has almost made the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ chef food-psychic, though he also has been known to indulge in a bit of eavesdropping in order to gather ideas for future dishes. “I went to Laurita and said that Flea didn’t want fish tonight,” says Mathieu, “and he’s already grilling lamb,” says Mathieu.
“We eat better on the road than at home,” the band unanimously agrees while finishing the last few bites of glistening cake. A Keidis home-cooked meal might include “sliced water-melon, popcorn and a mean bowl of Lucky Charms,” the front-man says with a smile. Frusciante’s version of gourmet home cooking? Pop-Tarts cooked on the burner of the stove. A far cry from fare like Laurita’s traditional menu for the last night of each leg of the tour: cheeseburgers with bacon, or veggie burgers and Fakin’ Bacon, depending on the band member. Replete with waxy paper wrappers, this is an all-American band’s comfort food—a tasty reward for a job well done.

And well done goes the evening. With dinner finished, the Red Hot Chili Peppers retire to the bus. The semi-trucks are re-packed with equipment and the dressing room area is peeled back to its original nondescript gray. Laurita is in his kitchen washing dishes, blowing out candles and folding up the tapestries. He is the first to arrive and the last to leave with his “snacks and supplies…Anywhere in the U.S.A.” Laurita dries a plate, looks at me, smiles and says, “This is gourmet camping at its best.”


Note: RHCP played Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, Kansas on June 28th 2000 so I’ve taken tat as the date of the article in the absence of any other date.

COVER: This still remains a mystery! There is a very brief video of the band dressed in chefs outfits and speaking with French accents in the trailer for the 2000 US tour and the cover photo was taken on the same occasion. (About 2.20)

Many, many thanks to Melanie Owens for the scans!