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The clowns, contortion-ists, and acrobats at Cirque du Soleil thrill audiences nightly with their death-defying stunts—but the big-top team is even bigger than it seems. Fuelling every trick and tumble is a travelling kitchen that serves the whole cast and crew, and sometimes dinner is a circus all its own. When Cirque’s Luzia came to Vancouver last winter, it was chef Claire Harbron who kept everyone fed.
Cirque du Soleil travels with a small kitchen staff, and hires local caterers to help in each city it visits. Harbron’s circus career started in London when she subbed in for a friend’s catering business in 2013. “I didn’t even know it was Cirque at the time,” she says. Even then, Harbron was no stranger to the more glamorous side of the culinary world: her resumé included cooking at the Ritz, plus catering for the Olympics, the Royals and for Vogue. After her first night working for Cirque’s Quidam at the Royal Albert Hall, she was asked to come back the next week, and then for the next run… in the south of France. “I packed up my place in London and literally ran away with the circus,” she says.
For Harbron, joining the Cirque team was an easy decision—she may have been leaving one community at home in London, but she found another. “It feels like you’re feeding a big family,” she says. Luzia actually has several couples with small families who travel with them (you can have it all), so Harbron cooks up Sunday brunches for artists, crew and kids alike. The diet of an acrobat is different from the diet of a lighting technician, so her menus are largely focused on health and diversity. “We do lots of clean proteins with sauces and things on the side, so people can decide what they want,” she says.
It’s a hidden role, but an integral one. Harbron puts it best: “Food can really make or break a day for a person.” When that person is about to hurl themself off of a Russian swing and somersault through the air, making their day is that much more important.