MADRID (EFE).— Woody Allen orders Iberian ham with tomato bread, Pedro Almodóvar grilled fish and Brad Pitt cooked vegetables and salads. Rafael Catering is the Spanish pioneer in feeding directors, actors and other film crews, whom he has fed for 70 years in Spain and the rest of the world.
“Ben-Hur”, “Spartacus”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Cleopatra”, “The Crown”, “Broken Embraces”, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”, “Agora”, “Pain and Glory” or “The Favorites de Midas” are some of the films in which first Eduardo García and then his son Rafael fed stars.
Rafael Catering’s curriculum includes more than 800 films shot in European and North African countries, 150 national and international series and 3,000 television commercials thanks to its headquarters in Madrid, Valencia and the Canary Islands, in Spain, as well as an office International based in UK.
Eduardo, who had the El Trocadero restaurant on Madrid’s Gran Vía and a clientele related to the entertainment world, was signed back in the 1950s by producer Luis Roberts; he told her that he was going to bring filming of Hollywood blockbusters to Spain and that he was counting on his good hand in the kitchen.
“Roberts ate and dined for free for five months at the restaurant because he was short of money until the first shoot came,” says Rafael García. It was “The Black Knight” (1954), starring Alan Ladd and Patricia Medina, in which Comlumbia Pictures transformed the town of Aranjuez (Madrid) into Camelot.
“My father rented a truck with the portable kitchens and the team was super happy; From then on everything was shot” thanks to healthy Mediterranean food that everyone liked, adds Rafael.
Later, the producer Samuel Bronston noticed Spain for the brightness and the cheap salaries, and it was “non-stop”, García recalls about years in which they served the teams of “El Cid”, “Doctor Zhivago” or “55 Days in Beijing” and actors such as Charlton Heston, Sofía Loren, Ava Gardner and David Niven.
As a child, Rafael attended one of these shoots and was so in love with his father’s work that he trained in gastronomy in some of the best restaurants in Europe. He returned married to a French woman and eager to feed the stars of the moment.
His first opportunity was “Robin y Marian” (1976) with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn, shot in Zamora and Navarra, the beginning of a gastronomic career in which he coincided with Daniel Graig, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Alejandro Amenábar and Pedro Almodóvar, among other celebrities.
Of Almodóvar —in all his films he has been in charge of the catering— he says that he always asks for grilled fish, while Eastwood had salmon with broccoli for breakfast and is one of the most “charming” celebrities he remembers because “he ate on a buffet tray like the rest”. Allen cannot miss the Iberian ham with tomato bread when he shoots in Spain.
Warren Beatty ordered ‘al dente’ vegetables for breakfast and Brad Pitt ordered cooked vegetables and salads —“no grilled or fried”— because “they are simple and take great care of themselves,” he says.
Among its milestones, giving 1,600 daily meals during filming in the south of Spain and on the Canary Island of Fuerteventura of the macro-production “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Christian Bale and Sigourney Weaver, and with a crowd of extras and specialists.
He also treasures as an anecdote, one of the many he wants to put together in a book, the filming of “The Journey of the Damned”, in Barcelona, with James Mason, Faye Dunaway and Orson Welles.
“We worked seven days a week and the staff was exhausted, but on November 20, 1975 (the dictator Francisco Franco) died and they decreed two days of mourning, which allowed us to rest,” he explains.
Rafael García has no criticism for actors and actresses: “In general they are very kind and very grateful because they also see the effort that goes into our work.”
And it is that in each shoot it starts at dawn to offer sandwiches of potato omelette or serranito de lomo (in addition to vegan options) and menus that include gratin vegetables, salads, chicken drumsticks in pepitoria, stewed cuttlefish with onion and ginger, cod on chlorophyll pesto and desserts in which seasonal fruits and some sweets are not lacking.
The day usually begins with a “heavy breakfast”, which is followed by some snacks before lunch – “in American productions it is only a light ‘lunch’, but in Spanish ones they tend to stop to eat sitting down,” Garcia details – and the challenge is “to feed them healthy, rich and fast”.
They also provide a continuous service with coffee and infusions —alcohol is prohibited due to occupational risks, he clarifies— and small snacks, but their success is based on tasty Mediterranean cuisine capable of adapting to allergies, intolerances or options such as veganism, he explains.
He has just finished a Bolywood production with 400 participants and, once the worst of the pandemic is over, he is also looking towards other events, as he already did with Julio Iglesias concerts. The only doubt about this octogenarian is if any of his three children will continue the saga.
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Rafael Garcia has served Woody Allen and Brad Pitt