It is hard to imagine a more complete transition than the one Doug Crane underwent: from the wild life of the rock ‘n roll road show, his career has led him to the peace and quiet of a New England private academy.
Crane spent some time during the 80s working as a road show catering chef for musical acts on tour as well as for the Big Apple Circus. Later, he worked in event catering and then in commercial restaurants until the hours and the routine got to him.
For the last two years, however, Crane has been dining director for the Hyde School, a private boarding school for grades 9-12 in Woodstock, CT, where the governing philosophy is to nurture unique individual talents to their fullest. It is the perfect environment for a chef looking to be creative and to connect with his young customers.
At Hyde, Crane is responsible for preparing daily meals for some 200 students plus staff. He works with about a dozen adult workers plus the students, who rotate duties in the kitchen, usually by activity group (the boys basketball team one day, the drama club the next, etc.).
His dishes emphasize fresh ingredients, many of them from either local farms or even from the school's own garden.
A boarding school must present special culinary challenges…
It's a constant struggle to find a wide variety of dishes that's still kid-friendly. So I ask for input. We have kids work in the kitchen, and if I see one doing an especially good job, I'll ask, ‘What do you want for dinner?’
You are also big on local sourcing at Hyde…
We have a saying here: ‘The cows you can smell are the cows giving you milk!’ since we have a local dairy cooperative we can see from the back loading dock. I have an orchard within a mile that gives us all our fresh apples and pears, and a local farmer grows various vegetables for us. I also have our garden behind the school where we grow herbs and also peppers for my hot sauces…
What kind of peppers?
Red savina habaneros, which has always been my mainstay. But this year I tried a new pepper that's even hotter — a bhut jolokia. It has been measured at a million Scoville units, which makes it twice as hot as the red sevina. It's a fearful pepper. I'm scared of it.
Do the kids like your sauces?
A very high percentage are willing to try them. We use it for fundraising. The kids in the art class design our labels
What was your first rock tour?
Michael Jackson's Victory tour with his brothers in 1984.
You actually cooked for Michael Jackson?
No, he had a couple of turbaned, bearded macrobiotic chefs who cooked for him, but we did feed his brothers, their entourages and all the tech crews.
What was it like?
At the time this was the largest travelling stage and it took two weeks to build and take down. We were there before the show and a week after, taking the stage apart. So the crowds built as we went along. On show dates we were serving close to 400 people. But at the start it was maybe 35 local ironworkers. We had a pretty good reputation with them because we would get to know them and what they liked to eat rather than just throwing something out there.
Didn't you get to use the venues' kitchens?
Frequently we did not have access, so we'd set up our own. We'd rent trailers and the equipment we needed if we didn't carry it with us. At some venues, there was no electricity or running water. I remember once trying to cook a breakfast with a flashlight.
What were the strangest band food requests?
Every band has a technical rider that lays out their needs and demands from support groups, and some of the strangest ones are pretty well known. For example, there's a rumor that Van Halen always requests a six-pound bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room with all the brown M&Ms removed. I can vouch that that is true because I was the guy who had to remove them. Other bands would request certain brands of peanut butter that was not available in the area and we would have to find some. It got quite silly sometimes, though, to be fair, it was often not the band itself making these requests but some of the people around them.
What about your stint with the circus?
That was interesting. I fed three dozen people out of this little 16-seat chuck wagon. It had a postage stamp kitchen in which you could touch both walls. It was great fun but also very stressful, since we wouldn't have any water or electricity until they got set up. Then there was the getting stuck in the mud and getting dragged out by the elephant…
What advice would you offer to other chefs moving into management?
Using a little humor is often much more effective in directing people than tyrannizing over them like you see those reality show TV chefs often doing. Also, it's very important that you don't isolate yourself behind the desk — get out there! Finally, resist the urge to micromanage.
Hobbies outside cooking: reading, kayaking
Food-related hobbies: home bread baking, hot pepper cultivation and hot sauce brewing
Favorite movie: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
Favorite food-related books: Hotel Splendide, by Ludwig Bemelmans; The Kitchen Book and The Cook Book by Nicholas Freeling; Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain