When you think of the Coachella music festival, the first thing that comes to mind is a bunch of fair-weather bohemians wearing flower crowns and getting fucked up in a dustbowl, while somewhere Drake is making out with Madonna. But the festival's newest push is to expand its culinary offerings by bringing in top chefs and restaurants. We decided to see what really happens when you take people that care about food and people that care about glow-stick dancing to Pete Tong and put them together in the same place. To get a firsthand look, we hit up our man Alvin Cailin, chef and owner of LA's Eggslut and Ramen Champ, to talk about what it's like to serve a bunch of drunk kids.
The first day we arrived, we walked into a booth that had just one refrigerator. We had spent all this money on an architect to design our booth and none of our equipment showed up. When we did finally get our equipment, none of it was to the specifications given and we had to cut back on all these supplies. Behind our booth we just had this boneyard of shit that should have been inside but didn't fit. It was a shitshow.
We moved things around and had it ready and dialed in by Saturday, and then we were just cranking everything out. We ran out of food Saturday around 8:45 PM, and Sunday we ran out of 90 percent of our menu at 6:30 PM.
After that, all we sold was rice with bacon or salad with some pea shoots on top. And that's what opened my eyes to how much people do not give a shit what they're eating because they're just going to get that dish, no matter how much it costs, and then go party. That was the mentality I got from Sunday night: "I must eat in order to keep going on my drug rampage."
The reason why we signed up to do Coachella in the first place was to get our brands out there. Eggslut is pretty popular but Ramen Champ and the new diner really would benefit from a little more exposure in the media. It's also a good time to get creative with food and do something different than just egg sandwiches or ramen. So we did a choose-one-meat, choose-one-starch or -vegetable, and then we just topped it with a bunch of stuff. It was pretty interesting because our dish had upwards of 12 different ingredients and it was super-flavorful and fresh, so it was fun. And Coachella lets you do that, because people are willing to pay for it.
From 12 to 3 PM, it was super-chill—maybe one customer every five minutes. But around sunset, a super-huge line starts. The way our menu is set up, we can get you in and out of there from the moment you pay within five minutes. At our busiest point on the last day, we probably did 300 tickets in our busiest 2.5 hours; over the course of the entire festival we probably did a little over 1,000. Luckily, Eggslut is at a similar pace most days so we had a little bit of an edge over a lot of people. We do about 2,000 on the weekends.
But the biggest problem is that you have to deal with idiots. I mean, I didn't know how bad it would be, but it was pretty bad. No one knows how to read. No one understands how menus work, what lines are, especially when you're in the VIP section.
No disrespect to Coachella—because I think they did a great job at managing and organizing everything—but when you give drugs and alcohol to a bunch of privileged people, they want their food and they want it now. People were offering upwards of $100 to cut the line. And then you ask them, "Do you even know what you want?" And they don't care. They're just like, "Give me food, I want it now, I need to catch my next show, I want to eat and go."
There's a lot of fucking people in the VIP section—but you can't all be VIP if there's thousands of you. There were all these 17-year-old girls going down our lines, begging people to pay the extra $4 for their food. It was nuts.
People would come up and either look so high on coke or like they were rolling. And they'd just start rambling, like, "I want bacon, and I want chicken and mushrooms on top of rice. I just want all of it, all of it." I feel bad for the girls who work with me because they had to deal with these affluent men who were a little older and super-sleazy, and would just be like, "You're fucking gorgeous, I'll buy anything that comes out of you, represent."
There was this one kid who showed up who was probably 17—he probably has to be in class at 8 AM on Monday morning. He pulls out his money and it flies everywhere, and his earplugs pop out, and then just this big bunch of pills. I was like, Holy fuck, this kid is going to go crazy this weekend. We have these mats under our stand, and when we were sweeping and pulling them up we ended up finding four or five different kinds of pills that people had dropped. No one there was sober last weekend.
But the people who like food enjoyed it, and that's what's important. You're getting such a mix of people at the event, so that's all you can hope for.
Honestly, I think the food part of Coachella is going to be a huge attraction in the near future. Probably just as popular as the music. I think Nick Adler, the guy who's putting it together, really actually cares about turning the food component up and turning that part of Coachella into something really amazing. I mean the people who signed on to do this stuff this year—like Kris Morningstar, Marcel with Beefsteak, Sugarfish—all these guys are amazing. This year showed a lot of hope for the food festival aspect of it. These people will really do whatever it takes to bring you amazing food, and I think that's awesome.
It's always hit or miss with who comes to you, but it's cool to be a part of something new, and to pioneer craft food in place that usually just serves pizza and hot dogs. I'm happy to be a part of it.
As told to Hillary Eaton