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The Straz Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Tampa is the largest performing arts venue in the southeastern U.S. With five theaters and a school for budding talent, the Straz is a hub for Broadway shows, concerts, dance performances and more.
That means lots of hungry ticket holders—not to mention catering for on-site weddings, meetings and other events.
Every day, the venue’s culinary team puts on its own performance of sorts, and the star of that behind-the-scenes performance is Executive Chef Ed Steinhoff. He and his team supply food for the Straz’s three restaurants, cafe and concession stands.
“Most of the food comes out of the main kitchen, and we do have one small satellite kitchen downstairs where we finish it,” Steinhoff told The Zest podcast from his office just off of the main kitchen upstairs.
“I think it lends itself really well to have a destination to eat at a performing arts center. You’re coming to the show. A lot of times, you want to make a great night of it. You want to get some nice food. It’s great. You’re already on the property. You’re here. We have the restaurants that suit everybody’s pocketbook.”
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For each performance that comes to town, Steinhoff creates an original themed menu. For inspiration, Steinhoff researches the characters and songs from each show.
“Some shows are really easy to theme,” he said. For instance, he made Cuban food for On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio and Gloria Estefan.
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Other shows are more difficult. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a no-brainer for the Straz’s pastry chef, but Steinhoff had to get creative with the entrees, serving dishes like steak with chocolate demi-glace.
And theatergoers aren’t the only mouths to feed. The Straz kitchen also supplies food for the crew of each show. That means waking up before dawn to make breakfast for the folks with Baby Shark Live.
Occasionally, Steinhoff cooks for the performers themselves. He recalls when actor and comedian Adam Sandler stopped by the Straz on a stand-up tour stop.
“When he was here, I made him chicken soup, because he was sick,” Steinhoff said. “A lot of performers now are very health-conscious,” he said, noting that the public has also changed its eating habits over the years. For that reason, each menu Steinhoff creates includes gluten-free and vegetarian options.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Steinhoff owned a business that featured a deli, bakery and catering. He moved to Tampa Bay after 9/11.
“It’s been a nice journey for me since 2002,” he said.