As a production catering veteran, Tom Morales has learned many things, including that George Clooney loves spicy pasta.
The first time Tom Morales ever heard the word "arugula" was in 1988, out of Frances McDormand's mouth.
"She comes up to me and says, 'Do you have arugula?'" says Morales. "And I say, 'Say that again?'"
Tom Morales is a veteran Nashville restaurateur, who just opened Woolworth on 5th in February, and the CEO of TomKats Hospitality, one of the most prominent catering services in the film and television industries. Having spent decades cooking food for some of the most notoriously picky eaters in the world—i.e. movie stars, rock stars and their entourages—Morales has had an exceptionally intimate glimpse into the lives and eating habits of many of the country's top celebrities. And he has stories.
"Demi Moore was on the green bean diet while filming G.I. Jane," he tells me over lunch at his Nashville restaurant, Fin & Pearl, rattling off names and stories, some of which are virtually impossible to verify. "Richard Gere is a sweetheart. Billy Crystal is great, too. If Billy Crystal came in a room like this and it was all movie people, he’d come sit with the caterers. He'd talk sports, have fun and not be too serious ... Robin Williams was a sweetheart. We did Mrs. Doubtfire. We did about four or five of his movies. Sarah Jessica is wonderful."
Morales started his catering company in 1986 with nothing but a repurposed taco truck, beginning mostly with backstage concert catering gigs. Trying to convey more experience than he'd had, which was zero, he painted over "Ricky Ricardo's Chili Express" with "Tomkats Catering Truck #3," so it appeared it was the third in the fleet.
He later transitioned to larger events, shoots and productions. To date, TomKats has catered over 1,200 concerts, festivals, events, films and television shows, including Mrs. Doubtfire, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, City Slickers, Burn After Reading and more than we would ever be able to list here. He says he's been included in the contracts of Madonna, Sharon Stone, Sandra Bullock, Jodie Foster and more stars. This summer, his team is going to Madrid for the next Terminator movie.
The work, however, is anything but glamorous. In fact, it's exceptionally high pressure.
"When the whole cast would come running to the catering tent, when you're at ten thousand feet [above sea level] trying to cook for someone and you find out the propane doesn’t work...," Morales says. "Billy Crystal came up to me and said, 'What are you cooking there?' And I said, 'Stir fry.' And he said, 'It looks like slow fry to me.'"
When asked if film-set catering is more nerve-wracking than dinner service at a restaurant, Morales says yes.
"If you’re 70 miles down a dirt road in Patagonia, and you don’t have butter, you’re just shit out of luck," he says.
Plus, catering to everyone's individual dietary needs and whims requires a near encyclopedic knowledge of food terms, ingredients and recipes.
"It's the NFL of food service," Morales says. "You have to know all the buzzwords, all the the diets. She’s on the zone diet, and she’s on the South Beach diet, the blood diet, whatever. There was an actress on a watermelon diet."
Over the years, Morales has learned many things about many celebrities. George Clooney, for example, cannot get enough of spicy pasta. And Brad Pitt's tastes are simpler than you might expect.
"He’ll eat McDonald’s or Subway; he’s not into gourmet food or anything," says Morales, recalling when he worked on the set of a Gwyneth Paltrow movie when the actress was dating Pitt in the '90s. "When we got there, someone in hair and makeup said, 'Brad wants a juicer.' And I’m sitting there thinking, there’s no way Brad Pitt wants a juicer. Because the day before, he came in with a sack full of McDonald’s. So I went up to him, and I said, 'Brad, do you want a juicer?' And he said, ‘What are you talking about?’ So there was a $2,000 juicer she bought and wanted us to pay for."