The Dallas Examiner
For members of Cirque du Soleil, real life is far different from the extravagant one fans might expect. Be it the laborious hours that go into performances and extensive travel or the constantly running to-do list seemingly stacked higher than the kitchen’s dishes at night, circus life is tough.
Some of the busiest and most talented of the crew can be found in the kitchen.
The extensive effort required to perform such grandeur takes great energy, and that energy is impossible without proper nourishment. But food isn’t the only thing demanded from the kitchen staff. Chefs in a traveling circus need to be multi-talented with more than just blades and soufflés.
When it comes to life as a circus chef, job responsibilities extend far past the kitchen. Circus chefs must also drive forklifts in order to tear down the kitchen tents whenever necessary, something often required on a whim, according to the circus representative.
Raymond McCrindle, is just one of four of the multi-talented chefs that can be found in Cirque du Soleil’s kitchen, and the only African American working behind the scenes. He is in town as part of the Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna tour.
“I decided that I wanted to work in kitchens when I was 7. Now, I’m going on 28. When I was younger, I didn’t really care much for my studies, and when we went to the library, I would just go straight to the cooking section and read a bunch of cookbooks,” McCrindle said. “Eventually, I managed to convince my mom to let me cook something at 7 years old. She was like, ‘Alright, go for it.’ And from then on I just kept studying and learning.”
He said his first job was working as a dishwasher with a goal to be a pre cook while he was in high school. After graduation, he worked in a few restaurants, including an Italian restaurant and a couple hospital cafeterias. But it was Sodexo at Lehigh Valley Hospital Main Cafeteria where he said he learned a lot about bureaucracy and management styles.
He later went on to Johnson Wales University, where he earned a degree in culinary and food service management.
McCrindle credits a great deal of professional success to his insatiable desire to learn and work. By his own account, this willingness to be a pupil of life provides him with opportunities he’d never even dreamed of. It has allowed him to travel all over the country and world, on top of changing his opportunities for life along the way. For McCrindle, keeping an open mind and always learning, while staying true to his passions, are some of the things he holds most central to his life’s journey so far.
Past his work ethic, he will be the first to tell you that ending up at the circus was also due to a little bit of luck. Sometimes that’s what it takes, he said, just a little bit of good fortune to tip the scales your way.
“It was more of a serendipitous thing. Growing up, I always loved traveling and working all different types of places. My goal after college was to work for cruise ships. To cook for guests on cruise ships, but different plans took me a different direction, which is why I ended up in Colorado,” McCrindle said. “Next thing I know, I got an email saying, ‘Hey, would you like to work for Cirque du Soleil for the summer?’ and I was like, ‘Hey, yeah sure! Why not?’
“I completely fell in love with the people I was working with and the job that I was doing, even though it was just dishwashing. And they kept pressing me into doing more. Alright dishwashing, but I’m also doing some prep work. Oh, they want me to help out with menus, as well? I thought, ‘Alright cool, I really like this.’ This is fun. I get to travel while doing it, too? Awesome. I can see all of these new places I’ve never been before, and I just fell in love with the entire scene completely.”
McCrindle said he believes good things will come to those who work for it – just put that hard work in and find ways to enjoy the journey. It wasn’t always easy though. The path to where McCrindle stands now was an often difficult one, especially growing up in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
“I will admit it was not easy growing up for me. Everybody knew that I was a minority in my area and there weren’t a lot of minorities in my area. The few that moved in didn’t really last very long and would always move back toward areas like Allentown, or even to Bethlehem,” said McCrindle.
“For me, it was a lot of self-motivation and motivation from my family. If I didn’t have my family with me at the time, I probably wouldn’t have gone as far and learned as much as I did. Growing up, they made it a point for me to get out of my comfort zone and go off and do things. They sent me to summer camp for eight years of my life, for eight weeks each summer. There, I would be pushed into doing even more activities and going on even more adventures. As I got older, it got easier for me to find more self-motivation myself, to learn by myself.”
He said he did have the support system of his family, but his parents knew that he might not find that same support outside of the home, so he had to take on many responsibilities.
“I mean, I am not saying I was a good child, but I was always the person that got the biggest punishment out of everyone,” he recalled. “And it was hard because nobody would help me as much as they would help everyone else around me, which is what made it hard for me to reach out to other individuals as I got older, to try and get support.”
“The thing that I would suggest to most people growing up is to find your passion and don’t let anybody knock you down from it. If it’s important to you, it’ll always be important, and you should treat it as such. Always strive to learn and grow. Find a way to motivate yourself, even when it’s hard. It’ll be there. The universe provides.”