Concurrently in 2014, the Outstanding in the Field program launched at Coachella -- another unlikely success, given both the price (tickets for the dinners are a $225 add-on or are sold as packages including tickets) and the location: though the stages have moved around since then, as the dinners launched they were just meters from the Sahara tent -- the loud, rave-like structure that is one of Coachella’s most party-heavy spots.
“They’ve learned a lot over the years,” laughs Sotto and Rossoblu chef Steve Samson, who cooked at the first Outstanding in the Field and has returned since. “The first year they had no control over, like, [chefs] getting into the venue.” His first dinner was met with a sandstorm; Samson just plowed through. “Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.”
So is the Coachella team: in the years since, they’ve launched everything from craft beer gardens, to secret menus, to the aforementioned Indio Central Market to a much-hyped (but hidden) tiny tiki bar. This year, they’ll be introducing Postmates to the field: the delivery app has 10 partner vendors prepping off-site, with festival-goers able to order from their phones and pick up food on the fly. “This year, again, is changing the way that people experience food at Coachella,” says Adler.
Thankfully these days, things run much more smoothly than those early years, and Adler and his team spend a ton of time correcting on the fly. “We’re dealing with so many people, so [decision making] gets sped up,” he says. “We have the data of two weekends of 250,000 people. What do they really like? There’s some really good feedback we can take from that.”
One major piece of that feedback the Coachella team has received is that people still love tradition and nostalgia when it comes to food. Although the newer and more high-profile vendors get an enormous amount of attention, the fact of the matter is that most of the food on the field comes from those old-school festival standbys. “25%-35% of the vendors are curated and well-known names, but the majority is the food that people want,” Adler says. “People will wait all year to eat crab fries at 10pm. The same goes for Spicy Pie. The same goes for the lemonade guy.”
The same goes for Roy Choi, too: this year, he’ll be back on the field with “Kogitown World,” serving up his classic dishes from a stall. “Back then, we came through the back door,” he says. “Now, we are smashing through the front door.”
And Spicy Pie? They’re still thriving on the field. “Coachella is something we look forward to every year,” says owner Michael Girard, whose event-only pizza company serves fans at dozens of music festivals every year. “It’s one of the greatest shows anywhere. It’s extremely important that we perform and are part of -- and blessed -- to be a part of the show.”
It’s something that Adler doesn’t lose sight of as well. “For food to be put on par and the production level to be at the size of the biggest music tents -- it was a gamble.” He pauses. “It was a gamble -- but it was something that really worked.”