Len Terranova’s career as a professional chef and caterer is a study in contrasts.
As an 18-year-old up-and-comer at the premier Flagstaff House in Boulder, Colo., he learned classic French techniques from a top chef and worked with a dozen colleagues to serve 350 customers a night the most precious fresh foods, including handcrafted puff pastries.
He sold veggie stir fry at concerts and traveling festivals, including Grateful Dead tours. But instead of preparing food in a world-class kitchen, Len often prepped in motel rooms and parking lots.
He catered meals for professors while earning his undergraduate degree. He became a specialist in vegetarian cuisine while working at a Philadelphia café and parlayed that experience into a two-week stint at Veterans Stadium, where Len managed backstage hospitality during rehearsals for two of entertainment’s biggest acts: Billy Joel and Elton John, who were preparing for their Face 2 Face tour.
That led to an invitation to Woodstock ’94, where Len spent eight weeks building an artists’ colony and a massive kitchen to feed thousands of musicians amid mud and mayhem. Concertgoers cut through fences to steal food from the kitchen, prompting Len and others to keep a 24-hour watch.
Len has fed dozens of artists since then, including Lyle Lovett and Harry Connick Jr. He has shaken hands with and fed several presidents. He catered the grand opening of the Fox School’s Alter Hall. He served Metallica a meal on full china after a midnight show.
As general manager for Frog Commissary, which catered performers at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, Len once gave a band (which he declined to name) half a dozen frozen hot dogs so they could fish in the Schuylkill River.
And he toured with the Beastie Boys, accompanied by Buddhist monks, on their Ill Communication tour.
Once, when the Beastie Boys were playing Lollapalooza in Philadelphia, Len ran out of backstage food. So he sped down Broad Street in a golf cart, in the rain, to grab cheesesteaks. But the cart died at the restaurant, so Len convinced a kid to loan him his bicycle so he could pedal a mile and a half back to the venue – 65 cheesesteaks in tow.
He’s endured tedious preparation, demands for precision under pressure and extreme challenges. He’s never run out of problems. But those experiences lead to spontaneous troubleshooting and a level of camaraderie that isn’t seen in all business settings. It’s a world of contrasts.
After 12- to 15-hour days of navigating aggressive personalities, missing his own meals and serving elegant dishes to hundreds of people, Len would often end up by himself at Wawa. There, he’d grab a cheap hoagie and head home.
– Brandon Lausch
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