A four-course feast, signature cocktails part of the evening at Teatro ZinZanni
The production features an immersive show with cirque, cabaret, music, magic, comedy, aerialists, dinner and cocktails, all inside a lavish mirror tent.
The anticipation surrounding Teatro ZinZanni’s dinner-theater production of “Love, Chaos and Dinner” has been more storied than the average Chicago theater opening.
The Seattle-based troupe has been looking for a place to set up their century-old Spiegeltent Zazou mirror tent in our fair city for over a decade. And what a home they’ve found — in a long-hidden 14th floor Masonic auditorium discovered during the renovation of the Cambria Hotel Loop on West Randolph Street.
But this is no ordinary night at the theater. It’s an immersive show with cirque, cabaret, music, magic, comedy, aerialists and… a four-course dinner.
How do you create a delicious meal without taking eyes away from the main attraction?
Enter the “Goddess” of Teatro ZinZanni, Debbie Sharpe — the same woman behind the popular The Goddess and the Grocer shops and catering.
Sharpe knows a thing or two about feeding people within the confines of a spectacle as her background includes catering for artists such as the The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Fleetwood Mac, Kelly Clarkson and Rod Stewart, just to name a few.
The Australian native, former journalist-turned-rock-n-roll caterer has traveled the globe and worked on events for the NFL and as chef du jour of Lollapalooza.
“I was just excited to do something different. I’ve worked in music all my life. I thought theater sounded interesting,” said Sharpe of her foray into Teatro Zinzanni.
Executive producer Stan Feig approached Sharpe years ago about the concept that feeds about 330 people during a performance.
“We had to keep the food pretty simple because it has to be served really quickly,” said Sharpe. “Simple, easy, and not too many choices for people, but the very highest quality [food].”
Sharpe has a kitchen staff of 15, with prep starting at 10 a.m. each day. By 4 p.m. everything is ready except for the meats, which are finished before plating. Dinner commences at 7:30 p.m.
Nearly 45 service staff must ensure concurrent delivery of each course, and are often part of the performance — clanging cloches, juggling and dancing.
“The hardest thing is getting between the chairs,” said Sharpe, adding that the kitchen is a bit of a hike from the tent. “It is a long walk. Everybody has to run.”
The “easy to execute” menu includes a starter of edamame and pea hummus served with crudite and lavash bread. “We had to think of something we could plate early,” said Sharpe of the appetizer that easily keeps its vibrant hue.
The second course is a simple green salad of tomatoes, cucumber, watermelon radish and champagne vinaigrette that’s brought out with aplomb when the show’s emcee The Caesar (played by Frank Ferrante) calls for the course to be served.
There are five entree choices (fish, chicken, beef, pasta and vegetarian) for guests to choose from at dinner and brunch.
The braised beef short rib in red wine demi sauce with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and honey roasted carrots is available on both menus.
The vegetarian option — Thai curry made with coconut milk with tofu, vegetables and jasmine rice — is also vegan and available either at brunch or dinner.
Atlantic salmon is herb-roasted and served with faro and ratatouille, while oven-roasted chicken breast comes with blistered Campari tomatoes, scalloped potatoes and hericot verts. Pasta (bucatini with tomato ragout, fresh mozzarella and sweet Italian sausage for dinner or cavatelli with cream sauce and prosciutto for the matinee) rounds out the entree options. All menu items are gluten-free except for the pasta.
“We have two and half minutes to get dessert out. A vanilla cheesecake with salted caramel popcorn and berries… So it’s sort of an homage to [Garrett Popcorn shops]. It’s theater land and everybody loves popcorn,” said Sharpe.
Before the show, there’s cocktail hour outside of the tent in the lavish, multi-chandeliered lounge with a full bar. There are six signature cocktails.
“All drinks have a twist of ZinZanni,” said bartender Giovanni Ramirez. “Everything hails back to the circus tent, the atmosphere and what we do in there. We’re trying to do things that people recognize but with a ZinZanni touch.”
For example, the Duo Rose Manhattan made with Rittenhouse rye and Carpano Classico vermouth has an interesting twist with Fee Brothers chocolate bitters. The drink is named after local trapeze performers, husband-and-wife act Duo Rose — Samuel Sion and Sylvia Friedman.
A butterfly pea blossom liquor is made in-house for the signature Martini Time with CH Distillery gin, St. Germain, lemon, topped off with prosecco.
The Lady Rizo is a take on a margarita named after an unforgettable, sassy character you meet during dinner.
“The mixture of cilantro, mint, pineapple and jalapeño — that little bit of heat on the back of your palate with the tequila up front. … It’s not too hot, but very herbaceous and rich,” said Ramirez.
There’s time for one or two cocktails before dinner and it’s worth getting to the show early to take in the gorgeous scenery outside of the tent.
For tickets ($99-$189) and more information visit broadwayinchicago.com. Teatro ZinZanni’s “Love, Chaos Dinner” is currently playing through Sept. 29 on the 14th floor of the Cambria Hotel, 32 West Randolph.