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All You Can Eat

Trend-setting restaurants, Northwest cookbooks, local food news and the people who make them happen.

September 4, 2009 at 10:28 AM

Bumbershoot: Seattle couple caters to artists, workers, fans

Zach and Jesse Parry have a lot to celebrate. In early August they married and hosted three wedding parties for friends and family. This week Zach turned 33, and on Labor Day they’ll celebrate Jesse’s 34th birthday with a big bash at Seattle Center: Bumbershoot.

The Queen Anne couple is the behind-the-scenes catering team for the Seattle music and arts festival, and for the next three days they’ll feed 400 Bumbershoot staffers, 700 VIPs, 350 Gold and Platinum ticket-holders plus 200 artists in residence, including big-name acts like Sheryl Crow, Katy Perry, Jason Mraz — and their entourages.

Oh, and they also expect to sell 3,000 plates of steaming Russian dumplings at their Bumbershoot booth Pel’Meni. It’s an offshoot of the same-name shops in Bellingham and Juneau, Alaska, and a fledgling business they hope to turn into a neighborhood cafe. Now, if they only could find the time and the real estate.

How do they do it all?

Zach Parry and his wife, Jesse Barrabee Parry on the job at Bumbershoot

Seattle Times photo/Dean Rutz

We’re obsessively organized,” said Jesse, who met her husband when she was a sous-chef and he was a steward aboard an Alaskan cruise ship. “We’re both Virgos, and I think that’s why we work so well together.” Much of the year they’re employed by Tom Douglas, catering events at the Paramount and Moore theaters. But this week it’s all about Bumbershoot.

This is their second year working as catering managers and their third working the festival: a job that has them running on all cylinders after months of meetings, penny-pinching and purveying. “We’re a nonprofit on a really tight budget,” Jesse said of festival producer One Reel, her Bumber-bosses.

That budget is supplemented by major sponsors like Coke and Starbucks and in-kind donations from small local businesses like the Greek Gods (700 yogurt cups), Turtle Island Foods (Tofurky Jerky), Sound Bites Sauce & Spread Co. (50 pounds of hummus) and Mighty-O and Top Pot (whose doughnut donations provide a sweetener for staffers who show up for work at 5 a.m.).

Sound exhausting? It is. “But it’s a blast,” says Zach. “I personally enjoy the rush, the production environment, keeping on your toes and making a lot of decisions in the moment. I like that challenge.”

She’s the expediter and organizer. He’s the operations guy, and together, he said, “We basically build a Safeway, if you will, for a week, a warehouse full of supplies and goods”: everything you’d need to feed a cast of thousands.

Mornings are busiest. That’s when they provide coffee for 17 different venues including 11 stages, the press room, the accounting room and the volunteer area. “Coffee is our No. 1 priority,” says Jesse; 15 pots are brewing at all times. “The pots work until they don’t,” Zach says. “It’s quite the experience.”

Next comes a flow of light refreshments: deli trays piled with meats and cheese, chips and salsa, pastries and cookies. Everybody loves the build-your-own-nacho bar at lunch and platters of fresh fruits and vegetables for noshing.

Under the couple’s employ is a quintet of paid “runners” and a kitchen helper, plus 40 volunteers. Most are high-school students using Bumbershoot to gain community- service credits, but there are also “super volunteers”: card-carrying food handlers with health-department permits.

You won’t find the Bumbershoot catering crew shadowing Sheryl Crow or Sly Stone, though. “Sometimes I’ll deliver food so I can catch a little bit of a show,” said Jesse, who might find an excuse to feed Michael Franti & Spearhead. “I did get to watch Fergie last year,” she admits. “And yes, it was Fergalicious.” The hip-hop hottie returns on Labor Day with her Black Eyed Peas.

Black-eyed peas are not on this weekend’s menu, though there will be many healthful eats on hand, including salads made with produce donated by Nash’s Organic, Tiny’s Organic and Full Circle Farm. Requests don’t specify M&M colors, but they might include a call for coconut water, particular brands of crackers or chips and the vitamin-booster beverage Emergen-C, said Jesse. “Some artists want specialty items, and I can understand that. They’re on the road a lot, and that makes them feel at home.”

Seattle-based VIPs and Gold and Platinum ticket-holders will be comforted by burgers from Dick’s Drive-In, slices of Mad Pizza or bahn mi sandwiches from Spring Roll House Deli. And volunteers can stop by Bumbershoot food booths to tender a token good for an elephant ear, a Ziegler’s sausage — or some of the newlyweds’ Bumberlicious pel’meni.

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