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Jerry Garcia & Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Chef Jim Voss with his sweet potato corn bread pudding. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
November 16, 2011
In his youth, Duff's Restaurant head chef Jim Voss spent his vacations following the Grateful Dead as they toured the country. Imagine his surprise when, in 1986, he was called upon to fill in for the Dead's chef who had suddenly quit in the middle of a tour.

Jon McIntyre, a former Grateful Dead manager living in Belleville, Ill., was a frequent patron of Duff's.

"He liked my food and we would talk about the Dead," said Voss. "In the summer of 1986 when their cook quit, Jon called me and asked me if I'd like to finish the tour. The next day I was on a plane to Akron, Ohio, and I cooked for the Dead, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I was star struck, but I was also up to the task and challenge of being professional and getting the job done."

He did the job so well that in January of 1987, they called back and asked him to be their regular traveling chef.

"I never looked back and I cooked for them for 10 years," Voss said. "After Jerry (Garcia) died there was a quiet period, then Phil Lesh called me to cook for him, then the Reunion of the Dead called. Now the new band, 'Further,' has called me a few times."

Voss credits Duff's owners Karen Duffy and Tim Kirby for supporting him while he toured with the famous band.

Far from being rock prima donnas, the Dead did not make absurd demands, Voss said, although they did have their favorite foods.

"One tour, Jerry had to have pineapple upside down cake every day," Voss said. "Every city we'd go to, I'd call bakers and make sure we had the cake lined up.

"Then there was the 'Sticky Bun Tour,'" he said. "There was a sticky bun lady in Boston who by far had the best sticky buns anywhere and we had those every day."

Voss said the band did not want anything fancy, but liked "comfort food" like meat loaf, prime rib or beef stroganoff.

Cooking for at least 100 people who travel from town to town took a lot of planning, but Voss was up to the task. Days before the band would arrive at a concert location, Voss would make a list of produce, bakery, meat and dairy suppliers in the area. He would call to see who could best provide the product and service.

Not all vendors were anxious to work with him.

"I had a baker in one town who just didn't want to accommodate me, even though I paid in cash," Voss said. "He had one excuse after another and then said he couldn't deliver. I asked him if he had kids working for him and he said he did. I told him I would pay him and give the kids free tickets to the concert if they would deliver. He set the phone down and I heard him asking, then a bunch of whooping and hollering. Problem solved."

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