Every job on a NASCAR Sprint Cup team is important, and one of the most critical during a race weekend belongs to Cliff Cameron, the team cook at Red Bull Racing.
Cameron is charged with preparing high-nutrition meals for the young athletes who go over the wall to perform 13-second pit stops for the Toyota Camrys of Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger. He also has to come up with meals the older guys on the team enjoy as well. It's a challenge he relishes -- no pun intended.
Born Charles Clifford Cameron II, the 33-year-old Red Bull cook has spent his entire career in the food business. After graduating with a degree in hospitality management from Appalachian State University and getting an associate arts degree from Brevard College, he began his career as a catering director.
"I ended up going through so many chefs in the first two years that I finally said, 'Hire me another catering director and I'll do the cooking,'" Cameron said.
Most recently, Cameron spent four years as executive chef at Queen's Landing, a restaurant in Mooresville, N.C., in the heart of NASCAR country that is popular with race crews. It was there that he was contacted by Red Bull officials looking for a recommendation for a new cook. Instead of recommending someone else, Cameron decided he was the right man for the job.
"I got in touch with (Red Bull Vice President and General Manager) Jay Frye, found out the details, came and checked out the situation, and found it to my liking."
Because he is a stickler for fresh ingredients and therefore does all his shopping the same day he serves food, Cameron prepares his menus on the fly. He can't always count on finding the same ingredients in say, Bristol, Tenn., as he will next week in Ontario, Calif.
"Menu planning actually goes on in the stores. You get to these race towns where it's just chaos, and they can be completely out of certain items -- a protein, chicken breasts -- so menu planning happens very spontaneously."
Each race day, Cameron prepares three meals a day for the team, prepared in a portable trailer with a built-in kitchen.
"It all starts with the shopping," Cameron says. "We do all the shopping on the road day to day. Sometimes, I shop at 2 or 3 a.m. at 24-hour grocery stores or Wal-Marts. I can get everything I need for the day and not have to go in and out of the track, fighting traffic."
On race days, nutrition is of paramount importance, especially for the over-the-wall crew and the drivers.
"Sundays gear more towards the nutritious sides of meals -- lots of fresh vegetables, produce, pasta, starches -- things like that," Cameron says. "Friday and Saturday, where it's mainly the garage guys in the group, they're good old boys, not so much athletes. I try to keep at least a healthy option (for them), in addition to the buffets."
Typically, Cameron cooks for about 60 people on Fridays and Saturdays, and 80 to 90 on Sundays, when the pit crew is in attendance along with the garage guys.
For Cameron, who is in first year with the team, the best thing about the job is something that lots of long-time veterans detest: travel.
"I'm getting to do a lot of stuff that I hadn't gotten to do," he says.
And he says the guys on the Red Bull team make it all worthwhile.
"They're pretty forgiving and I think they understand that I can't please everybody," Cameron says. "But seeing both cars qualifying decently and showing well in the race, once the weekend is over, it's very satisfying."
(Article courtesy Toyota Pit Pass; Photo courtesy David Vaughn)