Mario’s starts serving TV show cast and crew at dawn

Chef Mario Aguirre

On days when NBC’s hit show Chicago Fire is scheduled to shoot at Cinespace Studios, chef Mario Aguirre and his assistants from Mario’s Catering arrive at 2:30 in the morning to begin the task of feeding the entire cast and crew. They will have breakfast ready before the sun rises and continue serving dinner until after it sets, satisfying hundreds of appetites along the way. 

“I meet a lot of good people,” says Aguirre, who learned to cook “little by little” while working in restaurants throughout Los Angeles after emigrating to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico. “A lot of stars, a lot of crew, a lot of good people.”

The process begins with unloading the equipment from three large trucks parked along W. 16th St. In a matter of hours, Aguirre and his assistants will transform the sidewalk between the vehicles and the studio into a craft services area for the breakfast patrons who come by around 5:30 a.m.

A table loaded with condiments and coffee folds out from a stainless steel kitchen truck that contains two large combination ovens, a grill and six burners. It stands across from an omelet station with a propane fueled outdoor grill and a bounty of ingredients.

Besides omelets, people may also choose “the whole breakfast,” says Aguirre. “You know, hash browns, bacon, sausage.”

The Mario's Catering crewAguirre joined Mario’s Catering in LA nearly twenty years ago, where he fed the likes of Clint Eastwood — “a nice, big star” who preferred “salmon in the morning” — before accepting the company’s offer to be jefe in Chicago. Although he pretty much works outdoors all year round, he has been happy with his decision ever since. “This is a great city,” he says.

By lunchtime, there are two grills, a charcoal barbecue and a row of stainless steel serving tables housed within canvas catering tents. The area becomes one of the busiest spots in the neighborhood, a joyful MASH unit where meals are prepped, cooked and served with rapid finesse.

“Today we are serving 205 people,” says Mario. “New York strip steak, grilled chicken and grilled swordfish with a choice for tacos.” Pasta marinara, roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus complement the entrees.

And how does it taste? According to a security guard who stops by to chat with the crew, “This is the best restaurant in Chicago.”

Indeed. The only thing that compares to the incomparable food is the enthusiastic service. Mario and his crew often stick around for as many takes as Chicago Fire needs, working with so much friendly gusto that it’s nearly impossible to turn down their suggestions of “¿Chicken, amigo?”