Heavy Montréal Chefs - “Who The Fuck Made This Vinaigrette?!”
October 3, 2019, 10 days ago
No, there wasn’t a dust-up back stage at Heavy Montréal in 2013. It’s just some of the language you may hear at one of the most renown Artist World food areas during summer music festival season. Yes, the food is that good. It is mouth-wateringly exquisite. And so enticing, that some bands may actually name the cuisine as one of the reasons they are performing at Canada’s largest heavy metal gathering. As for the above title? It's a funny story you will read below, when the former Pantera singer was bloodied and hungry after Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals’s punished the crowd and he beat up himself with his own microphone! Prior to sampling some of this year’s mouth-watering creations (check out a gallery of photos above), BraveWords had a picnic table chin-wag with the two real rock stars of the fest that feed the fest; Danny Smiles and Chuck Hughes.
BraveWords: So, tell me how your day begins prepping for these rock stars and their entourage?
Hughes: “Normally we get here at 6, breakfast starts at 7 - feeding crew, bus drivers, some bands, but rarely at that hour.”
BraveWords: Well, it is rock n’ roll…
Hughes: “Exactly. Everybody who’s around and the support crew, and they’re always here pretty early, and then we just roll on until 8 o’clock at night. Within that time frame we’ll have different dinners, events, birthdays, celebrations, interviews. Really, we never know. There’s always something that pops up and that’s kind of the cool part of this whole thing. Building a whole crazy outdoor kitchen, because there’s nothing here - and that’s why we’re dealing with gas, and all kinds of things, but that’s the fun part of it.”
BraveWords: Aside from the bands, how many people in a day would you say you cater to? About a thousand?
Hughes: “Yeah, something like that. A lot of festivals you kind of come in and have a chance to go through and then you’re out, but we’re here all day, so bands get here in the morning and they leave after their set, so most of them are here all day and eating three meals plus snacks and drinks. It’s hard to figure out, but it ends up being a lot of people, you know, just because they come back many times. That’s kind of the fun part for us.”
BraveWords: So we were just talking about how the day starts and how many people you guys are taking care of in a day - and you guys are world-renowned as one of the greatest places to have food for artists. Your name is world famous in terms of catering for festivals, for concerts.
Smiles: “I think the main reason is that we have restaurants, we don’t take the catering approach to it. We’re so involved, we try to build a restaurant. Even the first year that I joined Chuck I was like wow, he understood it was engaging.”
Hughes: “A catering company would approach everything differently. We’re hired to give everybody a different experience without having to deal with costs and other details. We have a budget, but we can kind of do whatever we want within that budget which is really fun. Most times the mentality is that we just need to feed people. Here, the goal is to feed people, but we’re also allowed and expected to be part of the experience, so that’s different from a lot of places.”
BraveWords: I can imagine you guys were given this budget and then your brilliant minds have to buy, store, create, and plan for a thousand people a day. That’s insane.
Chuck: “That’s the fun, crazy part.”
BraveWords: So, what are this year’s inspirations?
Smiles: “Chuck’s gonna talk to you about his new addition to this year, I think it’s the most popular one right now, the busiest one - it’s the all-day breakfast. I think over the years we found that breakfast would finish at 11 but people would rush in and ask what do you mean there’s no more breakfast? So this year he was like, ‘we’re doing it, 100%’”
BraveWords: Many chains are having success with all day breakfasts like McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s.
Hughes: “Basically every band wakes up at like 11 or noon and then they roll up and ask ‘where’s breakfast?’ Like, dude, you just sat down, and you have access to everything else - pizza, deli, an oyster bar, you name it. But they want pancakes. So this year we said we’ll do all-day breakfast. Basically, until 4 o’clock we have pancakes, French toast, breakfast burgers, along with everything else.”
BraveWords: What are some of your more off-the-wall creations this year?
Hughes: “We have the Elvis (photo above), which is a fried in butter and has Nutella, peanut butter, banana, on a potato roll. It’s our most popular. We have certain things, but if anybody says they want something particular, we make it. Like avocado toast - we can do that.”
BraveWords: Have you turned anything away because you didn’t have it in stock?
Hughes: “Not yet. Even vegan burgers...it’s hard to stump us. When we started it was a little bit smaller. We always had to make sure the rider was taken care of - and that’s still part of our job, and Danny takes care of that, but honestly over the years we have some of everything so the riders are not as stressful as it used to be. A few years ago vegan wasn’t really a big thing, but now our vegan deli is probably another one of our most popular things. We have salad and stuff like that - people are used to that - but we have vegan dogs and vegan chicken wings, sloppy joes, burgers, all that dirty stuff that you normally associate with meat. So it’s all those little things that people really appreciate. I mean they’re used to eating kale and friggin’ walnuts, but now if you want a really nasty burger, you can have that too.”
BraveWords: What’s the weirdest diva - I-need-the-brown-m&m’s-taken-out-of-the bowl - moment you’ve had?
Smiles: “Actually not in punk or heavy metal - we’ve found that people are pretty chill.”
Hughes: “We had a Marilyn Manson incident - but it wasn’t so bad. He came by twice. The first time what he absolutely wanted on the rider was an Old El Paso taco kit. So, we asked him to come and have a look around when he got here to see what we have and once he did he was fine with it. Then the next time he came, the demands started, and they were all amazing because that’s what we love. It’s happened that we cook for bands - they will just sit here and say what they want, and we’ll do it. If we have time, the whole point is that.”
Smiles: “We’re always like, “here, we’re ready for it! Phil Anselmo, 4-5 years ago when he came down.”
Chuck: When he smashed the microphone on his head, that time?”
Smiles: “Yeah, that time. He came into the catering area and started yelling, ‘who made the fuckin’ vinaigrette?’ And one of my staff said “that was me” and he just grabbed me and said ‘that was the fuckin’ best vinaigrette I’ve ever tasted!’”
Hughes: “While bleeding from his forehead.”
Smiles: “We were all like, ‘did that just happen? Was that a real thing?’”
Hughes: “Yesterday, The Exploited - walks back and opened the barbecue and started saying ‘Ahhh” Look at these ribs! This is for all you vegans! This is for all you vegans!!!’”
BraveWords: So you guys go to both extremes, because you’ve got all these various dietary restrictions, and then there’s the traditional people that just want this triple big-ass burger (photo above with smoked meat poutine) with a pound of bacon.
Hughes: “Right now we have turkey legs - which is basically a drumstick this big (motions big with his hands). Most people will cut it and eat small pieces, some maniacs want the whole thing and they’ll eat it like an actual drumstick. But we can do that!”
BraveWords: What’s your favourite food here?
Hughes: “That’s a good question. You know, we’ve gotta keep lean and mean. My routine starts with coffee and a big jug of water. And then I’m allowed a certain amount of variety - because it is a festival - so I’ll have a chocolatine or some Nutella-based thing, just to give me a kick. And then honestly - fruits, veggies, nuts, water, all day long. Then when I get home I treat myself with a burger, or slices of pizza. During the fest we stay away from the heavy stuff because we have to work non-stop, and it’s hot, so lots of water is key. But I have a burger every day, that’s my standard, I have to have one. And I know what they taste like, so it’s not like it’s quality control, that’s just my festival thing. We have it all and I always come back to it.”
Smiles: “For me, it’s the Elvis.”
Hughes: “Buttery Nutella, peanut butter, banana - it’s a bit dirty - and all the bands love it. And we know it feels like you’re doing something wrong - like you’re making a bad decision - but it’s encouraged. But also, most bands are here for work. They’re travelling the world, and it’s their job. A lot of people are here who aren’t in a band, but they got a ticket to be back here, and they’re loving life and having a great summer. But a lot of these guys are here for work. They have that one day to come here, and then hopefully in five years when they have the option to come back and play Montréal, we hope they’ll be like “remember that festival? This food was so good! Let’s go back to Montréal.”
BraveWords: If there anything that you guys won’t eat, personally?
Hughes: “Not really. I’m not a big fan of fennel, if that’s what you want to know, but I’ll eat it. I think there was a phase in the ’90’s and 2000’s where in kitchens it was like the thing to do - fennel was everywhere - and maybe I prepped too much of it, or I ate too much of it. But there’s nothing we won’t eat, really.”
BraveWords: When a band or someone comes here and they want something Quebecois, are there any of these kinds of creations here?
Smiles: “A lot. We use a lot of local vegetables, all of our pork is from here, and its the first year we’ve done brisket and we have some PEI beef and Quebec beef. We have bagels and poutine too with smoked meat, and all that stuff. We try to keep it local as much as we can.”
Hughes: “We’re doing maple butter at the breakfast station, which is truly Canadian. We have a girl who works here - she makes her own maple syrup. And from a community called Kittiganzeebe near Ottawa we have maple sugar. We’ll have the traditional Montréal bagels - we don’t have them today - but you know we’re here for a month so we can’t pull out all the stops right off the bat, but we give people a little bit of the Montréal classics. Everyone that’s here is in a restaurant the rest of the year. So Addams Pizza for example, it’s one of the best pizza places in town - so just by being here they’re giving you a taste of Montréal. Most importantly, we just want people to have a good time. Enjoy, have a good time, and also remember Montréal.”
BraveWords: What’s your current resumes right now? What restaurants are you running right now?
Hughes: “Same thing - Danny’s at Le Bremner and I’m at Garde Manger. I’m doing a new show that’s coming up in 2020 - it’s travelling all over Canada and learning traditional First Nations way of cooking, hunting, and fishing, and using the whole animal. The cooking world likes to say it uses the whole animal, but they don’t really, so this is about learning to use the whole animal for real - the fur, the bladder, parts for medicine. Learning about that, and also about culture and food. Danny’s a new dad, I got 2 kids, there’s a lot of side stuff too, a lot of travelling. There’s my hockey career - [beer?] league circles, I get around.”
(Note: Chuck Hughes’ Chuck's Day Off currently airs on the Food Network in Canada and on Cooking Channel in the United States. He has also hosted a travel and cooking show called Chuck's Week Off: Mexico, and Chuck's Eat The Street)
BraveWords: What’s your favourite music and does a certain genre or vibe inspire your cooking?
Smiles: “Oh definitely. You’ll always know by the music - I’ll come in earlier sometimes, but I always know when Chuck gets here - we have the laptop in the back - and he’ll play his song. It’s a big part of our catering. But favourite music? I really listen to it all.”
Hughes: “I’m a real melting pot, but I would say I favour either old hip hop or reggae - and then throw in rock n’ roll and a little bit of stoner rock. A real mix.”
Smiles: “Kyuss, Queen…”
Hughes: “And a little nostalgic ’70’s stuff just because. I do listen to new music but if you looked at my play list you’d probably say I’m pretty boring. Life is so crazy, and music is everywhere and you can access it from so many places - so when I have the time to listen, I really just want to focus on what I like. Then you do gigs like this and you hear new music and listen to new bands and you add them to your list. That’s the cool part about doing festivals. A lot of times we’ll meet a band personally, but not necessarily have heard their music, and we’ll be like, ‘man those guys are fucking cool’ so we’ll look them up after.”