Chef's Choice: John Vance of Smoke Shack 99 

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - LOVE SHACK John Vance and his food truck, Smoke Shack 99, will be serving at the Pemberton Music Festival this weekend.
  • Photo submitted
  • LOVE SHACK John Vance and his food truck, Smoke Shack 99, will be serving at the Pemberton Music Festival this weekend.

John Vance has spent the last few weeks battling the smoke.

No, he's not one of the many tireless firefighters working to contain the dozens of wildfires currently burning across the province, but that doesn't mean he's unfamiliar with the sting of smoke in his eye.

You see, smoke, to use a food-inspired idiom, is Vance's bread and butter.

"It's been about one solid month with the smoker constantly running, trying to prep up," said Vance, owner of Whistler food truck Smoke Shack 99, as he gets set to serve at the Pemberton Music Festival this weekend.

So what exactly goes into feeding thousands of sweaty partiers in various states of intoxication out of the back of your truck? Well, about 4,500 pounds of pulled pork, hundreds of pounds of Spud Valley potatoes, and, as we've already established, plenty of smoke.

"It's been head down, constant prep, vacuum packing and getting everything frozen and ready to rock," said Vance. "I'm excited and nervous and punched right up."

On the menu for the festival are several hearty items that are sure to hit the spot after a long day of sweating it out to your favourite tunes under the hot mid-summer sun. Of course, there was no way Vance was going to leave his legendary pulled pork off the menu, which you can enjoy slathered on a Belgian waffle or stuffed into a Lousiana classic, the po' boy sandwich.

The key to Vance's recipe is time. Lots of it. First, the tender slab of pork is marinated for 24 hours in Vance's own special rub with a Dijon mustard base. Then it heads to the smoker for another 14 hours to soak in the flavour from the alder and cherry wood chips before being simmered down in a homemade Texas-style barbecue sauce.

The perfect compliment to any grill, Vance will also be dishing out his famous smoked potato salad and sweet apple coleslaw.

The menu will include some lighter fare, too, like a smoked chicken or tofu salad, and a smoked chicken wrap.

For a sweet treat, Vance will be making his own homemade buttermilk mini-donuts finished with a shake of cinnamon sugar.

"Every element of the plate has a lot of work and a lot of heart goes into it," said Vance.

The festival, which is expected to draw more than 25,000 attendees a day, is something of a coming-out party for Vance and his Smoke Shack 99. It not only marks the first event of this scale he's cooked for, but it will also be Vance's first time ever attending a music festival.

Nonetheless, the prospect of spending long, gruelling days in the mobile equivalent of a hotbox doesn't really bother the seasoned chef one bit.

"Sweating for an 18-hour day is nothing, man," Vance says with a laugh. "I've been doing this for 18 years."

Spoken like the true veteran that he is, Vance has built on his years of experience in Whistler and Squamish kitchens, along with the half a decade he spent as a chef at the beloved locals' spot, Alpine Café, which continues to serve as the commercial base of operations for his food truck.

Launched in December, you might have seen Smoke Shack 99 parked at the Whistler RV Park this past winter or at a variety of events around the community.

Technically speaking, Whistler's bylaws don't allow food trucks, but Vance has been working with the municipality to offer catering services at different events around town.

"The rule on that is that you can't just show up somewhere and open up your doors," explained Vance, who agrees that there should be restrictions on mobile food operators in town.

"It's something I'd like to see limited in a way, such as in Squamish, where they've allowed three food trucks and they're all locals," he said. "I feel like Whistler should do the same thing where they have a cap and they have control over areas where the food trucks are allowed to go."

The question that begs asking is, why, after so many years in the local restaurant industry, did Vance decide to forego his chef whites for the cramped environs of a food truck? His answer should sound familiar if you've ever heard one of the droves of young chefs and restaurateurs who've turned to the booming food truck scene to rediscover their passion for cooking.

"I've always been quite connected to the people I'm serving and it's a great feeling. I thought what better way to do that than through your front window?" he said. "Every single person who comes up to order anything, from homemade donuts to pulled pork sliders and smoked potato salad, I get to hand it to each and every one of them and interact with them. That's what I love so that's what I'm doing."

Bacon Carbonara

Ingredients

Half onion, chopped

2 cloves of fresh garlic

1/8 cup of green onion

Half tomato, diced

Half red pepper

4-6 bacon, chopped

1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 litre of double cream

1/3 cup of white wine

1 egg

2 cups of preferred noodles

Seasoning to taste

Preparation

Cook bacon until crispy. Take out of pan and set aside. Keep the grease in the pan and add onions and garlic. When they are almost cooked through, add tomato, green onion, red pepper and wine. Simmer for one minute. Add cup of double cream and simmer until it thickens to a sauce. Add seasoning, cooked noodles and cracked egg. Cook through for one minute. Top with grated Parmesan and you have a delicious carbonara.

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