Every self-respecting business needs a catchy jingle.
Whistler local Michele Bush and her mobile food van drew inspiration from none other than Queen Bey herself for a little ditty. Just replace the words "Single Ladies" from Beyonce's chart-topping smash hit with "Spring Roll Lady" and you get the gist.
"You gotta have songs," Bush said.
Bush, a.k.a. Bushwoman, a.k.a. Madam Bush, took her theme song, a rickety van and her mouth-watering spring roll recipe to the remote confines of Savary Island this summer, fulfilling a long-held aspiration for the DIY chef.
"I've wanted to something like this for a long time," she said. "Until this summer, it wasn't in the cards. You just can't set up in Whistler and do that sort of thing, although I'd love to."
Bush, who owns a place on the island, recognized a gap in the market for the underserved population of Savary, which counts about 100 permanent residents and 2,000 seasonal residents in the summer. She even went to the painstaking trouble of sending the 1986 Dodge Caravan she got for free off Craigslist over to the island via barge, and set up shop at the local farmers' market.
"There's really no food service on Savary, there's one restaurant, so I thought it would be a good, mobile thing to do," said Bush.
Originally Bush wanted to offer a cuisine that's become ubiquitous in the food truck world, but it wasn't in the cards.
"First I was doing Mexican but I realized that it had too many components to it: Guacamole, deep-fried chips, beans, and so on. There's just too much prep, where spring rolls are actually easier and the ingredients don't go bad as quickly as Mexican stuff," she explained.
Savary's hot, muggy weather also put a dent in Bush's plans to streamline her food service by rolling the deep-fried Chinese pastry in advance.
"I tried pre-rolling them but I had an absolute disaster right in the middle of a huge rush and they all started blowing up," she laughed. "I couldn't pre-roll them because it's too moist there and the wrappers start disintegrating. So then you've got this pot full of sizzling cabbage and crap and you have to start all over again."
Fortunately, Bush had a helper on-hand to serve the 60 or so orders she was pumping out of the kitchen every hour. Her rolls apparently became such a hit with islanders that customers started clamouring for a glimpse of Bush from behind the khaki confines of her van, which only served to heighten the Spring Roll Lady's mystique. "They only got to see my calves," she noted. "It really was too busy for me to do anything but make (spring rolls)."
The spring roll has something of a special place in global food history. Believed to have first appeared in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, the popular pastry has since been adopted and customized to the specific tastes of various cultures the world over. The variations are seemingly endless, and even within China the spring roll has several different regional iterations, both deep fried and fresh. Here in North America, the cylindrical snack is a staple of dingy Chinese takeout spots, but they are tragically hard to come by in Whistler.
"I've been perfecting my spring roll recipe because I would crawl over hot glass for a good spring roll, and you can't find them here, so that's just how it goes. A girl has to learn how to make 'em herself," Bush said. "And apparently they're the best damn spring rolls most people have ever tasted."
While she was reluctant to give away all her secrets, Bush did reveal some of the fresh ingredients she packs into every made-to-order roll.
"I've tweaked it over the years. I do veggie ones with shitake and bean sprouts. I do one with sesame oil, green onions, grated carrots, grated zucchini, ground pork, prawns. Then I was experimenting with a lot of stuff," she said.
So I know what you're all wondering: When do the good folks of Whistler get to taste these mystical spring rolls?
"It'd be cool to find a kitchen that's not used in Function at night," Bush said. "I think people would love it. There's nothing down here in Function after 3 p.m. for food."
Bush is also available for hire as a personal chef. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
"I consider it an essential service for a Chinese food-starved community," she added.
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