In simplistic terms, I guess one would/could say USA Out of Vietnam is a space rock band. Actually, the Montreal outfit is a genre-defying entity that incorporates elements of everything from psychedelia, shoegaze and black metal to doom, noise rock and Angelo Badalamenti-sounding soundtrack stuff. The band has a new record out on New Damage called Crashing Diseases and Incurable Airplanes which is fully representative of their sub-genre use, abuse and broadstroking. In the run up to the release of said debut full-length a couple of months ago, we were informed by their handlers that the band's keyboardist/singer, Blankie had a day job that involved going cooking vegan meals for families in the homes of upper crust Montrealers. The reality is that while this has been a part of their repertoire, a bigger piece of their employment puzzle comes from the vegan supper club (Vegan Secret Supper) run out of locations in Montreal and New York. Still sounds like a pretty sweet gig to our ears, so in-between preparations of "romanesco soup, bruleed figs with bergamont, mango tamarind-battered cauliflower, white chocolate puff pastry, house-made root beer, date toffee chocolates and marbled cashew mousse" [all dishes from a recent Montreal menu] we poked around to ask what's what. Let’s start with some of your background. How long have you been a chef? Did you always specialise in vegan food? Any formal training? I've been cooking for about seven years. Vegan has always been what I cook, as I learned to cook as a vegan basically. I have no formal training. I worked a restaurant one time in Vancouver as an on call fill in for a bit but have always been on my own.
I’ve been told you actually go into rich people’s homes and cook for them at their places. How did you fall into this line of work? I actually cook at my home and people come to me. It's [called Vegan Secret Supper and it's] like a supper club or an underground restaurant, if you will. Every once and a while, I cook at fancy people's houses, but I truly would rather not and it's quite awkward. Since I have lived and done VSS in a few cities, I travel a lot to do it. I was living in New York and some of those clients let me take over their house and do supper clubs back in New York when I [would] go down about once a month from Montreal.
When working for one family, would you work for them full-time or do you go from home/family to home/family? Do you cook all their meals or only if they’re having a dinner party or something? Maybe not so applicable. Never been a private chef...though I was supposed to be Ben Stiller’s private chef this past spring in Vancouver, but I turned it down when I realized it wouldn't just be me and Ben high-fiving in Whole Foods picking out granola together.
What’s an easier work setting: someone’s private home or a restaurant? Since I do most of the suppers at my home, that's definitely the best. It's comfortable for me, and you as a diner get the whole experience of being in my zone. I don't like going to other homes because it's like catering and I have to get everything ready and be scared I'm gonna burn the people's fancy pots or break something. As for a restaurant, it's a very different thing for sure; I haven't done it much, but I'd say my house. Who doesn't wanna just cook at home in your underwear? Ok, I totally don't do that but the "feeling" is there.
Because you’re working right there and they know and see you, do you find the people you cook for to be not as overtly picky about some part of the meal that’s not to their liking as opposed to restaurant patrons who, because you’re in a more faceless position, will send food back and complain openly? I think because it's more of an experience to come into a house set up as a restaurant and because it's vegan, vegan people are always so pumped to be there. It's not like a restaurant where you have no idea what mood people are in and where they came from, maybe they're in a rush or something, but my supper club is a plan they've made and if they weren't excited to come they probably wouldn't have come! I have never had food sent back.
What’s the most ridiculous meal you’ve ever been asked to make by any of your employers? I wish I had a good answer for this. I guess I get requests when I do a private supper; like once I got, make me "yellow cake." I know that's a thing, but really have no idea the difference between white and yellow, really. Oh, this other guy once when I did a private supper in New York told me to "make sure to wash the greens well if you serve them". Ok, dad.
Seeing as some of the people you work for have been described as "well-off," what’s the most extravagant thing you’ve seen or experienced on the job? The people who come to supper club range from kids like me to 86-year-olds who bused across town to the very wealthy. The mix of that is pretty cool to see all at one table in my house in Bed-Stuy. The "wash the greens guy" rolled up to his private supper with his case of wine in his Mercedes and asked me for a discount and to get another person in for free. I was like, ummm, no thank you.
Have you ever travelled with someone or a family as their private chef on a vacation or something like that? Could have been Ben if he was lucky enough to have me.
Does anyone know you’re in a band? What happens when you leave to go on tour – do people starve or relapse and start going to Burger King three times a day until you get back? I doubt anyone knows I'm in a band...I am a minimal talker cause if I talk to people to much I'll just make an inappropriate joke. Yes, there is some sobbing. They get pats on the back.
Email interviews are convenient, but I always feel like I’m missing something. Is there anything else you feel needs mentioning or that I missed? I dunno, there's a website here if you wanna look at it. I had a book come out last year. Maybe it'll give you a bit more info on what I actually do.
Oh, yeah, there's a band to check out as well: USA Out of Vietnam Watch their "Leg of Lamb" video: