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Osheaga Sneak Peek with Chuck Hughes

Photo: Dominique Lafond

This is the fifth year that Montreal celebrity chef Chuck Hughes has done the backstage catering for the ever-growing Osheaga music festival and according to Hughes, this year's food offerings are going to be the biggest and best so far.

Only days away now, Hughes and his tireless food team led by Danny Smiles and James Baran, are getting ready to make restaurant worthy food for the thousands of people lucky enough to make their way backstage. Wondering what's in store? Hughes gives Eater the Osheaga scoop.

What goes into getting ready for Osheaga?
I'll give you two answers: you're setting up shop for two weeks outdoors, in the elements, and that in itself is such a complicated task. After five years of doing it, I think we've finally cracked the code into making it the most efficient and giving ourselves the best chance to succeed. My partner, Kyle Marshall Nares and restaurant manager, Pat Balek, are really the organizers that make sure the tent is in the right spot, there's gas, water and everything is in place and working. This should all reflect in the food because we'll have a lot more time to cook and a lot more time to spend on making food.

And the other answer?
Obviously when we start this (cooking for 1500 people a day for three days straight), we don't go into it blind without menus or prep lists. We start off on Friday with a clear-cut view of what we want to do and are really, mega organized. By Sunday it's all about free styling recipes. It's a three-day event where we're constantly getting hammered. We have to pump out amazing restaurant quality food outdoors. We've been able to, in the past years, always add something. This year, we're coming back with some classics but I think we're making them better.

What's your inspiration this year?
The whole festival takes on different inspirations for us in terms of our food and we want to give people a certain kind of experience. You start with this big dream and then you kind of chip away at it. And you get to a concept that might be what you wanted, a little watered down, but hey, it's real and it's working, so you've got to run with it. We're thinking Moroccan market this year–that's kind of the direction we're going in.

What are some of the highlights?
This year, we have the shake station and the juice bar – it's always the most popular. It's where people start their day and finish their day and this year, we're adding a lot more variety. Yes we're doing shakes, protein shakes, fruit shakes, but we're going to up-it in terms of elements: Ice cream, frozen yoghurt, toppings, tons of combinations. It's going to be sick.

For our salad station we'll have ten different kinds of salads then we'll have all sorts of other option like grains, nuts, raw and cooked vegetables, garnishes, vinaigrettes, the combinations are endless! People always ask us if we have stuff for vegans so we are sticking to basic, true ingredients – like a super high-end salad bar.

Tell me about the pizzas, those were popular last year.
This year it's definitely going to be more diverse, I mean, to me the best pizza is tomato sauce and cheese, the classic is the best, but we're at a festival here. From breakfast pizza with a poached egg on top to dessert pizza with Nutella and bananas to all the classics, we've had the experience with pizza last year so now we can take it to the next level.

Let's talk meat.
We've got a 20-foot smoker run by Cedric Bezancon. He actually trained me at the garde manger station when I first came out of cooking school and was working at Globe. His passion is meat so this year he's back again for more. We stick to beef short ribs, whole sides of salmon, chicken, cuttlefish, pork ribs, brisket, sausage, the works. We've also got whole roasting animals, which we'll try to do three a day: a goat, a lamb and a pig. That meat can work on so many levels. We'll use it at all the other stations, like for tacos, Mexican street styles.

What other stations are you planning?
For the raw bar, we go heavy on oysters, cold mussels, tartares, and pickled fish. We're also planning on doing clambakes every lunch with corn, sausage and clams. There's a deli station, you know, the dirty station, with your poutines, kimchi fries, burgers and japadogs. We also have shawarma with roasted cauliflower for vegetarians, but also legs of lamb roasting on spits.

Who else helps you pull this off?
My friend Paolo Macchi and his wife, Hivron, do cold cuts and antipasto, which is great. Every day there's something new: salami, prosciutto, pickled artichokes, olives, cheese, it doesn't stop. Caffè San Simeon is still doing our coffee this year, and Burgundy Lion is now taking care of the booze.

Last menu question: what about dessert?
Last year was the best for desserts and we're coming back with a vengeance. We'll have fresh baked cookies, small pot de crèmes, mini crème brûlées, lemon meringue pies, black forest cake, chocolate cake, brownies, a lot fresh fruits, just bountiful.

Who do you want to feed this year?
The big one for me is Portugal the Man. I really like their music and everyone in the band has worked in hospitality at some point so I'm looking forward to trying to do something for them. Sam Roberts is also there this year and it's always great to see locals bands. It also helps that he's such a cool guy.

What keeps you coming back?
What's fun for us is that we get to feed all these bands and get to be a part of their experience. The beauty of Osheaga is that it combines stadium filling artists with local, unknown and more indie bands, it's a weekend long event, and you're outdoors in one of the most beautiful settings in Montreal. As much as we want to make the experience better with our food, it's really in itself such a unique festival. Nick Farkas and Dan Glick had the vision for this and they stuck to it. It's hard to make it better and better every year but that's what's happening. Every year Evenko and their whole team create a bigger and better experience and you don't see that very often.

Any last words before you head into the shit?
Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong, so be prepared for it.

· Osheaga [Official Page]
· All Chuck Hughes Coverage [-EMTL-]