Nobody doesn’t like Debbie Lee. And nobody doesn’t love fries smothered in cheese, meat and gravy. So imagine the boundless joy and endless lip-smacking that ensue when you put these ingredients together. A fixture on Food Network and the woman behind the Ahn Joo Truck (spicy Korean pub grub), Lee has now added the Poutine Truck to her growing list of culinary endeavors. Launched with owner/creator James Mackinnon, the Poutine Truck is all about the naughty Quebecois comfort food which, surprisingly, hasn’t really caught on beyond its Canadian borders. But if Debbie and crew have anything to do with it, that’s all about to change.
Debbie! It’s been forevz since we’ve seen each other or had a real conversation that doesn’t take place on Twitter or TV. What’s the latest?
It’s been crazy, Mar! I forgot what it’s like to sleep. It was enough when I launched Ahn Joo, and now that I decide to launch my friend’s truck I’m not frickin’ sleeping! I love to cook even though it means I can’t sleep, so I’m obviously insane.
Tell me about the Poutine Truck.
Well, when we went live that Saturday [at the Little Tokyo Design Festival in mid-July] we didn’t know what to expect. I thought, ‘Oh, we’ll be there for six hours, so maybe we’ll do like 100 tickets.’ About 40 minutes after arriving, I look outside and see all these people standing around the truck and I ask Dan [Cox, her PR rep], ‘Who are all these people?’ And he says, ‘Your customers!’
Did you do a major media blast or pre-launch tease on Twitter or what?
That’s what’s so funny. James had the incredible idea of doing poutine in the first place. I mean, a lot of people don’t know what it is because it’s such a Canada-specific phenomenon, so we were sort of like, ‘Are people gonna get it?’ And then we got a couple of great write-ups last minute and within minutes he had like 500 followers on Twitter and people were tweeting about the Saturday event. We ended up having a line that was non-stop until 11 o’clock at night. We had nothing left to sell on that truck.
How much is the poutine?
Six dollars, with your choice of gravy, meat and curd. It’s a bargain!
What is curd exactly? Is it just cheddar cheese with a cottage cheese consistency?
Typically curds are made from cheddar—it’s the point before it actually becomes the actual cheese itself. When you bite into it, it’s springy with some firmness, but it’s definitely not as firm as a block of cheddar.
So tell me Little Miss Muffet, how are you getting your curds, by the way?
Well, if I didn’t want to ever sleep at all I’d make it myself with a machine! But I get it through a great local cheese company called Spring Hill Jersey Cheese. You see ‘em at the farmers market—they’re organic, they’re humane with their cows and their dairy process, and they’re a wonderful group that spins out an incredible product. They actually give us 200 pounds of curds a week right now.
What are the kinds of cheese you offer?
You get a choice of three flavors, all of which are cheddar curd: Plain, garlic herb, and jalapeno and habanero, which we call Firehouse.
What about your fries? Are they skinny McDonald’s-type fries or fat crinkle cuts?
They’re actually somewhere in between. They’re a thicker version of shoestring fries but not quite steak fries, because a true steak fry is really flat. Our fries are about the thickness of your pinky finger. And they are hand cut, peeled and sliced every morning on the truck—we go through like 6-8 cases of potatoes a day. We also use Kennebec potatoes, which are really nice to fry and give that great flavor that you get at a McDonald’s but without all the crap.
And what about the meat?
We have three different choices. I have bacon, of course, ‘cause you know me and my pork, as well as chicken breast that I marinate with Dijon and oregano, and then a nice skirt steak that I marinate with some garlic, fresh thyme and olive oil. I try to keep it very simple and clean. I think people are sort of surprised by it ‘cause they’re so used to my heavy hand with the chili in my Korean fare, but it’s nice to show I can do something not so spicy too.
Have you considered a vegan or at least vegetarian version?
I do have a veggie veloute and we’re actually getting a lot of vegetarians coming up to the truck window and they’re really happy. As far as vegan, that’s more of a challenge because the curds are not going to taste the same, but I’m not giving up. I’m playing around with it and trying to figure out what will be the modification to make sure it tastes really good.
So the non-vegetarian gravies are made from chicken stock and beef?
Yeah, I have the classic brown onion gravy and then two versions of the veloute–one made with chicken broth and one that’s vegetarian. Actually, if you go to Quebec it’s the veloute, not the brown gravy, that you’ll find in poutine. Chicken veloute is the original.
Are you thinking about your next truck because sleeping two hours a night just seems a bit indulgent?
Well, it’s so funny because when James had this idea to start a poutine truck it was a couple of years ago. He had just gotten back from Canada and he was like, ‘We have to do a poutine truck,’ and I was like, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ And then of course I did Ahn Joo and he said that if I was still in business after a year then we’d talk about having me help him launch the poutine truck. So a year passed and here I am!
So where do we find you? On the Ahn Joo truck or the Poutine truck?
You’re going to see me a lot on the Poutine Truck right now, just because it’s my new baby and I want to make sure everything is running the way it should be. But I’ll be jumping around between both trucks for a while … which means I won’t be sleeping!
More info: www.twitter.com/thepoutinetruck