Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune
Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune

Hollywood hops aboard the Gravy Train

a/Student Living by

Whether we’re half a semester away from graduation, or just starting to look for our first real apartments, most undergraduates at McGill would rather think about anything other than the scary world beyond university. Never fear, McGillians! The Tribune spoke with some stellar alumni to show that not only does life go on after graduation, but it can actually get kind of cool.

Evan Goldberg (BA ’05) and Tum Cohl (BA ’04), among other projects— like screenwriting for movies like Superbad and Knocked up (Goldberg), or chairing Hilarity for Charity, an event that benefits the Alzheimer’s Association (Cohl)— have brought the northern national treasure of poutine to the mean, sun soaked streets of Los Angeles, exposing our southern neighbours to our unique and tasty way of warming up during the winter. Together they created Gravy Train, a popular food truck that roams the city, serving first-timers and foodies alike.

McGill Tribune: Where are you from originally? Why did each of you decide to go to McGill?

Tum Cohl: I am originally from Toronto, and I chose to go to McGill because, first and foremost, my sister went there, so I was inspired by her. I liked the fact that the university was located in a city, and it didn’t feel like a college town. And on top of getting a good education at the school, I felt that there was a lot to learn just from living on my own in a city.

Evan Goldberg: I went to McGill pretty much because I thought it would be the most fun, balanced out with a good education. Because I didn’t want to waste my time in university, and I didn’t want to be stuck in a small, crappy town. My brother went to Langara Vancouver [where I’m from] for two years, and then he was going to Concordia that year. So my brother was coming to the same place, and [so were] a bunch of my friends; and it just seemed like a lot of fun, and you got the good education out of it.

MT: How did you get from Montreal to L.A.? Was that the plan right from graduation?

EG: Since I was 13, I’ve been writing movies with my writing partner, Seth Rogen. We’ve been doing that forever, and he went down there and started acting. So then I left McGill for a year to go to write on the Ali G show, and then that job ended, the show ended, and I came back and got my degree. So my plan was kind of always to go back down and pursue the writing, which is why I took American History in the first place, because I knew I’d probably be writing eventually for an American audience; so that directed me [right out of] McGill.

TC: I wanted to go to L.A.; I had visited Evan and a couple of other friends of ours who were out in L.A. working. I was working in public relations, and I thought there were more opportunities out in Los Angeles than there were in Toronto, and in Canada. I got a job working at Live Nation, and moved out there initially to do that.

MT: How did the idea of starting a poutine business come about?

EG: There were two paths to that. One was, starting on the set of Superbad, I asked the craft services guy, Chance Tassone, if he’d ever heard of Poutine, and he said no, and no one had, and I started to realize it didn’t exist in America. I challenged him to make it for the people on set; he tried, it did not go so well, and he became very frustrated by this. [He] became determined to pull it off, so on all the movies we made after that [when] we worked with him—[we actually] started on Knocked Up, and we tried again on Superbad, and then Pineapple Express, and then again on the Green Hornet. By the time we got to the Green Hornet, he kind of perfected it. And then on another path, Tum and I had been talking about…[there being] so many Canadians in Los Angeles.

TC: I think it kind of started jokingly. We said “Wouldn’t it be great if we just brought Poutine here to all of our Canadian friends?” and then we said “Yes, it would, why don’t we just do it?” and we decided to just go for it. Initially we started out as kind of like a small kiosk-type stand on movie sets. Then we realized in order to generate more publicity, and to get more attention, and to properly introduce the product to our American counterparts, we needed to bring the product to them; and that’s when we decided to get an actual truck.

MT: How have people in L.A. responded to poutine? Are they excited to try a Canadian delicacy, or are they sort of apprehensive?

TC: Some people don’t even realize it’s a Canadian delicacy, and they just like it because it’s fries, cheese, and gravy. I would say that more people are enticed [by that], and less about the fact that it’s a Canadian product; but every single person [who] does try it has loved it. And also, simultaneously to us launching, there are several higher end restaurants around Los Angeles that are adding poutine [to] their menus. It’s kind of like a comfort food, but they’re fancying it up.

MT: Can you see Gravy Train expanding to a permanent establishment somewhere?

EG: We like the idea of expanding. We think that putting it in sports arenas and having permanent locations could be cool, you know? Anything’s possible; maybe [we’ll] just keep making more trucks, but we think the idea of a fixed location is pretty inevitable.

MT: Going back to your time at McGill—did you both live in residence? 

TC: I was in Molson.

EG: I was in McConnell. [It] was the best our year, and you damn well know it Tum.

TC: Lies. Molson by far beat out McConnell.

MT: How was your experience settling into McGill?

TC: I think that part of it was overwhelming, because there were so many new people, and it was really our first time living on our own, but it was incredibly exciting. Both Evan and I had gone to camp with a lot of people who were going to McGill, so it was exciting to see our friends again, going to university, living on our own without our parents there. I don’t know if I ever really, fully settled in; I think it was kind of an adventure the whole time I was there.

EG: Yeah, for me, I was just so ready to get out of my house, and get out of my town, and go somewhere else. It’s boring, but it’s the same answer. I was just so excited that the whole thing was an adventure that I didn’t need to settle in, I just clicked right into it.

MT: What did each of you major in? 

TC: Humanistic studies. [It was] the first year that they brought that on; I don’t know if you guys still have that or not.

EG: I double majored in humanistic studies and history. Because I tried to do a minor in philosophy, and I realized I couldn’t do it. [As in], I just wasn’t smart enough. I wished I was; I so badly wanted to be able to do it, but I just am not that smart. So I figured I could turn it into a humanistics [major] with three strategic courses taken in my final year, and it worked.

MT: Can you explain humanistic studies a little bit to me?

TC: The more general way of explaining it is that it was a major developed for students who couldn’t decide on a total focus. So it allowed us to kind of combine our different interests by taking classes in different areas. EG: Yeah, it allowed for the most disciplines to be combined.

TC: It was basically a general major.  

MT: Any classes you found particularly memorable?

EG: Arts computing. That was the course that I remember no one ever went to, but everyone got an A in.  If that still exists, you should take it; it’s ridiculously easy. I took Greek Mythology once [too], that was incredible.

TC: I loved World of Chem, do you guys still have World of Chem? I did World of Chem: Technology and World of Chem: Food and I thought they were both phenomenal. I came away feeling like I had learned so much from [those courses].

MT: What’s your favourite memory of your time at McGill?

EG: I think my first day, to be honest. The last day I was spending with my parents at McGill [after moving into residence] was actually the best day I ever had there. Just because I was having a great day with my parents, who were treating me like more of an adult than they ever had. And then they just [expletive] left. It blew my mind; it was like the greatest moment I’ve ever had. For the first time ever, I was like “There’s no rules.”

TC: I would say also first year; probably Frosh week. First of all, meeting tons of people, and being a part of something when you’re 17 or 18 years old that you usually don’t get to experience until you’re a little bit older [is] amazing. But also the fact that you only get such a short period of time where it’s warm in Montreal, so getting to walk through campus in the warm weather and in between classes going to Open Air Pub. I just loved to get to really explore the campus in nice weather.

EG: I spent one summer [in Montreal] actually, that was pretty awesome.

TC: Oh, I did too! I loved that. I did two courses during the summer.

EG: It was a slutty time in my life, but a good time.

TC: Mine, not as slutty.

MT: What can you do here during the summer that you can’t during the school year?

EG: Terraces. Infinite terraces everywhere.

TC: Jeanne-Mance Park probably.

EG: Yeah. You get a little bit of that during the school year, but you just get in non-stop all summer long.

TC: And also, you do different things, because there’s not the regular people there. Some of your friends stay, but [not all of them].

EG: You form like a bizarro posse.

MT: Any advice for the McGill class of 2013?

EG: Leave with a plan. It doesn’t have to be a good plan, just have a plan.

TC: Try to get in some travelling before you hunker down to a job.

EG: And win the lottery, if you can.