Thursday, May 12, 2016

Food Trucks: It’s Not Just Hotdogs and Ice Cream Anymore

by Patty Dennison, Culinary Arts Major, from La Papillote

How is it that food trucks suddenly became so popular? They abruptly morphed from rusty hotdog stands and creepy ice cream trucks to pizzeria trucks that even have wood burning ovens in the back of the truck. Food trucks are becoming the center of popularity in the restaurant industry next to kale and molecular gastronomy. We now have large food truck festivals and even TV shows like “The Great Food Truck Race,” Johnson and Wales’ own, dedicated to these mobile eateries. So why is it that food trucks finally received an invite to the popular table, after being kept in the shadows for so long?

The first food trucks came into existence before cars were even an option and succeeded the Civil War. In the late 1800s is when they first started showing up. The original food trucks rooted from two different vessels: chuck wagons and push carts. The chuck wagons originated in the Wild West, to feed the cowboys that were on the road by giving them simple and convenient meals while they were traveling. In more urban areas, like New York City, pushcarts were becoming popular. These were carts that sold premade items like sandwiches and meat pies. These carts slowly started to morph and escalate over time. The simple carts were soon horse drawn, and were functional as a kitchen as well and not just a mere serving stand. They soon became very popular lunch carts in major metropolitan areas, and in the mid 1900s the notorious ice-cream truck first opened. It is understandable how the trucks became more functional as restaurants because it helped the trucks meet the needs for the customers easier, and as soon as they met the needs of the customers the owners started to go above and beyond the customers’ needs and expectations.

This is something that CIA students, professors and alumni are tackling head on, and some with even more innovative approaches than what we have seen. Student Adam Belward is the executive chef of Iron and Grain, a food truck based out of Connecticut. With his “mobile gastro-pub,” he has 6 beer taps on the truck as well as a wood-burning grill, which sets him apart from many food trucks. Their cuisine encapsulates upscale bar food serving sliders topped with quail eggs and charred Brussels sprouts with buffalo seasoning. His innovative truck is built in a classic Chevy Viking, which is strongly demonstrated in the style of their truck. Their cuisine embraces the ever-growing farm-to-table food trend, which has yet to break through the food truck scene. Belward is hoping with their approachable truck and local food that they are going to continue this movement is the food truck craze.

Chef Pardus, Cuisines of Asia teacher, is also the owner of a food truck known as Lucky Noodles. While his food truck design is more traditional than Belward’s, he does embrace the diversity of the food truck movement. Chef Pardus’ menu is what really differentiates him from the more mainstream food trucks. His Lucky Noodles food truck focuses on the wide variety of flavors in Asian cuisine. His menu features more exotic dishes including noodle bowls, bahn mi, and spring rolls. With his non traditional menu, he is inspiring and attracting young chefs and students of the CIA to be creative and pursue different avenues of the food industry like food trucks.

Many people, including myself, are wondering why food trucks? What is the benefit of having a food truck instead of a store front. Belward said:
"without having a brick and mortar we can be far more flexible in many areas.  For one we are not stagnant in one area targeting just one demographic of that area; we can move the truck from event to event all throughout the state which allows us as culinarians the freedom to have a changing menu depending the area."
Many students are very interested in opening companies right after graduation, and this can be a safer avenue. Food trucks are far less expensive to open up as restaurants, and they can give you a platform to build your clientele before you open an official storefront. Food trucks are a diverse and expanding section on the restaurant industry that could be in the future of many of our students.