Why food trucks?
I think in this kind of American moment where every is going gaga over farm to table and the desire to eat locally, food trucks provide that. Also, I think that food trucks and carts are delivering well-composed and well-sourced food served fast so that we don't have to compromise at lunch or late night. They provide an alternative to fast food.
What is the point of a food truck?
Food trucks are small incubators, small restaurants on wheels. Now we have a new generation of young, entrepreneurial cooks that are maxing out their credit cards to open up a food truck and to be their own boss.
What can you say about the backlash from brick and mortar restaurants?
In some cities there's tension, and brick and mortar restaurants are up in arms about unfair competitions from these young cooks. But I think they are missing the point. Many of these young entrepreneurs aspire to have brick and mortar businesses one day. From the time I researched and wrote this book until now, I'd say that 20 percent of the people I wrote about in the book have gone from cart food trucks to brick and mortar establishments.
How would you compare Atlanta's scene to others around the country?
Atlanta seems to be in the position that a number of other cities are in, whether it's Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or Chicago. In places like Atlanta, you find that food trucks can help transform desolate cityscapes into vital places, increase street traffic, and in doing that make for safer, more livable cities. Looking from afar, it seems that Atlanta is sort of in that class of inspirational street food cities still trying to figure it out.
Are you familiar with the Atlanta Food Truck Park? Do you have any thoughts on that sort of arrangement?
I have not been, but I look forward to reacquainting myself to the scene in Atlanta. There are another number of cities that have gone to dedicating spaces, whether you call it a ‘pod' in Portland, or Austin, where trucks and people can gather. You end up with what amounts to a United Nations food court in a parking lot. I think that's a great model.
Is there a specific type of food truck cuisine that can be found regardless of where you are in the country
There are commonalities. I've found that there are three sort of Pan-American foods that seem to be most widely interpreted: banh mi sandwiches, you know the kind of Vietnamese sub sandwiches, are everywhere. Most everywhere has some version of a Korean taco, all topped with Kimchi. And the other, which is a bit of a departure from the first two, is some kind of grilled cheese sandwich. Those seem to be the mainstays.
Do you have a favorite amongst this Holy Trinity?
This place in LA does a mac n' cheese grilled-cheese, or a grilled-cheese made of mac n' cheese; I don't know how to describe it. But all I can say is this sandwich is the perfect stoner food, the perfect 11-year-old boy food.
It seems like food truck food has evolved a long way from hot dogs and fries. Is it just me, or is food truck food getting pretty fancy?
There's a lot of chef-ly stuff going on on trucks these days. I hope it doesn't go around the "foie gras bend," you know? Because the best stuff is really simple, honest, direct food. Not simplistic food, but simple, honest, direct food even from chefs who are down-shifting from white table cloth restaurants.
Do you think food truck menus should revolve around something fast, simple, and delicious, instead of focusing on something that could be served at a fine dining restaurant?
I think the real possibility is for street food, or food that is served quickly, is not about competing with a brick and mortar fine dining restaurant. It's about making available to people something you can quickly eat, without having to confine yourself to the shackles of McDonald's. I want to eat fast, because often times I'm in a hurry at lunch, but I don't want to compromise.
For example, today on the street in Seattle, I had a really great Japanese hot dog. It was an all beef hot dog that was topped with marinated grilled onions and doused with Nori flakes; crisp seaweed on a salty hot dog. It was really simple food, assembled in 30 seconds and it was great.
Why would someone want to cook food truck recipes at home?
The thing about these recipes is most of them, not all, but most of them are four to six ingredients. These cooks are working in small kitchens, and working with a limited amount of time. I think this translates well to the home kitchen. I know when I'm cooking in a pretty small kitchen, I don't want to go back out to the grocery store for six more ingredients that I don't have on-hand and my time is usually limited. So those aspects, to me, translate from truck to kitchen.
What does the future hold for food trucks?
I mean, is the Food Network going to continue to do truck food shows? Probably not, and who cares? I think that over time this food, instead of being trendy, will become a style of eating. I think the buzz will fade, but the feed will continue.
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