Remember when you’d look at a food cart or truck with suspicion?
Not anymore! The sight of a food truck now delivers messages to the brain that signal not only deliciousness and affordability, but a sense of exciting foodie exclusivity.
Diners might be tempted to call the food truck craze a trend, and a few years ago that might have been an accurate prediction. But these days, food trucks are, in fact, living in a post-trendy world. Food trucks are an eating lifestyle and a hospitality movement that remain strong, fierce and flourishing. They are just as much of a restaurant “concept” as white-tablecloth dining or sitting at a chef’s table.
For most professional cooks and culinary entrepreneurs, food trucks used to be a last, even desperate, resort. They weren’t a bad option, per se, they just weren’t really on the menu (so to speak). Restaurants need a staff, an address, a bunch of tables. The food truck questioned and reimagined all of that. Now they are regarded by most chefs as a preferable, desirable, super-cool choice. Even a top choice for top chefs.
Ask any chef about the food truck movement, and you’ll likely hear the name Roy Choi. In 2008, Choi opened Kogi, a shabby but scrumptious taco truck in Los Angeles, which is basically considered the first gourmet food truck known — and worshipped — by the masses. Choi’s empire has since exploded. His list of accomplishments in the 10 years since Kogi was founded is extensive. He was named Food & Wine’s best new chef and made Time’s 100 Most Influential People list, under the pioneers section.
It’s not unheard of for a chef to move from a table-and-chair restaurant to a food truck by choice. Take John McConnell, for example. The executive chef at the Clif Family Winery’s Bruschetteria Food Truck in Napa Valley, Calif., was the former chef de cuisine for the Michelin-star-rated Campton Place Restaurant, Bistro & Bar in San Francisco. Yes, you heard that right, a chef who used to head a Michelin- starred venue now spends his days working out of a food truck.
Other cultural factors pushed the food truck scene forward, too. The Food Network premiered “The Great Food Truck Race” TV series; Zagat gave food trucks their own category; the movie “Chef,” starring Jon Favreau, tells the story of a disheartened chef who reclaims his culinary visions via a groovy food truck. The cultural momentum goes on and on.