Over the last few years, food trucks have moved above and beyond the emblematic greasy-spoon chip wagons, creating a universe of gourmet eats on wheels that have even the most pretentious of foodies swooning.
If you’ve ever watched Eat St. on the Canadian Food Network, you know what I’m talking about. This show has had a hand in opening the eyes and minds of skeptics and has proven that some of the most ingenious chefs are serving their food through the window of a truck. There is a feeling of victory that cannot be matched when you score a delectable meal with loose change; when you indulge while sitting on a curbside, hunched over your meal, ensuring that you get every drip of sauce and string of cheese. Oh, and let’s not forget the bragging rights that come along with discovering the city’s best gourmet grilled cheese or epicurean tacos.
It probably comes without surprise when I say that running my own food truck is basically a dream of mine – and spending an afternoon on El Gastrónomo Vagabundo has confirmed that this is something I need to do.
So, how did I snag this awesome opportunity? You see, I know a guy who knows a guy…
A friend of mine is training under Adam Hynam-Smith, who is co-owner of El Gastrónomo Vagabundo (Ontario’s first gourmet food truck), and is also a Chef/Host on Food Network Canada’s Restaurant Takeover. My pal mentioned to Adam that I’d like to do a review on the truck (honestly, I was just planning to eat the food and write about it like any other review I’ve done!) when Adam suggested that I spend an afternoon on the truck, work behind the scenes, and get a true taste of the life of food truckers. After a mini internal freak out, without hesitation, I accepted the offer!
This is how my afternoon on the food truck went…
I arrived just in time for setup.
The event we were working was The O.G. (Original Gourmet) Food Truckers of Ontario Brunch over at Dillon’ Distillery in Beamsville, ON.
Right off the bat, Joel threw me an apron and Adam put me to work. I actually loved this, because it made me feel more useful and less in the way.
During prep, I couldn’t help but notice how clean and well-organized the truck and kitchen were. I’m pretty nitpicky when it comes to cooking surfaces and cleanliness, and El Gastro’s prep and cooking spaces are damn near sparkly. The cleaning and wiping of surfaces is being done in between every task. And like Adam says to anyone who doesn’t have something to do, “If you have time to lean, it’s time to clean!”
My first task was chopping coriander (cilantro), which is humorous because everyone who knows me knows my hatred for it. I did get to use one of Adam’s knives though, and wow – I kind of/sort of fell in love with the thing. I’ve never chopped anything with such ease and precision before, and chopping things with a not-Adam knife from now on will feel…sad.
After chopping a decent portion of coriander, Adam placed a plate of his Korean BBQ chicken wings on the counter and demanded that we all dig in. Gee, twist my arm!
So let’s talk about that menu of his.
KOREAN BBQ WINGS – Yorkshire Valley organic chicken wings, Korean BBQ sauce, fresh lime, and chopped coriander
Oh. Em. Gee.
I’m a chicken wing snob, and I’m the first to admit it. Growing up near the Buffalo, NY border has created a chicken wing monster in me. I would have definitely given these wings two saucy thumbs up had I been able to take my saucy thumbs out from my mouth. Finger-lickin’ good is an understatement here. The flavours were incredible, and the level of spice was perfect for their particular flavour. Out of respect, I’m not going to disclose any of the ingredients I learned about. It’s not my place. All I will say is that these bad boys are saucy, delectable, and hint around flavours of sesame and chili.
I should also add that despite my grudge against coriander, these Korean wings were so delicious, I was able to ignore it. This is probably one of the reasons that Adam is the renowned chef that he is; it would take a culinary magician to create the palatable illusion that coriander isn’t there for me. I feel like a changed woman…
FISH TACOS – battered cod, smoked pineapple and habanero hot sauce, cabbage slaw, coconut sour cream, fresh lime, and chopped coriander
Talk about edible art! And it surely tastes as good as it looks. I’d never tried a fish taco until yesterday, and what a perfect taco to be broken in with. In El Gastro’s beloved fish taco, you will find deep fried cod, pickled cabbage slaw, a sweet, spicy, and smoky pineapple habanero hot sauce, coconut sour cream, and coriander, all snug in a homemade soft shell tortilla. Oh, and definitely squeeze that lime juice on there. The flavours are already super fresh, but that lime really amplifies everything.
Last, but definitely not least…
2-BEAN TOSTADA – marinated bean salad, fresh tomatoes and fresh cucumbers, onion, guacamole, and harissa dressing all topped on a crispy tortilla with chopped coriander
The flavours and the textures in this dish are fantastic. Flavour-wise, you get a nice smoky and spicy nip from the harissa dressing right off the bat, yet it’s cooled down by the fresh ingredients creating a nice balance. Texture-wise, you’re in a world of variety between the creamy guacamole, smooth beans, crisp cukes, and crunchy tortilla. So many things are happening in this dish, yet it’s done up in a way where you can appreciate each ingredient individually – nothing is lost!
Although the food and prep aspect of my day spent on the truck was of utmost importance, I can’t complete this blog without speaking about my time behind the scenes with these amazing people, and how amazing the food truck community really is.
Adam, Tam, and their food truck family are warm, welcoming, and grounded people. El Gastro is a tightly run ship, and they have such an awesome system down when it comes to production. One person at the window taking orders, one person at the deep fryer, one person on food layout, and one person on assembly – a perfect circle. If someone needs to travel within the tight space, communication is loud and clear in order to avoid any accidents or spills. Oh, and let’s not forget the “Whose hands are on my hips?” guessing game! It’s inevitable – everyone has to get a little cozy with one another in such a tight space, and this food truck family has a great sense of humour about it. Actually, this food truck family has a great sense of humour in general. Five minutes couldn’t pass without at least one eruption of laughter – totally my kind of place and my kind of people.
Something that really impressed me yesterday, and gave me such a feel-good vibe about the food truck community, was how the food trucks share with one another. At certain points throughout the day, we’d receive a tasty little package from one of the other food trucks. In return, someone from our truck would return the favour and gift the other food trucks with the same. It’s total “tradesies”, and an awesome way to build relationships with your fellow food truckers, not your competition. Face it, you’d never see restaurants doing this. I feel like the food truck industry is comprised mostly of people whom are giving, passionate, and doing what they do because they love it.
I had the pleasure of tasting what the other trucks had to offer, and I need to make mention of them because it’s pretty evident that these people work hard at what they do. You can taste the passion these people have in every single bite.
Check out Dobra Jesti, Gorilla Cheese, Hometown Ice Cream, and again, of course, Dillon’s Distillery who acted as a very gracious host and got in on all of that sharing, too. I can’t help but sing high praises for all of these folks after what I witnessed yesterday.
Needless to say, I had a great time and I am extremely thankful (beyond words) for the opportunity that the El Gastrónomo Vagabundo family gave me, and how they treated me as one of them. Please check them out on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter, and Pinterest!
One thing is for sure – if I ever am lucky enough to run a food truck of my very own, I will always use my experience at El Gastrónomo Vagabundo as the prime example of what creates a successful business, and what creates such a dedicated and enthusiastic food truck family.