Having worked a shift for SuAn Chow in her Chow Truck, I can tell you first-hand what a tough job this is–cooking, serving, cashiering in a small space at a frantic pace, dealing with customers who don't always know the drill and expect a fast, pre-wrapped meal to be handed out in seconds.
Still, food trucks have become a permanent part of the dining landscape now and lunch-eaters everywhere should rejoice that such a relatively quick, inexpensive and high quality meal is an alternative to mass-produced fast food chain fare.
John T. Edge, has driven all over the USA checking out the food truck scene, a journey he chronicles in The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America’s Best Restaurants on Wheels (Workman; May 2012.) Besides a country-wide collection of today’s most imaginative dishes, the book includes Edge's interviews with the proprietors, customers, and small business supporters who helped make the trend happen.
Edge will be in SLC at Weller's Book Works (607 Trolley Square, SLC) on Tuesday, June 26, from 11:30am – 2:00pm to talk about his book and the Salt Lake City street food scene, including the recent legislation affecting the local food trucks.
Of course, several local trucks will be in attendance.
I'll be there, but I asked John some questions about food trucks in advance of his visit. Here's the conversation.
MM:Are trucks in other cities having the same difficulties with city and county restrictions about parking, etc., and the same push-back from bricks-and-mortar restaurants? Is that easing or tightening up?
JTE: These conversations–between brick and mortar restaurants and trucks, between street food advocates and city planners–are going on everywhere. Too often the conversations pit truck owners versus restaurant owners.
Too often the media fuels that fire. A recent Salt Lake City Tribune piece parroted the idea that trucks have an "unfair advantage:"
"To avoid unfair competition with brick-and-mortar restaurants, food trucks would have to be at least 100 feet from other eateries — unless restaurants grant permission for food trucks to be closer." That writer accepted at face value the notion that trucks have unfair advantages. They also work with disadvantages too.
I see truck owners as small business entrepreneurs. They have to deal with the health department. And the tax collector.They have to meet payroll and stock their pantry. Just like restaurants. They have more in common with restaurants than intransigent brick and mortar protectors believe.
In the end, progressive restaurant owners, in many cities, help the brick and mortar folks see the connectivities.
MM: Have we peaked? Or is the growth continuing? Are they a permanent part of the USA dining scene now?
JTE: The trend will soon peak. It may already have in some cities. But in cities like SLC and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which I recently visited, it's still nascent. It's still booming. No matter where you are, this manner of cooking and eating will endure. This is a permanent revolution in how we eat and socialize.
MM: Can you give me an example of the easy-to-complicated range of food truck recipes?
JTE: Many of the recipes are 4-6 ingredient blasts of flavor. They translate well to a home kitchen. Think about it: In a truck, you work from a limited roster of ingredients, you cook in a small space, and you have a limited amount of time to deliver food. That sounds a lot like weeknight cooking to me.