March 28, 2012

What it's like: Working on a Food Truck

Top Chef Tom C stopped by!
George Clinton loved our grits!

Awesome culinary students and Chef Mike Erickson!

 During Austin's annual music/film/interactive festival known as South by Southwest (or "SXSW" as the locals call it), I linked up with Eric Silverstein of the Peached Tortilla to find out just how hard the food truck entrepreneurs are working.  For four days, I woke up at 4am to work twelve hour shifts serving breakfast aboard the NBC Today Show Food Trucks that were set up outside of the Convention Center (which is the hub of SXSW).

NBC hired Eric to wrap and execute a few trucks from the Snappy Snacks fleet to activate giving away almost 10,000 meals.  My role as team leader involved loading and preparing the truck for service, driving the truck to the worksite, managing the team of culinary students who were working and serving in the truck, driving the truck back and cleaning it to be ready for the night shift.

On the menu board, we had six options which the Today Show team developed to be split into two trucks. Both trucks were open for a breakfast and a late night shift.  On my truck, we served Today Tots (tater tots topped with peach BBQ sauce and cheese sauce), Fresh Fruit cups (topped with toasted coconut and a warm muffin), and Papaquiles which were a recipe won by Austinites Julie Munroe and Ryan Schierling.  The papaquiles were the best-sellers: a hash brown and egg taco topped with a swizzle of sour cream and red and green onions for a tasty and colorful garnish.  The second truck sold Breakfast Bombs (an egg and cheese biscuit sandwich with bacon jam), French Toast Sticks (with blueberry puree and powdered sugar), and Cheese Grits, which were approved by George Clinton of Funkadelic who stopped by the truck for an interview.

Some quick stats on the meals served:
  • 9775 meals served (including when it was raining)
  • 2528 biscuits 
  • 45 lbs of bacon jam  
  • 1275 slices of jalape├▒os
Although I know what kind of work ethic it takes to run these food trucks, it was much harder to do than to write about.  For every hour of being open, I'd hazard to guess there are at least 2 hours of work behind the scenes in prep, cleaning, and planning.  One word of advice I can offer: if you're thinking about opening a food truck, work on one first.  The real world experience will at least help you determine whether this line of work is for you or not.  I'm grateful for the opportunity to participate with such great students, a cool food truck entrepreneur, and of course the NBC Today Show during SXSW 2012 to deepen my understanding of the food truck world.

Winners from the home chef challenge

Eric Silverstein + Tiff