5 Questions with a Foodie: Patrick Harris of Boka Truck

Patrick Harris of Boka Truck - Credit: P. Kevin Morley / Media General
By Stephen Robertson | Richmond.com
Patrick Harris of Boka Truck - Credit: P. Kevin Morley / Media General

I love street food—I think we all do. I find the most viscerally pleasing meals are wrapped in paper or foil accompanied by obscenely cold beer in a plastic cup—heaven.

When I stepped up to the white-board menu of the Boka Truck for the first time I was giddy with excitement to see French traditionalism, multicultural flare and contemporary technique jumbled together and served via the world’s most perfect food—the taco. Still, I thought this was just a guy throwing neat things together to be unique.

It was when owner and chef Patrick Harris left his taco truck and walked across the field at Innsbrook After Hours with a plate full of pickled, shredded papaya (a key ingredient of his recipe, accidently left out) to deliver it to my date and me so we could experience the recipe as it was intended, that I realized this was more than street food—this was serious culinary art that happened to be on the street.

Since that hot summer day, I have reveled in many of Patrick’s culinary creations and I continue to admire his creativity, the theory and technique behind it, and his ongoing passion for pushing the culinary limits of a humble, traveling taco truck.

Patrick lives and breathes the art and science of food. To sit down for a beer with the man for a conversation about his art is like no other experience you’ll have. His passion for what he creates is infectious, not to mention that it will make your mouth water. See for yourself; if you’re not hungry by the end of this article, you had better check your pulse.

How do you define the term foodie and do you consider yourself one?

A foodie is someone who contemplates food, appreciates the subtleties of flavor, and takes interest in the profiling of flavor combinations to elicit an exact balance of taste, texture, temperature and mouth feel. Actually, I may have gone past foodie, to chef, but somewhere in that description lies the definition of foodie. Yes, I am a foodie, lover of all things edible, constantly intrigued to create new flavor combinations with textural contrasts. I appreciate innovative cooking methods and risk taking and think that the best dish you will ever taste is only a plate away.

If you could pick the best components of a few Richmond restaurants to create one super-fabulous restaurant, what would they be?

I would take the traditional cooking style of Acacia and Mezzanine and hybrid that with the multi-cultural fusion of the Boka Truck, with the ambiance of Cafe Caturra, small plates of Europa, big plates in quality of the former 1 North Belmont and prices ranging from City Dogs to Water Grill.

How did you get into food and/or cooking?

All the girls were in Home Economics class and, even though I couldn’t sew, I found that I really excelled in the culinary program. I found how excited people got from trying my food and decided that developing my skill of understanding flavor profiling, learning old-ass recipes and reading all the books that culinary students get was my best bet at understanding what all the hype was about. I learned more about food than I ever thought possible, and realized that I understood so little in the broad scheme of things, that it drove me to study the chemistry and science behind cooking as well.

What I found only drove me harder as I understood flavor profiling, balance, uses of acidity, fats, picante elements, alimentary traits, salt and how sauces were reduced and finished to produce velvety, unworldly sheens. I fell in love the more I learned, and the more I studied, the more I wanted to learn. I must have a screw loose, or the passion of good food somehow matched up with my inherent passions within, and I just rolled with it. Good food, good people, good conversation—can’t be beat. It all snowballed and that’s how I got into it all.

If I were to ask your significant other or best friend what your worst foodie trait is, what would they say?

Knowing a lot about food is a burden when I am dining with friends and family sometimes, because people always look to me for opinion, approval, and advice. I am a simple eater; my favorite food is a cheeseburger with salt, American cheese and a toasty bun. That being said, I’m sure that I would be criticized for my usage of salt to “season up” food. I believe in the salt curve, where flavor is maximized at the peak where acid and fat are elevated and cut to provide the most flavor experience on the palate.

Steak should be served with fleur de sel, or generous seasoning, unless you cut it bistro style and season before serving. I feel that bland food is disrespectful to the ingredients. I love a great meal out, but my biggest weakness is a bland meal. Apologies to those with whom I have dined where I “season up”— just don’t hold it against me!

Describe your perfect meals for one full day.

Steak, egg and cheese croissant with sriracha aioli and Thai herbs for breakfast with a cup of Mexican coffee infused with cinnamon from La Milpa.

Pork American-style takos from The Boka Truck for lunch with a side of ranch Doritos and a Diet Coke on crushed ice for lunch.

Duck breast seared medium rare, sliced on the bias, with a truffle duck jus and smoked gouda polenta, braised greens over a bed of duck confit, garnished with duck chicharonnes for dinner served with a Gerwutztraminer from Alsace with hints of mineral and floral accents.

Dessert is just a simple lemon sorbet with lemoncello and candied lemon zest.