A Truckin’ Good Summer: Food Trucks Are Here To Stay

Image: Joel Smith

By Pay Chen | Toronto Standard

Image: Joel Smith

El Gastronomo Vagabundo, or, The Gourmet Vagabond, will be featured on the popular Food Network show, “Eat St.” on May 30, but first, the owners answer some questions

They’re not quite everywhere you look, but that’s not because they don’t want to be. The Food Truck buzz has definitely hit Toronto, and they’re chewing their way through red tape to bring you gourmet goods from their mobile kitchen. Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at various food trucks across Canada, but it only seems right to start here in our backyard (where you actually couldput a food truck).

This week we take a look at El Gastronomo Vagabundo. Considered the first gourmet food truck in Canada, they are just a few months shy of their second birthday. Owned and operated by Tamara Jensen and Aussie chef Adam Hynam-Smith, their name means “The Gourmet Vagabond.”  They describe their menu as globally-inspired cuisine but their main feature is always a take on the gourmet taco.

The truck’s tagline, “globally inspired and locally driven,” reflects Adam’s 17-years in the restaurant industry preparing traditional Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African cuisines.

What do you love about running a food truck?

Tamara: I love the flexibility of coming up with different menu items, and the immediacy of customer feedback and interacting with the customers at the truck. I also love the creative events we’ve been fortunate to participate in, made possible by the self-containment of the truck (as opposed to having to set up a temporary kitchen or lug catering equipment to a venue). We’ve pulled into events at airplane hangars, warehouses, golf courses, and all kinds of places with our truck.

Buddha Belly steamed buns, five-spice pork belly, chili jam. Image: Mike McColl

What do you wish customers would learn?

Tamara: That there’s only so much food you can store at safe temperatures on a food truck.  Without fail, every time we sell out of food, someone comments “next time you should bring more food.” It’s like telling a busy restaurant that they should tear down a wall and put in more tables so they can serve more people. The point of selling fresh food from a truck is to keep it fresh, and to sell out of food at one event, restock, and start fresh for the next event. If we have food left over at the end of the event and don’t have another service planned that day, that food is going to waste, and that’s not good for the bottom line of the business. We would obviously love to serve as much food as possible to as many people as possible, but it’s the nature of the food truck to eventually run out.

Trucks are oh-so-sexy now. What would you say to someone who wants to start one up?

Tamara: Think twice, and then think again. There’s nothing sexy about waking up at 4 a.m. to prep food for the day, busting your ass during service, cleaning down the truck, restocking, and passing out just in time to get up and do it all over again.  If you can’t handle long hours and back-breaking work, this isn’t the job for you. In addition to the physical labour involved in the truck, a lot of time is spent on the administrative side of things, whether it’s working with space owners and clients to plan even the simplest of lunch services, or attending policy meetings to keep on top of the ever-changing bylaws governing this new industry. I can easily spend 50+ hours a week in the office and at meetings, so balancing that with actual truck services, large events, and maintaining some sort of personal life is very difficult.

Dukkah-crumbed pickled lamb tongue, chili mint relish. Image: Joel Smith

How would you like to see the food truck community evolve over the next few years?

Tamara: We would love to see more chefs open trucks that push the limits of what you expect to eat from a truck.  We want to see trucks move beyond comfort food and start experimenting with their menus.  We are very fortunate to be part of an extremely co-operative and collaborative community of food truckers right now, and we hope the spirit of the community continues as more trucks begin operating.

El Gastronomo Vagabundo will be featured on the popular Food Network show, “Eat St.” May 30th at 10:30 p.m..