Some chefs cook by intuition. Venus Van Horn, the chef and co-owner of the Magical Meatball Tour, cooks by Google.
“I’ll go to the City Market or an Asian market. I’ll find something I’ve never seen before, some odd vegetable. And then Google is my best friend. I wouldn’t have been as wonderful a chef if not for Google. After that, I know I like to eat, so I’m going to make it good,” Van Horn says.
Yesterday, chef Van Horn talked about starting out as a personal chef and tomorrow, she’ll have five tips on how to launch your own food truck.
What’s your favorite ingredient? It’s seasonal. Right now, I’m into pumpkin, especially in ravioli. My sage has gone crazy in my herb garden so we’ve been frying sage. It’s like chips, it’s so good.
What was your best recent food find? Recently, I’ve become very fond of Pomegranate Molasses. You can purchase it in grocery stores but it’s easy to make your own. I’ve been playing with it a lot lately It’s great in both sweet and savory dishes. I hope to have a Pomegranate Meatball on our winter menu.
What’s your favorite local ingredient? It’s Zim’s Hot Sauce. We use it in in our bleu balls. It’s a wonderful product. It’s not just a hot sauce. It was created for chefs to use and incorporate in dishes. It’s a little bit smokey, a little bit spicy. Zim’s and Tank 7.
What’s one food you hate? I had a really bad experience with some very chewy octopus recently. After about 20 minutes of chewing, it was not going to go away. So right now, I’m scared off it.
What’s one food you love? I’m a beef eater. Give me a good steak, very bloody, and I’ll eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I like butter on it. I crave steak like people crave chocolate. If I haven’t had a piece of steak in a week, I feel like a crazed vampire. I have low iron, so I need Guinness and steak.
What’s your guilty pleasure? I have so many. [Laughs] It’s mashed potatoes. When I have a really bad day and nobody’s home, I’ll make a big pot of mashed potatoes, sit down on the couch in front of the TV and eat them out of the pot. I make mine with cream cheese, sour cream and garlic, and if I don’t eat them all, I’m having them the next day.
What’s always in your kitchen? Cream. I always have cream. I will go through the large container of cream in two or three days. I use it in my coffee and just about every dish I make. It adds a little something, probably fat. Whether I’m making a simple bechamel sauce for our pumpkin sage balls or our queso, I’ll use cream.
Besides your own place, where do you like to eat out? I love go out to eat. That’s one thing I don’t feel bad about spending money on. I usually just get whatever the server recommends. I recently started going back to Jasper’s and I was very impressed with their menu. You can taste the history, there is history in every bite. You walk into this little strip mall and you’re transported. It’s a wonderful experience. The food truck that I love is Indios Carbonsitos. I know much work goes into that food and I love his pulled pork and brisket.
Where do you like to go for cocktails? I’m kind of a beer snob. The last four or five years I have discovered a taste for beer. I love Tank 7, I could drink that every night. I wish I was a wine connoisseur; but my palate isn’t very refined when it comes to wine. Maybe that’s because I never met a wine I don’t like.
What do you think is next for food trucks in the city?When we were talking to the city inspector, he said they’re getting new food trucks every week. The market is going to get oversaturated. People think it’s an easy moneymaker, but it’s not. I’m excited about the competition because I think that the cream will rise to the top. I say bring it on. [Laughs]. There will be no more roach coaches.
Is is a challenge to overcome the perception of food trucks as roach coaches? The Health Department is really aware of food trucks. I think inspections were harder in the truck than in brick and mortar restaurants. You have to have a commissary, so it’s the same regulations, if not more strict, than a restaurant. It’s kind of neat because the bar is set so low that when people get a good product, they tell their friends.
I look at food trucks in Austin, [Texas], where people specialize in one thing so you know they’re doing it well. And it might not be something you can get at a sit down restaurant. Some of the best food I’ve had has come from trucks. I appreciate that we got in early enough that we’re considered part of the originals. There’s a real camaraderie, but we’re still competitive. To be a food truck owner, you’ve got to have the gypsy spirit. We’re all gypsies. We want nothing more than to be in a truck and feed people. But we’re good gypsies, we’re not scamming people. We’re just jovial.
Now that you’re licensed, will you be hitting up certain neighborhoods? I tell people to check our Facebook and Twitter. We’ve been very blessed in that the truck has sold itself. We’ve been really busy with private events, that’s pretty much what’s kept us rolling.
What’s one book that every chef should read?The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen: Recipes for the Passionate Cook by Paula Wolfert. The book is beautiful and the recipes are delicious. I’m a true believer in the Zen of cooking. Taking your time, appreciating the flavor of every ingredient and these recipes are some of my favorites. It’s not everyday cooking unless you lead a true life of leisure, but if you want to fall in love with cooking again then I would highly recommend this book.
Who’s got the best barbecue in town and what are you ordering? Oklahoma Joe’s. I usually get the barbecue beef sandwich. I’m not really a fry person. The best sides are Smokestack beans and cheesey corn. If I could have Oklahoma Joe’s beef with those sides, if you could make that happen, that would be amazing.
A chef is only as good as…his level of commitment. I know good chefs that are burnt out and just throw product together. I know young chefs, who are still passionate about making good food. I’m not concerned about titles. I just want to see who has the passion.