Food: A Talk With Eric Silverstein of The Peached Tortilla

ThePeachedTortilla.com
ThePeachedTortilla.com

By Beth Lebwohl in Food on November 11, 2010 10:30 AM

If you made it out to the Gypsy Picnic food truck festival at Auditorium Shores this past Saturday, you were, first off, expressing your good taste and love of Austin food.

It’s also likely you were tripping over dogs, and marveling at the incredible crowd. With 30+ food trucks representing, the Gypsy Picnic scene was fun and slightly bananas. By late afternoon, orders at one food truck — The Peached Tortilla — were backed up over an hour. That really says something. Eric Silverstein is the brains behind the operation — he opened The Peached Tortilla in September. He described the Peached concept as flavor-teeming mobile Asian-fusion. Sounds complicated, but, really, it’s just tasty tacos.

Austinist recently chatted with Eric about why he left the world of litigation to chase taco-making, and about how growing up in Asia and the American South shaped his palate and menu.

Eric, once upon a time, you were a lawyer practicing in the Midwest. Then, you decided to trade in the legal profession to sell tacos. From a truck. In Texas. Can you tell us about your “Aha!” moment? In other words, the moment you decided you were really going to go for this dream, and make it a reality?

I guess there were three “aha” moments for me. The first was when a partner at my firm came into my office. We had become good friends and talked on a daily basis. He told me that he told his son to go into business. He said he specifically told his son not to go into law. I thought to myself, “If a partner is telling his son to go into a different field, am I going to enjoy this line of work ten years from now?” Couple that with the fact that I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with practicing and I quickly made the decision thereafter that I would make a career change.

The second “aha” moment occurred after I had kicked the idea of a Southern/Asian fusion taco concept around and finally decided to put it in writing via a business plan. Prior to that, all it was was an idea I had tossed around to my family and friends. Everybody has ideas, but ideas become more “real” when you put pen to paper.

The main and final “aha” moment came in May 2010, when I visited Austin and fully committed to the project. This was the second time I had been to Austin and the trip was solely to determine whether I felt the concept was viable in the city. When I decided the answer was “yes,” I made the decision to quit my job as an attorney in July and move down three weeks later. You can talk about an idea you have all day and push around a business plan, but the real moment of truth comes when you quit your job. At that point, you can kiss that guaranteed paycheck away and you are on your own.

What about the taco called to you? Why not sushi, or pizza, or sandwiches?

Honestly, I really love tacos. I grew up eating a lot of tacos. But beyond that, I felt the tortilla of a taco really provided us a platform to create some unique flavors. I wanted to carve out a niche with my concept, and creating eclectic tacos allowed me to do that.

You spent 10 years of your childhood in Asia, and another portion in Georgia. What was the most important way that each place shaped your idea of good food? Where/how/does it show up in the Peached Tortilla’s menu?

With respect to my time in Asia, I tried to utilize some of the flavor profiles I grew accustomed to while living overseas. As an example, our peanut sauce in our chicken satay taco was an idea I had based on my travels to Singapore and my familiarity with Malaysian cuisine. Aside from the traditional chicken satay, I used to regularly eat a peanut sauce served with chilled egg noodles and julienned cucumbers which was out of this world.

More so than specific flavor profiles, however, I really identified with the preparation and thought process behind Asian cuisine. Take Japanese food, for instance: the preparation is intense, and the effort put behind the product served is extremely high. This almost always results in a quality product, whether it’s street vendor yakitori, ramen served in a hole-in-the-wall ramen shop, or fine dining sushi or tepanyaki.

As for my time in Georgia, I fell in love with soul food early on. Whether it was collard greens, fried chicken, fried okra, or pulled pork, I just loved the flavors. You see some similar flavor profiles in our BBQ brisket and crunchy catfish tacos.

What’s your favorite menu item?

My favorite menu item is probably the banh mi slider. Yes, I realize that it’s not a taco, but the sweetness of the slider bun partnered with the spiciness of the sriracha mayo further combined with the pickled daikon carrot salad is an incredible flavor combination. Oh, and of course there’s the braised pork belly.

What was, for you, the single highlight of this past Saturday’s Gypsy Picnic fest?

Seeing the incredible interest the general public has in food trucks and trailers. The public has “accepted” food trucks and trailers as a medium for serving food. They clearly look to food trucks and trailers as a primary food option, not a secondary option. It’s no longer “let’s go to a brick and mortar establishment 90% of the time and a food truck or trailer 10% of the time.” I would argue we’re moving towards a 60/40 or even 50/50 split, and that to me is very exciting.

Where can Austin residents usually find The Peached Tortilla?

We truly are mobile, so we have multiple locations. Our key location is at Star Bar (600 W. 6th St.), where we serve dinner and late night food from 7PM-3AM Friday and Saturday. We also serve at UT-West Campus (intersection of 24th and San Gabriel) from 5:45PM-9:00PM. Additionally, we do a downtown lunch at 3rd and Colorado on Friday’s from 11:15AM-2:15PM. The best way to find out where we are is to log on to our website at www.thepeachedtortilla.com, or check our twitter feed at www.twitter.com/peachedtortilla. We post our locations every Monday and we stick to the schedule we post.

How about the most important thing you want to tell Austinites about The Peached Tortilla?

I hope that when people eat at The Peached Tortilla, they have a chance to identify with my journey and what this concept means to me. I’m just out here trying to give my dream a shot. I hope that when people visit The Peached Tortilla and eat our food, they, too, get inspired. Maybe they want to go out and do something in their lives that they always kept on the back burner. It’s never too late to start chasing a dream.