By Gary Glancy | Blue Ridge Now
Linda Benson spent much of her career cooking for folks on sailboats across the globe — Canada, Hawaii, Australia — and now she’s ready to shift gears and cruise into a different kind of mobile culinary service — food trucks.
Benson, who moved to Hendersonville five years ago from Canada, is finalizing paperwork with the city to park her delivery-truck-turned-gourmet-kitchen across from the Henderson County Courthouse on Grove Street, giving those on the go a quick, convenient and tasty meal option during their busy workday.
Benson, a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, said her Mobile Global Bistro venture is “kind of an extension” of her former career as a fishing boat captain and chef.
“I love the idea of cooking, but I didn’t want to be tied to a brick and mortar location, and I love the variety of being able to do special events, fairs, concerts,” Benson said.
Now a phenomenon in major cities coast to coast — there are more than 500 food trucks available at any given time in Portland, Ore., alone — our pocket of Western North Carolina this year has come along for the ride.
“I think they work,” said Kelly Cubbin, co-owner of Southern Appalachian Brewery. “That whole trend is going across the country and is finally catching on here in Hendersonville. It’s awesome.”
In addition to Benson, other food trucks are venturing down from Buncombe County to gauge the potential here — particularly at breweries such as Southern Appalachian and Oskar Blues on the outskirts of Brevard, where food is not served.
They include Farm to Fender from Arden, which has worked both local breweries, and Appalachian Smoke from Black Mountain, which has found a semi-regular home at Oskar Blues during Making a Difference benefits on Mondays and on busy Saturdays.
“It’s been great: Oskar Blues has been a blessing for us,” said Appalachian Smoke proprietor J.D. Medford, a part-time catering cook who decided to open the mobile barbecue business after losing his job as a warehouse manager.
“We love going down there. There’s always a good crowd there and always a very receptive crowd for our food.”
Same goes for Farm to Fender, which began serving at SAB this summer. After Asheville City Council voted to eliminate a 25-year ban on mobile food units just more than two years ago, the downtown food truck scene became saturated, said Jeremiah Jackson, who runs Farm to Fender with his wife, Nicole. That inspired the couple to look elsewhere, leading to what Jackson said his wife dubbed “cool sprawl.”
“We’re not taking pavement and strip malls to the person in the country,” Jeremiah Jackson said. “We’re taking what people from the country want from the city and taking it to him, because everybody enjoys good food — everybody. And if you have the ability to make that food mobile and take it to where people want it, there’s a really good chance you’re going to sell it. And the breweries are definitely a great place to get in. I can’t speak highly enough about the folks at (SAB). They really reached out, knowing that we were a new business, and really worked with us to make sure we had what we need. … They’re providing the opportunity for many small businesses to work together for a common goal.”
According to Cubbin, the arrangement is mutually beneficial.
”Farm to Fender has been awesome,” she said. “Their food is fantastic, and people are staying here, I guess, rather than going home or ordering Dominos or something. They’re getting a healthier option, and it’s local.”
Cubbin said the healthy, gourmet nature of mobile-unit cuisine surprises many customers who are expecting fast food-type dishes.
Benson, for example, who has begun catering business grand openings and also is partnering with local wineries, is taking her advanced culinary education and vast experience to the streets.
The Mobile Global Bistro menu focuses on Mediterranean/coastal, Californian fusion and Asian bistro-style dishes such as Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. Benson said she uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, and incorporates “amazing” sauces and condiments with each dish — many of which she makes herself.
“It’s the sauces and condiments that really make the dishes,” she said, “as well as the fresh ingredients.”
Jackson said Farm to Fender, too, emphasizes locally sourced, high quality ingredients, which underscores its mission statement to strengthen Western North Carolina communities and their economies through supporting local farmers and other businesses while creating food that’s “fresh and delicious.”
A good example is Jackson’s Hickory Nut Gap Burger. That dish features beef from Hickory Nut Gap Farms in Fairview — provider of grass-fed beef, lamb and pork plus free-range chicken and eggs — with caramelized onions and goat cheese from Spinning Spider Creamery in Marshall. Or his Flying Goat, a nontraditional BLT with fried green tomatoes, Spinning Spider goat cheese, smoked bacon and greens.
”Probably 80 to 90 percent of the stuff you put in your mouth came from less than 100 miles away,” Jackson said.
“If I can get just get one more person to realize that you can make better food from the farm next door than you can from the (large chain) stores, then I’m making progress.”