San Luis Obispo, CA: Porter’s Gourmet on the Go Offers Meals on Wheels

By Joe Johnston | The Tribune | purchase prints The char siu pork tacos are served with a tangy hoisin sauce and coleslaw. Read more: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2011/05/12/1598726/porters-gourmet-on-the-go.html#ixzz1MB9o3X7W
By Katy Budge | SanLuisObispo.com
By Joe Johnston | The Tribune | purchase prints The char siu pork tacos are served with a tangy hoisin sauce and coleslaw. Read more: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2011/05/12/1598726/porters-gourmet-on-the-go.html#ixzz1MB9o3X7W

One of the newest “restaurants” in town doesn’t have an address. Porter’s Gourmet on the Go has a license plate.

Yes, Porter’s is a food truck. Once associated with cheap eats of widely varying quality, the new breed of such trucks represents the gourmet sensibilities of their chefs and owners. Yes, the price is still right and the presentation is still informal, but the food promises to be a cut above.

Porter’s owner, Duncan Palmer, got his culinary start in 1998 as a pastry chef for a large-scale catering company in Pasadena. After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in 2000, an externship at 1865 Restaurant brought him to San Luis Obispo, where he went on to work at Novo for more than four years.

Palmer (whose middle name is Porter) first came up with the food truck idea about six years ago.

He couldn’t quite get things rolling then, but Porter’s Gourmet on the Go slowly picked up speed at a few venues last year, and the truck’s rubber officially hit the road in early January.

Though still available for special events, Porter’s regularly parks at local businesses for weekday breakfasts and lunches. You can also look for it serving up late-night weekend noshes in downtown San Luis Obispo. The current schedule can be found at www.porterstruck.com, and via social media sites Facebook and Twitter.

“I wanted to hit the convenience factor, especially with the daytime routes,” said Palmer. “The goal was to offer a food option for places that were out of the way and for people who didn’t have that much time for lunch.”

Surprisingly, Palmer said, “Serving out of a food truck isn’t that much different than at a restaurant.”

The setup still has to meet strict health department codes and “is about the size of a full line kitchen.” The Porter’s truck has all the standard features, such as a flattop grill and a fryer, plus a custom char broiler.

Palmer does utilize a commercial kitchen for tasks such as roasting meats, cooking sauces from scratch, and even making fresh tortillas.

Essentially, the kitchen serves as a staging area to “get everything possible ready ahead of time and organized.” That level of planning is crucial for several reasons, he explained, including guaranteeing food safety and being able to expedite orders. Also, once you’ve set up, you can’t just run to the store if you’ve forgotten something.

“Coming up with the menu was probably the hardest part,” admitted Palmer. “I wanted to be able to feed as many people as possible, so I didn’t want to do one particular type of food.”

As a result, Porter’s customers can opt for a juicy cheeseburger and fries or a grilled cheese sandwich, a roasted turkey and havarti sandwich or a veggie pita wrap with roasted beets, a breakfast wrap with eggs and black beans or char siu pork tacos with crunchy coleslaw and a tasty sauce lending just the right touch of hoisin. Seasonal items frequently join the mix, such as chicken enchiladas on Cinco de Mayo, and Palmer would like to add more breakfast choices.

Palmer already sources a lot from farmers markets and other local producers, but he’d like to dial that in even further. Another upcoming change is the conversion of the food truck to run on biodiesel, specifically used cooking oil.

“We’re already doing enough frying that we’d generate enough of our own oil,” said Palmer, “and I definitely like doing my part about being local and green.” Plus, he added with a grin, “It’d be great advertising — we’d be driving around with exhaust that smelled like french fries.”